RGS-IBG 2015 – it’s coming…

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It’s that time of year again! I always sign up for a paper at the RGS annual conference in January – full of New Year optimism – and then promptly forget about it until the conference organizers start sending weekly countdown reminders. At which point, it’s probably time to revise the title and abstract when you realise just how much plans  and intentions change and evolve in eight months!

Anyway, it seems that January-Joanna lucked out on getting into a great session at this years conference (even if I did have to update my title…) I’m down to do a paper in ‘The Geographies of Amateur Creativities’, organised by Katie Boxall and Cara Gray, both from Royal Holloway. It’s a two-part session on Wednesday (session 3 and 4), and both look to feature some really interesting papers:

Woolly-hats and Rivet-counters Revisited: articulating a new understanding of enthusiastic world-making
Hilary Geoghegan (University of Reading)
Hoarding creativity: an insight into crafter’s collections
Joanna Mann (University of Bristol)
The Shifting Grounds of Play and Work: Urban Gardening Practices in London
Jan van Duppen (The Open University)
The Haunted Spaces of Amateur Theatre: Immateriality, Materiality and Performative Memories
Helen Nicholson (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Making suburban faith: creativity and material culture in faith communities in West London
Claire Dwyer (University College London), Nazneen Ahmed (University College London), Laura Cuch (University College London), David Gilbert (Royal Holloway, University of London), Natalie Hyacinth (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Shifting Position: Pro-Am Movement
Nerida Godfrey (University of New South Wales, Australia)
***
I’m still not sure if I’ll just be heading down for the one day or staying for the whole conference. The last leg of the thesis is turning out to be fairly demanding, so I’m currently leaning towards just the one day. This hasn’t stopped me perusing the rest of the programme though… Sessions on my (tentative) list to attend include:
Historical and cultural geographies of story and storytelling (Wednesday 1 and 2)
The Ends of Geography’s Worlds (Wednesday 3 and 4 – Argh to clashes!)
Attentive Geographies (Thursday)
Gentle Geographies (Friday 1)
So, it’s off to Exeter in three weeks’ time. I’m looking forward to it!

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Bassett Lecture 2015: Professor Marcus Doel

Bassett lecture

My lovely colleague Nina has been busy organising this year’s Bassett Lecture. It looks set to be a great talk and, as usual, all are welcome to come along. Details as follows: 

The 5th annual Bassett lecture will take place in the School of Geographical Sciences on Thursday 29th January 2015.

This year’s speaker is Professor Marcus Doel from Swansea University, who will be presenting under the title, ‘Through a net darkly: spatial expression and schizoanalysis (subject to finance).’

The lecture will take place at 4pm on Thursday 29th January in the Peel Lecture Theatre.

All Welcome!

No booking required, for enquiries contact Nina Williams (Nina.Williams@bristol.ac.uk).

Abstract:
In Anti-Oedipus, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari wrote that Louis Hjelmslev’s “concerted destruction of the signifier” not only unleashed “a decoded theory of language” that was perfectly attuned to both capitalist and schizophrenic flows, but also that it was “the only modern—and not archaic—theory of language.” Hjemslev was the blast of fresh air that blew Ferdinand de Saussure and Jacques Lacan away, and ushered in a post-structuralist schizoanalysis of world-historical libidinal flows. The encounter with Hjelmslev proved pivotal for Guattari, the force of which reverberated throughout all of his subsequent writings. Hjelmslev effectively counter-signed the two volumes of Capitalism & Schizophrenia and Kafka that Guattari wrote with Deleuze, as well as Guattari’s own Machinic Unconscious, Schizoanalytic Cartographies, The Three Ecologies, and Chaosmosis. And yet, “the Danish Spinozist geologist, Hjelmslev, that dark prince descended from Hamlet,” was never the subject of sustained attention in any of these texts. In this lecture I consider the import of Hjelmslev for Guattari, with particular reference to the spatiality of the structural unconscious and the machinic unconscious, and use this as a basis to think through the bewildering cast of characters that are ‘subject to finance’ and that increasingly plague our world, such as Homo Economicus, Homo Debitor, Homo Faber, Homo Subprimicus, and Financial Homo Sacer.

