July Conferences.

July 25, 2011

The Oral History Society.

At the very beginning of the month I ventured up to Sunderland to attend the Annual Conference of the Oral History Society http://www.oralhistory.org.uk/.

The theme for 2011 was ‘Creation, Destruction, Memory: Oral History and Regeneration.’ This is a theme that excellently ties with my interests in the historical emergence of London’s outer suburban built environment and the relationship this has to the many social narratives of place that concern an area at a variety of scales.

Two talks seemed particularly exciting and relevant to my work.  Firstly the work of Simon Bradley (http://hud.academia.edu/SimonBradley/About) aims to uncover the ‘competing conceptions of place within a regenerational context’.  Bradley presented his work so far as an investigation into the historical sense of place in Holbeck, Leeds which has been compiled from archive materials, reportage, and field recordings but most prominently interviews.  The work aims to develop a ‘archaeology of the voice’ in Holbeck, on of the most exciting aspects of which is the way that media technologies will be employed.  The use of augmented reality was discussed as a future potential as well as the more familiar audio recordings.  These recourses will be embedded in place as Bradley develops an audio (and perhaps visual) walk.

Overall the work seems to lean towards opening up new ways of understanding the ways in which the changes in the built environment take place in a complex milieu of notions of place.  Bradleys work here aims to explore that milieu and in his words ‘promote cultural cohesion and lead to a more nuanced understanding of place in a divided area of Leeds’.  It is my hope that my work within the Adaptable Suburbs project can achieve, in different yet related ways such noble and important aims.

The second talk was by Ulla Pohjamo whose work explores the idea of ‘suburban heritage as lived’ on the Finish Island of Hietasaari.  Pohjamo’s presentation used oral histories to explore the planning history of Hietasaari, interviewing both planners and residents she was able to shed light on the complex notion of multiple subject positions in the social production of place, heritage and suburbs.  Such focus on both the residents AND the planners and those who aren’t traditionally viewed as the ‘victims’ in such histories was a refreshing approach to a theme that too often fails to at least attempt to deal with the multiple scales of approach to place and space and further, the lived experiences of the consequences of such competing approaches.

Overall the conference was lively; talks came from local historians, Liberians, PhD students, residents, radio documentary makers, the national heritage fund and more.  The diversity gave the conference a stimulating variety of angles to the theme.  The conference also served well to allude to some of the ways in which I might be able to ‘get at’ the notions of multiple scales and positioned subject experiences of place(s) through which the built environment and the experience of it are made, destroyed and re-made.


Sport and Leisure in Suburbs

The two day conference hosted by the Institute of Historical Research had the sub-title ‘communities, Identities and Interactions’.  In the words of the organisers the symposium marks a growing interest in the suburbs.  Aren’t the suburbs however are a vacuous element into which almost any socio-economic aspect of society can be studied?  What this conference served to do was to shed light upon the ways in which suburbs, far from being ahistorical, banal and empty of interest, as they so often described in the popular imaginary, actually offer a multitude of affordances through which important aspects of our lived experience are shaped.

An excellent key note address by my former MA thesis advisor Professor David Gilbert really brought some of these ideas to light.  Professor Gilbert discussed sporting femininity and bodily practice in Edwardian suburbs.  Focusing on the 1919 Wimbledon Ladies final between Suzanne Lenglen and Dorothea Lambert Chambers, Gilbert discussed the ways in which Lenglen’s bodily movements and dress style marked in many ways a shift from ‘tennis as niceties’ to ‘tennis as competitive’ acting as metaphor for social changes.  Further the changes rife in the spatial configurations in which people lived, namely the advancement of the suburban dwelling with private garden, local sporting clubs and the possibility of private tennis courts for the upper middle classes resulted in an affordance of narratives in which the body could move in new ways.  The history of women’s tennis then in many ways could be understood as a history of bodily practices in relation to modernity.   Chambers then could be re-positioned as a character of what has fashionably been termed a ‘more-than-representational’ figure who, with her body and sporting philosophy performs a modern femininity.  This femininity, this modernism then exists and affects spaces of the times, the role of the local club, the garden and such suburban spaces then take on new, little yet explored significance.

Other talks hinted at such a theme, a theme that admittedly I was seeking to find.  Mark Sampson drew attention to the ways in which football club trusts (the community aspect) in many ways buys social capital for the club so that it maintains a viable social position in the community.  Dr Andrew Hignell looked at the ways in which Cricket grounds had been allowed in some suburbs yet not others by the same estate owners so that political or economic motives could be served.  Dr Hignell’s talk built on the thoughts I was having about the affordances of space in allowing and shaping social narratives to emerge and also showed how the reverse can be true, socio-economic narratives also shape special form.  This is a returning theme which I am thinking about, the co-emergence of the social and the spatial and how this works through the various vested interests.  I’m sure I’ll return to this.



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