Friday, 4 January 2008

A message from the Chair

On taking over the reins from Mike Crang as Chair of the Social and Cultural Geography Group some 18 months ago now, I was struck by a number of things. The first was that the current Committee is incredibly youthful (to the extent that, at the age of 37, I feel positively ancient). Youth in itself is, of course, no good thing, but when combined with energy, vitality, and no shortage of good ideas, it fosters a sense of vibrancy that, I am sure, will transmit through all the group’s activities. The fact that all those on the Committee are working at the cutting edge of the sub-discipline is particularly noteworthy, and I am such that their collective enthusiasm for the new and exciting will give the group a sense of purpose and direction over the next three years

A second thing that occurred to me is that this is a particularly good moment at which to be involved in social and cultural geography. Far be it from me to suggest there have been moments when social and cultural geography has been less-than-vital, but perhaps one can identify times over the last 15-20 years when the sub-discipline has been more preoccupied with its own self identity, its ‘cultural turn’ and theoretical development rather than addressing the pressing social issues of our times. Now, I am not one of those geographers who insists that geography should always be ‘relevant’ or served up in neatly-digestible packages that can be consumed by policy-makers. There is much to be said for the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake, and a bit of navel-gazing is always useful if we are to avoid disciplinary atrophy. But what I find impressive about the sub-discipline at the moment is the way that theoretical and philosophical debate is being developed via engagement with issues that currently preoccupy politicians and media in the UK; body-shape, multiculturalism, anti-sociality, ethical consumption, the housing shortage, food safety, religious persecution, surveillance and so on, At the same time, social and cultural geographers are recognised to be pushing the envelope of geographical understanding by developing ideas about the nature of the non-representational, the affective, the material and the emotive. As such, the sub-discipline remains at the forefront of British geography both in terms of its engagement with the vital issues of the day as well as its predilection to push the frontiers of geographical knowledge.

Given the current rude health of Social and Cultural Geography (and one can also point to the success of the journal of the same name), I am confident in predicting that in the next three years the Group will consolidate its reputation via more successful sessions at the annual RGS-IBG conference, dedicated conferences and meetings (such as the ongoing Materialities workshop meetings, see this newsletter) and through the (re)establishment of the newsletter and website. Of course, I must end by reminding all those who are reading this that the group exists to serve the wider community of social and cultural geographers, and that if anyone has any suggestions as to how the group might further cultivate excellence in social and cultural geography, please contact me with your ideas.

Second Materialities workshop, Durham, 19th December

The second in the SCGRG workshop series on materialities was focused on vocabularies of materiality, exploring the relations between a set of concepts - excess/liveliness, agency/capacity, absence/presence, multiplicity/singularity. Held at Durham University, and kindly cos-sponsored by Social/Spatial Theory and Lived and Material Cultures Research Clusters, Department of Geography, Durham University.

The morning kicked off with three excellent position papers on materialites. The first, from Steve Hinchcliffe, explored the way a garden project in Birmingham was assembled through different materialities, producing different, co-existing and overlapping garden spaces. The second paper was from J D Dewsbury, who explored the movement from flesh to meaning, offering some post-Deleuzian ideas about immanence and presence. Finally, Gail Davies offered a thought-provoking exploration of the different materialities and capacities of captive experimental mice, with a particular focus on the way that animal/cultural divides are worked through in debates surrounding the science of laboratory testing. These papers were followed-up with some lively and wide ranging discussion touching on issues of biopolitics, capacity and life itself (among others).

In the afternoon, group discussions were held in which objects were taken as the basis for exploring questions of how we can deal with issues of materiality, with questions relating to the materiality of visual culture, heritage, hybridity, landscape raised in a conducive environment. The workshop finished with contributions from discussants Mike Crang, Paul Harrison and Ian Cook, and a general consensus that the event had been useful and productive as well as being throughly sociable. We look forward to the next, and final, Materialities workshop in 2008!

Thanks to Rachel Colls and Ben Anderson for convening and running so efficiently, and to Durham University for hosting the event