AAG 2015 CFP: Spinoza and Us

Myself and fellow PhD student Tom Roberts are hoping to organise a session at the annual AAG conference next April to explore ideas surrounding Spinoza and the body. If you’d like to take part then we would love to hear from you! Details as follows:

Spinoza

Call for papers, AAG Chicago 21-25 April 2015

Spinoza and Us

Session abstract: It is well-attested that there exist many ‘Spinozas’; the abominable atheist, the vital materialist, the romantic pantheist and the political radical. It is these rich theoretical starting points which ensure that Spinoza’s work has had an enduring relevance to philosophical and geographical thought, particularly in relation to conceptions of politics and ethics.

Geographers have previously mobilised Spinoza’s thought through concepts such as affect (Deleuze 1988; Dewsbury 2011; Massumi 2002; McCormack 2008), vitalism (Bennett 2010; Roberts 2012), politics (Connolly 2002; Hardt and Negri 2005; Ruddick 2010) and naturalism (Sharp 2011; Grosz 2011). In this session we want to address a concept that runs transversal to all of these themes: the body.

“A body can be anything; it can be an animal, a body of sounds, a mind or an idea; it can be a linguistic corpus, a social body, a collectivity.” – G. Deleuze (1988, page 127).

We feel that Spinoza’s concept of the body holds particular relevance in light of recent trajectories which explore the constitutive role of the nonhuman in political and social life. These include, but are not limited to: object-oriented ontology, speculative realism, new materialism, post-phenomenology, ‘more-than-human’ methodologies and new forms of participation.

In this session we hope to encourage a focussed engagement with Spinoza’s philosophy as a means of re-situating bodies, and what they can do, within contemporary human geography.

We would like to invite contributions that address or relate to:

 – The status of ‘the human’ in human geography

 – Technological bodies and the agency of nonhuman objects

 – Incorporeal bodies and affects

 – Ethology and Power

 – Nature and Spinoza’s ‘naturalism’

 – The politics and ethics that emerge in the processes of composing bodies

Please submit abstracts of no more than 250 words to Tom Roberts (tom.roberts@bristol.ac.uk) and Joanna Mann (joanna.mann@bristol.ac.uk) by Friday 17th of October.

Participants will be contacted by 21st October and will be expected to register and submit their abstracts online at the AAG website by 31st October 2014 ahead of a session proposal deadline of 5th November 2014. Please note that registration fees will apply and must be paid before the submission of abstracts to the AAG online system.

Spinoza-_Practical_Philosophy

Geographies of Skilled Practice

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RGS-IBG 2014 is done and dusted. It was a hectic few days, but I saw heaps of great talks and met some lovely fellow geographers! The session Merle and I organised on skilled practice went really well, and we thought we would put our introduction up on our respective blogs for those who couldn’t make it on the day. Without further ado – here it is!

 

Introduction to Geographies of Skilled Practice and Co-production Joanna Mann and Merle Patchett 

These two sessions stem from our shared interest in skilled craft practices, in both historical and contemporary contexts. Independently and collaboratively we have been attempting to theorise and practice a range of skills, repeatedly coming back to questions concerning how to define, recognise, and witness skill.

Skill is an inherently conflicted subject, with a myriad of definitions, applications, and understandings. The accepted OED definition is taken as ‘the ability to do something well’, with an etymology lying in the Old Norse word for discernment and knowledge. This older conception understands reason as a faculty of the mind, and speaks to the orthodox view that skill is the application of knowledge, serving to reinforce the sense of a mind-body spilt. More contemporary understandings quoted by the dictionary, however, speak to skill as a form of practical or embodied knowledge. Rather than foreclose understandings of skill and skilled practice, this session is a forum for exploring conceptions, characterisations, and applications of skill within and beyond geography.

Broadly situated, we understand these two sessions to fit in with the growing interest into the geographies of crafting, making and mending. To date much of this scholarship has sought to underline the social, economic and political potentials of craft and DIY ‘making cultures’ for responding to post-capitalist relations in a messy post-disciplinary environment. However, our concern with the focus on DIY cultures and ‘make do and mend’ philosophies is what happens to the place and relevance of skill?

If skilled practice is defined as the ability to ‘do something well’, are these (often) quick-fix solutions, combined with the availability of new technologies and learning platforms, leading to an impoverished conception of skill in the 21st century, whereby anyone can learn to become a plumber, coder or a taxidermist in a day?

Or is it simply the case that we are becoming skilful in different ways, in different settings and through different means?

