The three-day RGS-IBG Annual International Conference attracts over 1,800 geographers from around the world.
The chair's theme for the 2019 Annual International Conference is Geographies of trouble / Geographies of hope. The theme has been selected by the chair of conference, Professor Hester Parr (University of Glasgow, UK), in conversation with the Society's Research Groups and with the Research and Higher Education Committee.
The conference programme includes sessions and papers which engage directly with this theme, as well as others focusing on all areas of geography.
We are said to live in troubled times. Newsfeeds stream endless updates of political stalemate, Brexit-related anxieties, threats of chemical geopolitics and pending economic crises. Particular world regions or discrete places are often declared unstable in their troubles. People constantly migrate across the world, seeking something else, but at critical risk from seas, gangs and public rejection. Powerful leaders are said to be making their mark via protectionist policies, promising to bring long-due privilege back home. Meanwhile, the Earth heats, landscapes degrade and climate becomes a war of words and the subject of belief. Such a troubling list inevitably registers in different ways with different people, places and expert communities. Some take action, while others struggle for a sense of meaning and place-in-the-world, alienated by the stark polemics - and circuitous debates - provoked by the apparent challenges tied to contemporary planetary inequalities.
In such times, what is the role for geography as a specialist and analytical form of Earth writing? Should we both trouble geography, and its production of knowledge, as well as interrogating worldly troubles - and to what end? What can geography trouble by its ideas, research and interventions in different times and places, but also in hopeful, positive and productive ways? Simply listing troubles is clearly not enough. Indeed, should we be always hopeful, individually and collectively, by focussing on progressive theory, practice and action in the face of trouble? If geographers do seek to trouble the world in hopeful ways, especially through their increasing public work, what is the future status and purpose of geography as an academic discipline for change in the 21st century?
Some points of departure are:
Who, what and where is troubling, troubled and troublesome?
Where is hope in the current times?
Does history hold useful lessons and stories about trouble and hope?
How are troubles and hopes situated, scaled and relational?
What is gained and lost in aligning trouble and hope?
How might we best conceive of geographies of trouble and hope?
Can interdisciplinary encounter involve particular troubles and hopes?
What happens in troubled spaces and places where there is no hope?
What is the purpose of a troubling but hopeful geography?
Should geographers ‘stay with the trouble’ and if so, why and how?
How can geography’s public role include a troubling of worldly power?
Professor Parr has convened the following plenary lectures during the conference. These will each take place at 13.10 on their respective day, in the Ondaatje Theatre at the Society.
The panel will debate the ways in which human geography might encounter and critically debate ‘humanness’ with reference to critical neuroscience and neuroliberalism in ways that trouble our understandings of human being. Panellists will discuss a range conceptual issues (including the nature of cognition and context) and empirical themes (spanning mind wandering, neuro-urbanism and social inequality) as they explore the varied interfaces between geography and the neurosciences. Each panel speaker will give a 15-minute presentation focussed around the following questions:
• What is the value of a critical neuroscience to human geography?
• What does human geography offer critical neuroscience?
• What are the fears and hopes for a neuro-geography?
• How does interdisciplinary brain research trouble latent disciplinary understanding of ‘human being’?
• Can interdisciplinary neuroscience offer new hope for human futures that combine political, social and clinical impacts?
Panellists: Professor Felicity Callard (Birkbeck, University of London, UK)
If explorations of the brain and mind have been, for many years, central to social-scientific and historical investigations within the human sciences, the place of geography within the human sciences has not always been obvious. In my talk, I shall discuss the research I have been undertaking to open some of the archives from the 20th and 21st century human sciences to think through how we might understand and practice the relationship between cognitive neuroscience and geography. I shall use as my exemplar daydreaming, mind-wandering, and fantasy. I shall endeavour to articulate what a long tradition of geographical scholarship on the mind might have to contribute to the inherently interdisciplinary neurosciences – as they work to model both normative subjectivity and psychopathology, and to articulate the distinctions between the external and internal world.
Dr Jessica Pykett (University of Birmingham, UK)
My contribution will start with acknowledging the many faces of geography’s engagement with the neurosciences, comparing this with the spatial metaphors used in the cognitive and neurosciences themselves. By offering an analytical framework of ‘critical neuro-geography’, which integrates insights from emotional and embodied geographies, political geography and critical theory, I will explore what geography can add to current debates on the relationship between cognition and context, the situated and relational character of subjectivity, and connecting the vastly different scales of embodied feelings and global political economies. Using examples from the worlds of neuroeducation, neurourbanism and happy cities initiatives, I consider the technological-affective promise of solving happiness as a problem, and the ways in which geography can challenge and extend brain-based accounts of positive human functioning.
