It’s been quiet on the blog since I returned from Svalbard in February. I have been head down, trying to write chunks of thesis. However, at the moment I am employing the ‘change is as good as a rest’ strategy: The Wales DTC of the ESRC has kindly supported me in paying a visit to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Geography department as part of their Overseas Institutional Visit scheme. I’m here to present my research findings, attend a conference and build networks and collaboration opportunities, and so far it’s going great!
Monday I delivered a seminar to the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) complete with a video hook up to their Lillehammer office as well! My work attracted quite a number of researchers of all different approaches (ecological economics, ecosystems services, environmental communication, ecologists…) with an interest and link to Svalbard (which is interesting in itself). It was very helpful to get some Norwegian perspectives on my interpretations and share some Svalbard experiences.
Most of the rest of the week has been spent at the Nordic Environmental Social Science (NESS) Conference on Contested Natures. This has been a fantastic conference. I know I always say that when I just got back from a conference, and they are all inspiring in their own ways, but this was even more so than normal. This was mainly due, I think to the format of the conference: for the uninitiated, the table below summarises the main differences.
When not presenting
Normal (large) conference format
Abstract and presentation
A few minutes of questions if time, possibly some interest after the session
Time spent working out where to go and who to listen to outside your session.
Abstract, 5000 draft paper, presentation and reading colleagues drafts
20 minutes of discussion and feedback on the spoken and written paper, plus on-going discussion
Prolonged engagement with same group of people and related issues throughout the conference.
For NESS, we submitted a paper a couple of months before hand and read the other papers in the same working group. Rather than flit between sessions all conference, for the parallel sessions we stayed in the same working groups and contributed to the discussions throughout. There were still 4 keynote speakers and coffee/ social occasions to break out and meet others in different groups.
I perhaps expect too much from ‘normal’ conferences in terms of feedback, but they are still great for networking, keeping abreast of several areas of interesting current research and forcing you to present work clearly and succinctly. NESS certainly comes into its own with the discussion and feedback opportunities though, which I really appreciated especially in this writing up stage.
As this was a Environmental Social Science conference, I was surprised and pleased to find that 3 of the 4 keynote speakers were geographers and they each presented excellent talks on very diverse topics, whilst still addressing the conference theme of contested natures. Mike Hulme, whose work I have followed for a long time, suggests that we need to take cultural and plural approaches to climate change seriously in his talk ‘Climate Change: One or Many?’. Marina Fischer-Kowalski took us into more quantitative social science realms with a new adaptation of Erlich’s IPAT model. She argued that, based on energy affluence; the Anthropocene’s start date can be placed at the onset of fossil fuel use.
For the second day, Karina Myrvang Brown took us dog-walking in the Cairngorms of Scotland through video ethnography to interrogate human-dog-capercaillie relations in a woodland area. This was a fascinating exploration using the concept of choreography to explore conservation management and everyday dog-walking practices.Finally, Paul Robbins finished up with a whirlwind of geographical analysis of forest species in India. Through counting frog and bird species and interviewing 1000 land-holders, the research team collected a wealth of data. Paul drew out the (surprising) links between Arabica coffee prices, working conditions, rural electrification canopy cover and species diversity. What an advert for a cross-spectrum, geographical approach! You can download all four of the powerpoints from the keynote speakers on the NESS website.
Meanwhile in the working groups we had some great discussions. I was taking part in the Categories for Conservation: Debating nature at the science-policy interface group. Within the group, again there were quite a few geographers, yet we covered a broad range of approaches topics and ideas. Nevertheless, interrogating what categories were at work in conservation practices, how the process of categorisation can make material and political difference to these practices was a strong central theme which we could all engage with. We discussed the meaning of categories such as national parks, regional parks, wilderness, cultural heritage, tourist, guide, restoration, nightingales, monarch butterflies and swans!I got some good encouragement and constructive feedback on the paper I had written, which will be really helpful, both in terms of figuring out how to get it published and things to think about in the PhD writing…so, it will be back to the books with that again soon!