Our specific interest in skilled practice emerges from a concern to move beyond interest in short-lived making and learning cultures, to instead think through the more long-term and committed geographical and bodily dynamics involved processes of enskilment. Yet rather than perpetuate romantic and static conceptions of skill, we seek to draw attention to the ways in which skill has always been dynamically co- and re-produced in both the past and the present. Furthermore, taking account of David Pye’s assertion that the crafts have no unique purchase on the matter of skill, we have compiled this session to showcase how research reaches areas as diverse as music, contemporary art, and digital technologies.

As geographers our understandings of skilled practice are shaped by a wide range of work, both within and outside of our own discipline. However the work of anthropologist and long-time theorist of skill Tim Ingold has perhaps been the most influential in terms of rethinking skill in recent years. Ingold’s body of work has steadily overturned the orthodox view that skill is the mere application of knowledge, by demanding instead a perspective that situates the practitioner, right from the start, in the context of an active engagement with the constituents of his or her surroundings.

grown

According to Ingold’s ‘dwelling perspective’, skills are neither innate nor acquired, but are rather ‘grown’: “incorporated into the human organism through practice and training in an environment” (Ingold 2000: 5). Ingold’s focus on practical enskilment, conceived as the embodiment of capacities of awareness and response by environmentally situated agents, has therefore helped us to overcome the overly rigid divisions between mind and body, and ‘art’ and ‘technology’ that have plagued prior theorisations of skill.

Moreover, by arguing that skills are ‘ecologically’ rather than ‘culturally’ produced, Ingold has highlighted that skills are not static ‘cultural traditions’ that are passed on by processes of learning from generation to generation, but are rather ‘regrown’ in each, responding to the specificities of particular ‘ecologies of practice’. 

As such, the essence of skill for Ingold comes to lie in the improvisational ability with which practitioners are able to disassemble the constructions of a craft or technology, and creatively to reincorporate the pieces into their own walks of life. François Sigaut goes so far as to call this the law of the irreducibility of skills (cited in Ingold 2011:62), whereby even the emerging technological work of the digital age demands that skills are, in Ingold’s terms, ‘re-grown’. 

However, while theoretically Ingold’s pronouncements on skill do not sit uneasily with the ‘ecologies of practice’ of the digital age, when selecting ethnographic material to substantiate his arguments he has tended to focus on the comparative study of hunter-gatherer and pastoral societies, drawing particularly on his early research on northern circumpolar reindeer hunting and herding peoples. As such Ingold’s work has be criticised at best for having little or nothing to say about the skills required for the digital age and at worst for putting certain ‘ecologies of practice’ in aspic. Moreover, although Ingold has helped us to overcome the overly rigid division between the works of human beings and those of non-human animals, the fundamental focus in his work, unsurprisingly for an anthropologist, is the role of the human in the development and practice of skill. 

By contrast, a particularly exciting move in geography at the moment is the way in which this human focus is being de-centred by theoretical influences such as non-representational theory and new materialist currents of thought which are increasingly changing the way we understand and interact with the world. For example the re-focusing of cultural geographic concerns on bodily-practices has turned attention away from cognition and representation to issues of embodiment, performance, skill and affect understood as relational and distributive forces and competencies that cut across human-nonhuman divides. These geographic arguments thus promote a modest and inclusive approach to understanding the social which depends on: ‘a philosophy of epistemological detail’ (Deleuze 1994: xix), the foregrounding of tacit knowledge (Rheinberger 1997), and ‘knowing interestingly’ through the development of rich and original articulations (Latour 2000).

A number of interesting and exciting studies have emerged of late, many picking up on these prevailing theoretical currents and empirical orientations. These include, for instance, Caitlin DeSilvey et al’s stories of menders in Southwest England, Richard Ocejo’s examination of cocktail bartenders, and Tim Edensor’s study of stonemasonry. In all of these instances, the work carried out is seeking to access knowledge which is rooted in deep practice and elucidate it for means of preservation, theoretical exemplification, or the passing-on of techniques.

These examples all highlight the way geographers work with skilled practitioners to co-produce knowledge. Arguably, they also showcase the way in which geographical research is a skilled practice in its own right. There are a plethora of methods available to the geographer, all of which require practice, refinement, and engagement to employ successfully. 

