From 19th to 21st March 2014, over 40 academic geographers – staff and PhD students – gathered at Gregynog Hall for the annual Welsh Postgraduate Human Geography Conference and Theory School write John Clayton and Rich Gorman, Wales DTC PhD students at the School of Planning and Geography, Cardiff University.
The first day of the conference saw presentations from first year PhD students from around Wales, with students from Cardiff, Swansea and Aberystwyth represented. Topics ranged from otter predation to automobile enthusiasts, whilst other presentations saw more parallel themes, from community energy to community agriculture. This is the first year that the conference has run parallel paper panels, and the difficulty found by the audience in choosing between sessions was testament to the quality of research presented. All of the students demonstrated huge enthusiasm and passion for their research topics and engaging debates followed each paper – it was clear that everyone presenting at the conference could have talked for several hours about their research interests, methodologies and hopeful outcomes. Some of the networks built during the day, as researchers found interesting crossovers, will clearly last for several years, possibly developing into fruitful research collaborations.
Breaking up the presentations (aside from some fantastic coffee and cakes!) was a fascinating panel debate between Dave Clarke, Scott Orford and Amanda Rogers on the differing ways to communicate research to a variety of audiences and, ultimately, make sure that research has impact. This included discussion of the importance of engaging and exchanging knowledge with policy makers to the role social media and blogging can play in dissemination, networking and feedback.
The second day of the conference began with lengthier presentations from third year students, some of whom were returning to Gregynog for the second time. It was useful to hear researchers present their experiences from the field and the conclusions they were beginning to draw from their data.
The Theory School began in earnest with an afternoon of ‘assemblage theory’. It was interesting to discuss firsthand the implications ‘assemblage’ as an idea had for those gathered, and it was clear that the possibilities of the concept for geography in Wales will be tested significantly over the coming years.
After a thought provoking afternoon we returned for a plenary, where the staff members each elucidated their own relationship with ‘assemblage’. Post dinner, and in preparation for the following day’s thinking on biopower, we were treated to a guest lecture by Ben Anderson (Durham University) on his current work on the ‘Biopolitics of Emergency’. This very helpfully demonstrated how the discipline’s cutting edge of theory could be applied to a range of empirical subjects.
Friday morning followed the same format as the previous afternoon. Our topic was ‘biopower’ and its inception in Michel Foucault’s controversial lecture series and subsequent application. This culminated in an opportunity to discuss the key reading on ‘Negative Governance’ with its author, Mitch Rose. We squared the circle, from empirical context and theoretical application, to the practicalities of writing for a prestigious publication. This was a great way to end an edifying few days in the stunning Welsh countryside.
Our thanks to the Gregynog staff for their hospitality, and to Chris Bear for bringing the event together.