Professor Suparna Choudhury (McGill University, Canada)
In this paper, I will present critical neuroscience as a framework through which to examine the epistemological dilemmas and methodological challenges surrounding the engagement between neuroscience and the social sciences, and the translation of brain data into health and social policy. As current views of the brain place greater emphasis on the interaction between the brain and the social worlds it inhabits, cognitive neuroscience has found increasing salience in social domains from education to the law. I will describe the cultural appeal of the plastic adolescent brain as a site to direct social anxieties and hoped-for solutions to mitigate social problems, presenting recent work in developmental cognitive neuroscience on social inequality among young people. As a critical neuroscientist engaged in lab research on the effects of socioeconomic status on trajectories of neurocognitive development, I will discuss the potential and limits of research on poverty involving neuroimaging and ‘big data’, and the tensions involved in understanding phenomena that are socially produced and geographically specific through the lens of neuroscience.
Chaired by Professor Mark Whitehead (Aberystwyth University, UK).
Professor Maria Puig de la Bellacasa (University of Warwick, UK)
What words shall we invoke to write the troubled Earth? How can we nurture the imagination of caring earthly futures amidst a myriad of ongoing eco-social catastrophes? In her short novel The Word for World is Forest Le Guin tells the story of a peaceful community whose intimate belonging to the forest is threatened by the destructive power of the colonisers. In this tale, harmed forests and soils bear the mark of violence, but also of histories and futures of resistance. Commenting on Le Guin’s fictional worlds, and drawing on my research on contemporary human-soil relations, I approach Earth as soil to speculatively explore what thinking with soils can tell us about the possibilities of ecological belonging in troubled technoscientific worlds. Today’s rise in attention to soils unearths and entangles multi-layered significances – scientific, economic, cultural, aesthetic, affective and political. Engaging with the troubles of ecological belonging brought by any attempt to name “Earth as…” will have to start from acknowledging multiple non-assimilable and conflictive meanings. Imaginaries of human-soil belonging do not need to be reactionary prerogatives, they can also nurture insurgent and hopeful ecological futures.
Chaired by Professor Deborah Dixon (University of Glasgow, UK), who will also serve as discussant. Co-sponsored by Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers
This session will provide a platform to generate thinking and debate on different ways of understanding Black lives and geographies of race in US and UK in contemporary scholarship and on different forms of racism and white supremacy that constitute our socio-spatial realities. Responding to Professor Rashad Shabazz’s lecture and its wider provocations will be Dr Patricia Noxolo (University of Birmingham, UK) and Dr Caroline Bressey (University College London, UK), who will use the broader questions emerging from his work as a vehicle through which to raise critical thoughts and questions about the relationship between troubles and hopes that characterises Black cultural production and its radical imaginary. Professor Mona Domosh (Dartmouth College, USA) will chair a post-talk discussion.
Professor Rashad Shabazz (Arizona State University, USA)
“We gon’ be alright”: Spatialising Blackness, containment, and creativity in the birth of Hip-Hop
In the United States black cultural production is bound up with geographic containment restrictions on mobility and racial segregation. Jazz, hip-hop, house music, and the Minneapolis Sound (the music associated with late recording artist, Prince) were delivered by some of the most repressive systems of geographic order. Indeed, ‘containment and creativity’, ‘geographies of trouble and hope’, are hallmarks of Black cultural production. This dialectic calls into question the belief that art can only be created in conducive or untroubled spaces. Hip-hop provides a perfect case study to challenge this assumption. Born in the Bronx, NY in the early 1970s, hip-hop was a cultural movement that emerged in and against the backdrop of racial and economic segregation, mass incarceration, isolation, and joblessness. Yet, hip-hop ‘danced its way out of these constrictions’ and created 'geographies of hope' (Harvey 2000). In doing this, hip-hop shows that Black cultural production and the 'radical imagination' from which it springs, have the capacity to create counter-spatial imaginaries that challenge those under which it was produced (Robinson and Kelley 2000). To that end, this presentation addresses the relationship between creativity and containment.
Through linking the rise of carceral power, racially restrictive housing practices, a deindustrialising economy, and expanding prison populations with the rise of hip-hop, I demonstrate the dialectic between systematic spatial containment of poor and working-class Black and Latinx Americans and the role it played in creation of the world’s most powerful cultural force.
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