Conventionally, geographers have used techniques such as ethnography, interviews, archival research, and participant observation. Auto-ethnography is favoured by Erin O’Connor as an invaluable tool to understand ‘learning by doing’ in the realms of glass blowing. Similarly, Merle’s research into taxidermy practice highlights how the position of learner or apprentice can be a highly instructive context from which to enquire into the decidedly more-than-human sensory, bodily and affective registers of certain forms of skilled practice. Joanna, meanwhile, has found material-led interviews useful, going beyond a straight-forward question-and-answer format into a series of demonstrations, lessons, and experiments within practitioner’s workspaces.

Kenward(Picture from Steve Kenward’s ‘Made not manufactured series’)

All these techniques broadly encapsulate the recent turn towards practice-based inquiry that has witnessed academics using and honing their own skills, new and existing, as part of their research. James Ash, for instance uses his existing skills of video gaming to theorise affect, temporality, and technicity, whereas David Paton applies his experiences with stonemasonry to address materiality. Furthermore David Bissell has drawn on his experience of witnessing skilled performances in golf to challenge the ‘slow-creep dynamic’ through which skills and proficiencies are understood to evolve and become refined over time through repetition and habit. Following a decidedly anti-humanist logic Bissell has gone as far to argue that skills ‘might be better understood as competencies that temporarily possess us: fragile proficiencies that evolve in ways that unsettle the predictabilities inherent to more slow-creep understandings of practical refinement’ (2013: 127). The emergence of skill for Bissell therefore becomes less about trust in the narrowing and perfecting of movements through the drilled repetition of practices and more about the supple exposure to more volatile forms of life that just might develop the skill in a new direction.

Problems arise, however, when we want to access skilled practices of the past. Although the studying of embodied practices and skills of the past should be a central concern of the historical geographer because ‘as one of the chief sources of renewal of social systems… practices and skills are, in a sense, a motor of history’ (Glennie and Thrift 2004: 154) and therefore historical geographies, there is often very little in the historical record to mark them. As Gagen et al (2007:5) point out ‘the passage of time erodes the ‘presence’ of past practices and we must, by necessity, forgo any claims to the possibility of recovering in fullness realms of lived gesture, touch, and emotion’. This is especially so for skilled practices given that many skills were ‘passed-on’, or rather ‘re-grown’, largely tacitly and performatively, as in the case with craft guilds and apprenticeship schemes.

One method around this problem has been to use archival fragments in an attempt to reconstruct and reimagine the past. Increasingly, researchers of historical geography are finding that the notion of historicising does not need to mean deadening what has gone before. Instead they are enlivening the archive in ways which reveal the dynamic and distributed nature of past skilled practices, and are even showing that the leftover pieces of a craft or technology can be creatively reincorporated into the research process and their own walks of life. 

We have devised a few questions to act as a shared touchstone over the next two sessions. They are by no means the sole focus for what follows, but hopefully a good starting point and a basis for a larger group discussion at the end of session two. 

  1. What is the relevance of skill in the 21st Century?
  2. What is skill? How do we co-produce it?
  3. As geographical researchers, how do we witness skill in the past and present?
  4. How do we understand and trace the ‘passing-on’ of skill?
  5. How do we theorise skill as a collective endeavour?
  6. What is the relationship between skill and technology, historically and in the present?

These two sessions will showcase contemporary research into skill, as well as the skill of research. We’re interested in placing/grounding skill – not necessarily as something that is locatable in one particular body, but in the entanglements through which it comes into being and is sustained, lost, and recovered. In turning towards a notion of skill that is simultaneously embodied, placed, tethered, relational and distributed, we look forward to learning more about the practices, politics, histories, and futures of skill. 

Key References:

Adamson, G. (2007) Thinking Through Craft Oxford: Berg.

Ash, J. (2010) Architectures of affect: anticipating and manipulating the event in processes of videogame design and testing Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 28(4), 653-671.

Bissell, D. (2013). Habit displaced: the disruption of skilful performance Geographical Research 51(2), 120-129.

DeSilvey, C., Ryan, J., & Bond, S. C. (2013) 21 Stories Cultural Geographies

Edensor, T. (2012) Materiality, time and the city: the multiple temporalities of building stone Spatialities: The Geographies of Art and Architecture 35-52.

Ingold, T. (2000) The perception of the environment: essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill Psychology Press.

