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...
I might be in danger of sounding like a broken record, but last month I returned from another great conference and am struck again by the importance of getting out there and presenting my research, but for different reasons. This time, I headed to the very North of Norway for the Barent’s Institute’s "Mining the Arctic: sustainable communities, economies, and governance? Thorvald Stoltenberg Conference.
As well as acting as another motivating period of intense analysis and synthesis, I learned a great deal. Given my focus on Svalbard, it was really useful to get a picture of
I've recently returned from a short trip to Kirkenes in Northern Norway. I have quite a bit to say about the conference I was attending, but I thought I'd first share some thoughts and stories about the town and area I visited, as it was quite fascinating and was the source of lots of 'firsts' for me...
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.
(For anyone not of the right age and taste in music to get the Skunk Anansie reference, this blog title needs screaming loudly and with passion!)
As mentioned last week, Environmental Protection is a big talking point in Svalbard, as is the future of coal mining here. The 'paradox' between the two, is perhaps no different to other nations calling for more international action on climate change which have not maxed out on national efforts. However, in Svalbard these factors are drawn together in stark relief visually: coal - black - bad; ice/snow - white - good (especially when not melting!). Coal mining and scientific research (especially into climate science) makes up two of the three main 'pillars' of activity here (the third being tourism), so throw in a long cultural history and attachment to mining here, energy challenges, the issue of reinforcing sovreignty rights and the desire to be an environmental flag ship, and we have a very interesting melting pot which is not as simple as it might at first appear.
Today a 3 day conference that the research base and Norwegian Ministries had organised to stimulate internation action on climate change in Ny Alesund drew to a close. After her visit to Svalbard, the UN Executive Secretary on climate change, Christiana Figeures came out of that meeting with a message to Norway and Svalbard - stop mining coal, it doesn't fit with the climate research goals and image, though from her statement she clearly understands the challenges such a move would bring, insisting on needing to pull out in a responsible, fair and planned way that could set a good example.
From my perspective, this is all about value, values and how these input into the future strategies for Svalbard. If Norway is going to continue to push hard for positive environmental action, perhaps it will no longer be able to do so without re-evaluating how it's environmental 'flagship' is run both on and offshore (I might return to Grenpeace action off the coast another time!)...
Value is one of the key theoretical concepts my PhD project is based around, given the title ‘Polarising nature-culture: An examination of value in Svalbard’. So, it’s not surprising this slippery little word occupies a lot of my thinking space/ time at the moment. It seems fairly innocent on the surface, we use the word a lot in everyday language: ‘there’s a lot of value in what you are doing there…that’s really good value for money…I value your honesty …’ etc.
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.
Well we had an amazing little holiday travelling round the West of Iceland: lava fields, volcanic craters, natural springs, waterfalls, seals, a glacier, crazy mossy/ lunar looking landscapes, snow-topped mountains, a Viking… But the reason for being there – the Nordic Geographers Meeting, also far exceeded expectations. I’ve had a really good time there meeting new people, gathering ideas and generally absorbing lots of key insights on the conference theme – Geographies of Responsibilities.
I’ll try and summarise the highlights in this post...
Last month has been a busy one: I presented an introduction to my PhD project to fellow human geographers amidst the beautiful grounds of Gregynog. The director of the ESRC Wales DTC came along too, they have a little piece on the conference here.
I've just gotten back from the Royal Geographic Society's Postgraduate Mid-Term conference, hosted by Birmingham University, which was a great experience, hearing about so many interesting research plans and findings and meeting even more geography PhDers. You can find out a bit more about what went on there from the Tweets on the home page and the #rgsmidterm hashtag. Both of these conferences were really supportive for sharing ideas on a non-threatening platform and encouraging us newbies on the scene, so anyone out there in a similar position, I'd encourage you to go to similar events, the midterm runs every year.
I thought it might be nice to let people outside the conferences in on what I presented as well, given that it seems (if it works that is) pretty easy to share these things, so here it is! This is around 20 minutes long - each time you move/zoom to a new bit an audio clip should start playing (there are a few slides without audio though). All feedback welcome on any aspect! Enjoy!
Prezi Presentation: Polarising Nature-culture: Values in Svalbard
Just before attending this event  I remember questioning why I was going. Sure it sounded interesting, but I had umpteen assignments, marking, supervisions, all sorts that were looming, should I really be going to a conference that I’m not presenting at? Well, I’m really glad I did, it was an inspiring day full of interesting people and perspectives, lively cross-disciplinary discussions and I have to say I learnt a lot about what I need to learn more about! I won’t mention all the speakers, but here is a round up of the discussions and questions that sparked particular interest for me.
Thinking about temporality
The centre’s director, Graham Dawson got the day off to a good start by getting my brain ticking over the ways in which understandings of the past can be useful, not just interesting. Apparently this quote’s famous, but it was a first hearing for me: ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’ L. P Hartley: The Go Between (1953) – into which he interjected that the same could be said of the future. But how to do we ‘go’ to the past or future? These are key ponderances for me as I am thinking through the different temporalities my proposed case study sites invoke. Indeed climate change as an entity has time woven into it in every strand.