Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference — Exeter September 1st-4th 2015

I spent last week at the Royal Geographical Society Conference (with the Institute of British Geographers) held this year at the University of Exeter, with the theme Geographies of the Anthropocene. It was a great event and venue, it was superb to catch up with colleagues and friends, while also hearing some excellent papers and plenaries. Some of the stand out events:

The ‘Author Meets Critics’ for Alex Vasudevan‘s new book Metropolitan Preoccupations was a real highlight: the book is an expansive historical and geographical exploration of the spatial politics of squatting in Berlin and comes at a vital time for considering rights to the city and inequalities in the provision of housing. Commentaries were provided by John Crossan, Helen Wilson and Romola Sanyal, each giving a vibrant account of their engagements with the book. I hope these commentaries — and Alex’s subsequent response — find their way to publication: the discussion was not simply a signal of the multifaceted reading of what promises to be an important book, but it was also an illustration of the role of these kinds of public debates in deepening engagement with emerging scholarship.

I co-organised two sessions with Fiona McConnell and Romola Sanyal entitled Making Law, Producing Space, Mobilising Subjects which provided space to discuss a diversity of issues in the fields of political and legal geography. The papers were wide-ranging and of a high quality — featuring Audrey Kobayashi and Mark Boyle discussing their work on Sartre and People-Led War Crimes Tribunals; Romola Sanyal on humanitarian law in  Lebanon; Rachel Hughes on the Extraordinary Chambers of the Court of Cambodia; Rhys Dafydd Jones on the legal geographies of Welsh licensing laws; Alexandra Flynn on governance in Toronto; Ephraim Poertner on asylum cases and spatio-temporal trajectories; Christine Schenk on justice in Aceh and I gave a paper on space/time and law in war crimes cases. Fiona McConnell did a tremendous job of discussant, bringing the different themes and concepts under discussion into a more logical set of issues for the future.

The Wet Geographies (I) Geographies of the Deep session was a great event organised by Rachael Squire and Cordelia Freeman, providing a chance to explore some of the issues of materiality, mobility and visibility provoked by thinking through what Steinberg and Peters call a ‘wet ontology’. The papers were uniformly excellent and quite diverse: Becca Farnam gave an account of the Kuwait Dive Team as an example of ‘citizen science’ in action; Elspeth Probyn‘s paper was a lively rendition of the vitality of the seas, focusing on the ways in which the commodification of the sea is shaping how idea about value, material and preservation are understood; Rosanna White provided a rich account of the Canadian Government’s performances of sovereignty over the Arctic North while Phil Steinberg and Kim Peters provided a conceptual exploration of the concept of the ‘deep’, and how we could move towards a ‘wet epistemology’. I gave a short set of discussant comments, shored up with some excepts from Roger Deakin’s Waterlog. It was a cohesive session that circulated around a tight set of themes which readily extended beyond watery geopolitics: what does it mean to understand depth? How can the properties of water help us understand the materiality and politics of the world as a whole? What are the ethical implications of thinking through the vitality of ocean spaces?

I would also mention the plenaries I saw by Anna Tsing, Paul Gilroy and Amita Baviskar, each making different cases for the utility and relevance of the concept of the Anthropocene (in line with the conference theme). More on these another time.

Alex Jeffrey, September 2015

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