Ingold, T. (2011) Being alive: Essays on movement, knowledge and description Taylor & Francis.

O’Connor, E. (2005) Embodied knowledge The experience of meaning and the struggle towards proficiency in glassblowing Ethnography 6(2), 183-204.

Ocejo, R. E. (2012) At your service: The meanings and practices of contemporary bartenders European Journal of Cultural Studies 15(5), 642-658.

Patchett, M. (2014) ‘Witnessing craft: employing video ethnography to attend to the more-than-human craft practices of taxidermy’, in Charlotte Bates (ed) Video Methods: Social Science Research in Motion Routledge.

Paton, D. A. (2013). The quarry as sculpture: the place of making Environment and Planning A 45(5), 1070-1086.

 

RGS-IBG 2014: Geographies of Skilled Practice and Co-production

RGS-IBGThe RGS-IBG conference is a mere two weeks away (where did the time go?!) so it only seemed right that I swing by to plug the sessions I’ve been organising with Dr Merle Patchett – ‘the geographies of skilled practice and co-production’. The two sessions that we’ve put together stem from our shared interest in skilled craft practices, in both historical and contemporary contexts. We had a great response to our call for papers back in January and I’m delighted to announce that the line-up is as follows: 

Session 1: placing skill 

Introduction to Geographies of skilled practice and co-production – Joanna Mann (University of Bristol) and Merle Patchett (University of Bristol)

Simplicity, soul and skill: new folk geographies of hut and bothy – Rachel Hunt (University of Glasgow)

Suffolk and The Suffolk: 21st Century Co-production of Heavy Horse Skills – Kim Crowder (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Machine-made lace, the co-production of knowledge and the spaces of skilled practice –Tom Fisher (Nottingham Trent University) and Julie Botticello (Birkbeck, University of London) 

Binding Us Together: The Artist’s Line for Skilled Co-Production – Elizabeth Hodson (University of Aberdeen)

Session 2: Rethinking skill 

The craft of musical performance: creativity as skilled practice – Emily Payne (University of Oxford)

 A tradition of becoming skilful? – Joanna Mann (University of Bristol)

 An ethnography of image making practices in Hyderabad – Fiza Ishaq (Heidelberg University, Germany)

Struggling over skill: materiality, embodiment and contestation in the surfboard industry – Andrew Warren (University of New England, Australia) and Chris Gibson (University of Wollongong, Australia) 

Re-thinking redundancy in crisis: materials and skills beyond excess – Chantel Carr (University of Wollongong, Australia)

Both these sessions will be on Thursday 28th August, the first starting at 14:40 and the second starting at 16:50 in Electrical Engineering room 403a. We’re also hoping that independent artist Jethro Bryce is going to run a drawing exercise for us during the break between the two sessions, so it should be a jam-packed afternoon. 

I’ve had a quick look through the online programme of events as well, and can already spy lots of sessions that interest me. On Wednesday there’s a discussion on ‘performing geographies’, and three sessions on ‘making geographies’. ‘Postcolonial geographies, political ontologies, and posthumanism’ sounds like it might be a good way to start Thursday morning, and I’m totally intrigued by the notion of ‘ad-hoc geographies’ that day too. I was hoping for a quieter Friday, but alas, ‘Speculative Realism and Speculative Materialism’ sounds too good to miss, and I’ll definitely stick my nose into ‘cinematicity’, ‘assemblage theory’ and ‘literary cartographies’ as well. It’s going to be a hectic few days! 

albert hall(Clearly the Albert Hall and not the Royal Geographical Society, but it’s one of the only photos I took last year… and it’s quite pretty)

 

2013 in Review

(Belated) happy new year all! And sorry about the lack of blog posts towards the end of 2013… I don’t really know what happened. My new year’s resolution is to blog more regularly, although it seems I haven’t got off to the best of starts.

The life of a PhD student is a strange one. Often you feel like you achieve very little, plodding into the office every day, reading a bit, and then plodding home again for dinner (and a knit). As we moved into the New Year I didn’t feel as if 2013 had been particularly significant for me. It was that ‘middle stage’ of the PhD, the bit that doesn’t have the freshness and excitement of starting but also the bit without the panic and pressure of writing up and getting-it-done. But actually, when I stopped and considered it 2013 was alright. More than alright in many respects, and quite eventful!

