Reading and Writing Geography

Oops it has been a bit quiet on the blog lately. I’ve been trying to knuckle down and get some serious writing done, something I find difficult at the best of times. At the start of the month though I found the perfect excuse to get away from the office whilst working on my academic skills with the added bonus of meeting up with other geographers. 1-3rd November I went along to the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group’s weekend away: Reading and Writing Social and Cultural Geography.
Knowing that I usually find a lot of inspiration and enthusiasm through reflecting on readings in a group (I regularly participate in a local ‘transitions reading group’), I was expecting it to be good, and I was not disappointed. As Sarah Mills, one of the organisers said at the start of the event, reading and writing are key parts of what we do as geographers and academics more broadly, so talking through techniques, tips and tricks for both of these activities was really helpful. It was also somewhat reassuring that these things don’t come easy to everyone either! 

The group outside Gregynog (Photo credit: Simon Cook)

The readings we discussed were focussed on some key themes in human geography: identity and interaction; mobility and migration; pedagogy and place; sustainability and food as well as sessions discussing the remit and meanings of ‘social and cultural geographies’. Simon Cook has helpfully collated the papers we read on Pinterest.  The format was great, we split into smaller groups with a chair from the research group and then fed back to the large group the key ideas discussed, which worked really well and it was surprising how the sets of papers gave rise to so many different conversations and ideas. For me, it was great to lift my head up out of all things Svalbard for once and read about some themes I haven’t considered for quite some time and some topics and parts of the world I knew nothing about at all! Not only was it good to get a feel for other theories and debates in the wider discipline it also led me to think of my own topic in new ways, quite unexpectedly at times!

Some of the really interesting questions that came up over the weekend were related to the role of the researcher in both the research itself and the subsequent writing up, such as:

  • What categories are we imposing on the participants/ place, what are we bringing to the research, is it helpful?
  • How can we make our writing engaging, whilst covering the essentials?
  • How much voice should we give to participants and our own experiences (auto-ethnography)?

Excellent reminders of things which I grapple with along the way. Going into the second year of the PhD it is tempting to keep ones head down permanently, but the weekend was an excellent reminder of the importance of getting out occasionally for inspiration.

Gregynog was chosen as the venue as it was remembered fondly by the organisers, who had all passed through Aberystwyth as PhD students and I can see why, this is my second visit there during the PhD and it is certainly becoming a place I associate with great geographical discussions with enthusiastic geographers.

Thanks to the organisers Sarah Mills and Rhys Dafydd Jones; the chairs, Lucy Jackson and Pete Adey and all the attendees for a lively weekend!

You can read more accounts of the weekend on Simon Cook’s blog, Jonathan Kershaw’s blog and Richard Scriven’s write up for the SCRG – all good stuff from fellow geography PhD students.

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