Making is Connecting and Making Connections: Post conference thoughts of the RGS

At the end of August I attended the Royal Geographic Society (with IBG)’s annual conference in London. In preparation for, during and after the event I did a fair amount of reflecting on what the purpose of taking part in conferences are. I think it’s fair to say that academics put a fair amount of time into deciding which conferences to go to, which sessions to apply to contribute to, what we should actually say when we get there and then what to do with it afterwards, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on that sort of thing before the moment passes.


Participants of the Making Futures Workshop visualising climate changed landscapes in the Geographies of Making session.

I don’t think the positive injection of meeting up and sharing ideas and discussions with fellow post-graduates and other academic colleagues can be under-estimated, and that was at this particular event made really easy and enjoyable by long lunches on a sunny lawn :).

For this conference I did my share of thinking: having not really seen any calls for papers that struck accord with what I was working on at the time, I decided it might be an idea to co-convene a session on something I am heavily engaged with: theory and practices of value. I was quite wary of the work involved and in the number of sessions it would have to compete with for attention (this conference is quite big, apparently there were over 2000 geographers in attendance, with hundreds of sessions). I have to say it was well worth it, and actually, not that bad in terms of the workload at all: it was a really nice surprise when we received a flood of abstracts in response to our call for papers on Locating Value, and attending the series of sessions we organised was great – I was genuinely interested in every paper on the list, which is not usually the case, and got to meet and chat to new people with different ideas! So if you’re thinking of taking this route, I think it’s a good alternative to shoe-horning your work into sessions it might not be appropriate for (and the worrying about how it will fit that comes with it).


Sneak preview of what I presented – available on Prezi!
Preparing my paper for the session (which you can read and watch versions of on acted as a great motivation and instigator for getting my thoughts together in a cogent and succinct way, which is perhaps one of the main benefits, for me it seems of contributing to conferences. It’s quite easy on a long-term project like a PhD to bimble along working away generally, but not producing anything very specific. The reality is though I am obviously keen to communicate my ideas and research findings and receive feedback on them, at this stage, for me, just having the milestone of doing something is a great help in processing my ideas. I remain uncertain as to what to do with these things afterwards, but I’ve uploaded the whole thing this time in the hope it will be interesting or useful to someone out there!

I also found an outlet for some of the continuing work myself and Kelvin Mason have been doing on visualising climate change by running a Making Futures workshop in the Geographies of Making session. These workshop sessions, which also included making wool felt balls, jewellery and thinking sculptures from ‘junk’, were a breath of fresh air in the conference. Whilst it is great to have access to so many interesting people speaking on interesting topics for 10-20 minutes, there are very real restrictions on what can be communicated in this format, no matter how good you are at presenting. As well as the human limitations to how much one’s brain can take in after 5 of these in a row and the inability to be in many places at once! I found talking to people whilst engaging in an activity led to more down to earth conversations and opened up an space to talk on a different level. Hence the title of this post – Making is Connecting –an excellent book from David Gauntlett with that very message which rang true here. The Geographies of Making papers were also great to listen to, as were papers in the ‘ Co-creating & Co-performing Tourism of Affects, Emotions, Feelings and Senses’ session, and a chance for me to indulge in my other geographic interests and non-PhD activities. Conferences like this are a great antidote to the tunnel visioning that PhDs can encourage.

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