At the start of the year I was busy throwing myself into interviewing local makers. I met some wonderful people – including basket weavers, fabric artists, a ceramicist, mosaicist, silversmith, and a metal sculptor – who welcomed me into their workspaces and allowed me an insight into their craft worlds. I also spoke with Matthew Partington from UWE about interviewing craftspeople and the on-going project he is involved in called ‘recording the crafts’. This was useful, not only for the interviewing work I had already been doing, but for the archival practice I was about to embark on at the University of Southampton.

481116_10153105548980534_198624760_nShetland

As many of you know I was fortunate enough to attend the ‘In the Loop 3.5’ conference in Shetland over the summer, which marked my first ever visit to the northerly Island. The scenery was stunning, the conference fascinating, and the wool plentiful. Needless to say I came back with a case stuffed full of yarny goodness. In the Loop was organised by the lovely, and totally inspirational, Linda Newington. Linda is based at Winchester School of Arts and curates the Knitting Reference Library (KRL). After hearing about this veritable treasure trove at In the Loop I arranged a visit to delve through some of the books and patterns held both at Winchester and in Southampton. Oh my gosh, it’s a wonderful collection! Everything you can think of to do with knitting is here – from Victorian patterns to yarn samples, letters between famous knitters to needles, and drop spindles to toilet roll covers. It’s just jaw-dropping, and such a privilege to be allowed a glimpse of craft history. Longer blog post to follow dedicated solely to the KRL, I promise.

994228_10153105547705534_151050738_nA Shetland Knitting Circle

I’ve also been spending an increasing amount of time at Paper Village and getting involved with their community projects. In May we unveiled the coral reef – a fab crochet project that involved 38 local crafters making a woolly underwater wonderland that went on display for a month or so and got some great feedback from crafters and non-crafters alike. The next project is the City of Briswool – a mission to knit, crochet, and needlefelt a fibrous representation of Bristol. I’ve been tasked with making Beese’s tea rooms and some trees for Arnos Vale cemetery. It’s going to be massive and I can’t wait to see the finished piece! Going to Paper Village isn’t all about project work though; I’ve also been going to the weekly knit and natter group there and enrolled in a few courses. As a result I can now make my own (cotton, not knitted) knickers!

971408_628315547181681_1907177861_nThe Paper Village Coral Reef

Vicky from Paper Village was also kind enough to collaborate with me in a recent conference we did on crafting at the University’s ‘Thinking Futures’ event. We spoke alongside other academics and practitioners at what was, overall, a relaxed, fun, and interesting evening discussing a range of craft-related issues. On the subject of conferences, 2013 was my first visit to the annual RGS-IBG conference in London at which I also presented in a session on the geographies of comfort. It turned out to be a great few days actually, helped in no small part by some glorious weather, where I got to meet a huge range of geographers and generally mingle with people working in similar fields. My paper went much better than I expected it to (given how incredibly anxious I’d been about it in the weeks leading up to the event) and the conference as a whole was a bit of a summer boost.

In terms of yarn bombing this year I’ve largely kept my head down, excluding one or two big events. My absolute favourite commission was being asked to decorate the surroundings for one of Bristol’s Gromits over the summer for Hotel du Vin. The team were so lovely and welcoming and helped me cover their courtyard in bunting, pom-poms, and a giant bone. It looked great, and I had lots of positive feedback on it too. I also did some work for AXA’s graduate scheme again, this time making pom-poms to adorn Warwick University’s campus during a career fair. Apparently though the wrap from 2012 is still doing the rounds and has been displayed all over the country! Nice to know it’s holding up ok. I was also sent a link to a yarn bombing documentary a few weeks ago which I was interviewed for. The other participants are Spanish, but this version of the video has English subtitles if you fancy a watch. There’s some very impressive work going on!

It probably goes without much saying that I did a fair amount of knitting in 2013. Not as much as I would have liked, but I did manage to get through over 7 miles of yarn – just in my personal projects! Not too shabby. I doubt I’ll get as much knitted up in 2014, but watch out for a few upcoming posts I have planned on some exciting projects I’ll be embarking on shortly. It’s going to be an exciting year by all accounts – I’m off to Australia for three months starting in February having been awarded a grant by the ESRC to work with a professor at the University of Newcastle. I can’t wait! Then it will almost be time for another RGS-IBG conference (at which I’m co-organising a session), before getting the thesis written and finished. Lots to look forward to then! 

