Adaptable @ RGS-IBG

July 12, 2012

N:B  This blog originally appeared at and reflects the views and interests of one of the Adaptable team.  Sessions were also held in the nature of interdisciplinary working and GIS.  (see


As someone who has an undergraduate BSc and a MA in geography you might think I would be doing my PhD in the same subject.  However I now find myself sitting in the Anthropology department and funded by a project based from UCL Architecture department.  Whilst switching between disciplines is increasingly common I felt that at this years RGS-IBG conference I had an itching for fleshy bodies.  Through my work I have an interest in how people, local people relate to land and territory through economies of love and care in a late liberal society in which narratives of localism and the devolution of power run strong.  As such I attempt at least to keep central the notion of bodies, blood and personhoods.  I ask routinely how personhoods and citizens are shaped through the various scales of governance and structures of cultural legal and cultural governmental practice.

Whilst the RGS-IBG is far too big for me to give a review of the conference as a whole or even write about all the presenters I saw I can say that around half way through the second day I had listened to sessions on ‘Critical Approaches to Localism, neighbourhood working and governance’ ‘Contesting Post-Democratic Cities Amid the ‘tyranny of participation’.  The sessions overall aroused some interesting reflections yet I was left yearning more for flesh, people, humans, Ethnography in the geography.  Through the graphs, charts and theoretical discussions of various post-political philosophers I felt a strong presence of the absent bodies of those who are affected by, work within and live such ideas, bodies I yearned for.   In the latter session Chloe Buire ended the session with an impassioned and energetic description of everyday tactics used by the residents of various cities in Southern African cities, such as dancing, playing, re-using older buildings, gardening disused land and such.  I asked her if her work was a call for geographers to be more Ethnographic, she returned an empathetic and enthusiastic YES!  Such issues would be brought up later in my session.

I had been sufficiently awoken to be further satisfied by Kirsten Simonsen’s ‘Quest for a new humanism’ where, through the work and philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty she called for a focus on emotions and experience in research using excerpts from the experience of a young Asian man boarding trains shortly after the London 7/7 bombings and his feelings of being in the wrong place.


This embodied experience is something I am interested in my work, but I depart from the realm of phychogeography in that I am interested in how embodiment and experience are communicated to others.  In my work I look at how local enthusiasts give over knowledge of their relation of the built environment in walking tours.  So it was appropriate that Dr Hilary Geohagen and colleagues had arranged a session that was essentially a walking tour. The walking tour consisted of an enthusiast of Edinburgh’s modernist architecture who had been invited from the local Heritage Association to talk to us geographers about the history of the buildings in the University area. The guide was confidant vastly experienced and knowledgeable and Luke Bennett suggested around half of the people on the tour was much studying the process of guiding enthusiasm and giving of historical architectural knowledge as were interested in the knowledge itself.  Many people noted his skill at tailoring the tour to deal with dramatic rain and the undercurrents of personal opinion on the ways in which the university and planners dealt with these buildings.

In a session I both convened and shared, questions as to how engagements with everyday materiality is coming conducive to a form of social tactic in dealing with an understanding one’s relationship to the world work was explored in four papers which were as interesting as they were different from each other.  Mia Hunt’s paper explored the ways in which shopkeepers in everyday London high streets curated and composed the items within the shop.  Taking as an example small London montages design for tourist pockets her work shows how the everyday curatorial practice of shopkeepers can be understood as a tactic in dealing with the everyday and identity. Dave Yates’s paper neatly used the metaphor of his complex sense of self, which understood differently depending on perspectives needs of the viewer and viewed can be seen to align the complex identities places.  Issues of relevant scale, practice and rhythm of self and place were brought together in Yates’s work in looking at a series of London markets. Alessandro Froldi’s paper was an excellent example of using both archive and ethnography in understanding the ways in which radical politics segwayed with the everyday practice of living in urban environments of dereliction construction sites and renewal.  The session was neatly rounded up by Kaisa Schmidt-Thome whose explanation of a development of a softGIS toolbox neatly leading to a wide-ranging and engaging discussion around the issues of scale, nothing moments of flow and moments of stillness, dealing with flux and change an everyday occurrence and using GIS tools in increasingly ethnographic and qualitative ways.

The session abstract can be seen here.


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