RGS-IBG 2014 CFP: Geographies of Skilled Practice and Co-production

RGS-garden (1)Myself and my supervisor Merle Patchett are organising a session to be held at the annual RGS-IBG conference this summer on the theme of skilled practice and co-production. If you’d like to take part then we’d love to hear from you! Details below: 

Call for Papers: 2014 RGS Annual Conference, London 26-29 August 2014

Geographies of skilled practice and co-production

Session abstract: What is the place of skilled practice in the 21st century? Does the frenetic pace of life and availability of new technologies augur the death of skill or are we simply becoming skilful in different ways, in different settings and through different means? Where past conceptions of skilled practice have focussed on notions of the solitary artisan refining techniques alone or under a master in the workshop, geographers are increasingly paying attention to the ways in which skill is co-produced between different actors (both human and non-human), technologies and materials in and across a variety of temporal and spatial scales, contexts and settings. In this session we thus want to make space (and time) for papers that offer theoretical reflections on skilled practice and processes of becoming-skilful, as well as papers that showcase committed empirical engagements with skilled practice and its geographies of co-production.

As such we invite papers exploring, but by no means limited to:

* The place(s) and relevance of skill in contemporary life

* Theoretical reflections on skill and becoming-skilful

* The learning and refining of skills – i.e. how is skill co-produced?

* The ethics and/or politics of skilled-practice as a form of co-production

* Ethnographies of skilled practice

* The influence of technology and the non-human within skilled practice

* The use of ‘skill’ as a geographical research tool

* Challenges of witnessing and articulating skilled practice

* What counts as ‘skilled’ practice?

If you are interested in participating, please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words to Joanna Mann (Joanna.mann@bristol.ac.uk) and Merle Patchett (Merle.patchett@bristol.ac.uk) by Friday 7th February 2014.

***

Longer version: Geographers have long worked with skilled practitioners to co-produce research in a whole variety of contexts. Recent examples include DeSilvey et al’s (2013) stories of menders in Southwest England, Richard Ocejo’s (2012) examination of cocktail bartenders, and Patchett et al’s (2011, 2012) collaborative re-workings of taxidermy specimens. In all of these instances, the work carried out is trying to access knowledge which is rooted in deep practice and elucidate it for means of preservation, theoretical exemplification, or the passing on of techniques.

Meanwhile, theoretical insights from outside of geography are changing understandings of what it means to co-produce skill itself. Anthropology, for instance has shown how skills are generated in fields of force and through circulations of materials that cut across boundaries (Ingold, 2013; 2000). Sociology has highlighted how skills develop within processes, and become highly attuned to problems the more it is honed (Sennett, 2009). Meanwhile academics working within the theoretical realms of new materialisms have emphasised a move away from these romantic inflections to look at the capricious and unruly matter of matter, further enabling geographers to look at the materials of co-production without negating new technologies as forms of skilled practice in themselves (Bennett, 2010; Connolly, 2013).

Furthermore, the recent turn towards practice-based inquiry has witnessed academics using their own skills, both new and existing, as part of their research. James Ash (2012; 2013) uses his existing skills of video gaming to theorise affect, temporality, and technicity, whilst Tim Ingold (2000; 2013) often draws on his experience of cello-playing to illustrate arguments. The task of becoming proficient in such skills has also proven to be strong academic fodder whilst interrogating topics as varied as glass blowing (O’Connor, 2007) and corncrake counting (Lorimer, 2008). Yet, the skilled practices involved in academic work itself – both of writing and research methodologies – can also provide a fertile ground for thought, as evidenced by recent insights on archival methods (Lorimer, 2010), innovative phonographic work (Gallagher and Prior, 2013), and performative writing practices (Dewsbury, 2014), amongst others.

In this session we want to move beyond the plethora of methods advocating ‘make-do’ techniques and DIY cultures and make space (and time) for papers that offer theoretical reflections on skilled practice and processes of becoming-skilful, as well as papers that showcase committed empirical engagements with skilled practice and geographies of co-production.

If you are interested in participating, please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words to Joanna Mann (Joanna.mann@bristol.ac.uk) and Merle Patchett (Merle.patchett@bristol.ac.uk) by Friday 7th February 2014.