cropped-scgpglogo.jpgWelcome to the Social Cultural Geography Research Group (SCGRG) postgraduate blog.  We hope to use this space to facilitate conversation, as well as to share knowledges, experiences, and training opportunities.

Please contact us if you have ideas that you would like the SCG postgrad reps to pursue, if there are topics you would like to see covered on this blog, or if you have a blog post that you would like us to publish.

We look forward to hearing from you!
Maddy & Phil (SCGRG postgrad reps 2016-17)

Teaching in geography, earth and environmental sciences: Workshop for early-career academics

The RGS-IBG is hosting a two-day workshop (Monday 28 and Tuesday 29 November 2016) for early-career academics in geography, earth and environmental sciences who are interested in developing their teaching skills and networking with others at the same career stage.

It will include a range of workshops covering such topics as: fieldwork, data skills, assessment and feedback, strategies for large-group teaching, course design, applying for professional recognition and planning for career progression.

Workshop leaders include Professor Jo Bullard (Loughborough) and Professor Gordon Curry (Glasgow) and a range of academics from across the GEES disciplines.  It is being developed and delivered in collaboration with the Institution of Environmental Sciences, the Geological Society and the British Society for Geomorphology.

More information, including a link to registration, is online at www.rgs.org/TeachingGEES

The Antipode Foundation’s Scholar-Activist Project and International Workshop Awards, 2017

The Antipode Foundation have just announce the fifth year of the Scholar-Activist Project and International Workshop Awards.

Scholar-Activist Project Awards are single-year grants of up to £10,000 intended to support collaborations between academics and students and non-academic activists (from non-governmental organisations, think tanks, social movements, or community/grassroots organisations, among other places), including programmes of action-orientated and participatory research and publicly-focused forms of geographical investigation. They offer opportunities for scholars to relate to civil society and make mutually beneficial connections.

International Workshop Awards are single-year grants of up to £10,000 available to groups of radical/critical geographers staging events (including conferences, workshops, seminar series and summer schools) that involve the exchange of ideas across disciplinary and sectoral boundaries and intra/international borders, and lead to the building of productive, durable relationships. They make capacity-building possible by enabling the development of a community of researchers.

Activists (of all kinds) and students as well as academics are welcome to apply, and applications are welcome from those based outside geography departments; historians, political scientists and many others can apply if their work contributes to radical/critical geographic conversations. Also, the Foundation welcomes proposals from historically under-represented groups, regions, countries and institutions.

For more information, including application forms and details of recent awardees, see https://antipodefoundation.org/scholar-activist-project-awards/ and https://antipodefoundation.org/international-workshop-awards/ or just get in touch with Andy Kent – antipode@live.co.uk – with any questions.

Call for PGR Papers: Pre-Conference Symposium of the Food Geographies Working Group (FGWG)

The FGWG is a newly established research collective within the RGS-IBG. Our primary aim is to be an interdisciplinary network for all interested in the broad area of ‘food geographies’. PGRs are critical to this, and so the opportunity for PhD and Masters students to showcase their work and influence the future direction of the FGWG is central to our 2016 pre-conference symposium.

This one-day symposium will focus on new concepts, methodologies and areas in food geographies research in order to develop collaborations and stimulate innovative research within and beyond this newly established group. Given the ongoing global crises around both food production and consumption, it remains critical and timely to cut across the existing RGS-IBG research groups and bring together all those interested in these issues to explore new ways to think about, and engage with, such challenges.

The draft schedule for the day is:

09:30     Welcome and introduction (Dr Mags Adams, University of Salford)

09.45     Keynote panel on ‘New Directions in Food Geographies?’ (speakers tbc)

11.00     Coffee

11.30     Postgraduate PechaKucha presentations

13.00     Lunch

14.00     Workshop on ‘New Opportunities for Food Geographies’

16.00     Rapporteur(s)


We welcome PGR presentations adopting a ‘PechaKucha’ format (PechaKucha is of Japanese origin and involves giving 20 quick-fire slides of 20 secs each, totalling 6 min 40 sec each. Your slides should be timed to advance automatically every 20 seconds). This will enable greater participation during the symposium as well as ensuring a more informal/friendly environment for presenting students. The focus of the PechaKuchas should be on your work in the area of food geographies, from the methods used to any results thus far. Through using such a format, we hope to understand the array of early career research emerging in preparation for a co-produced statement paper to be published in The Geographical Journal. Furthermore, PGRs will play a direct role in the symposium through helping to shape the very future of the FGWG.

Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be submitted to Dr Mike Hardman via m.hardman@salford.ac.uk by 1st July 2016.

CFP RGS-IBG AC2016: Provocations and Possibilities of ‘Nexus Thinking’: Postgraduate Snapshots

This year we are organising a session at the RGS-IBG annual conference in London which will take place on the 31st August – 2nd September 2016. The session is sponsored by the Social and cultural geographies research group and the Postgraduate Forum. Please see the call for papers below:

Provocations and Possibilities of ‘Nexus Thinking’: Postgraduate Snapshots

The aim of this session is to explore the different ways in which postgraduate researchers in Social and Cultural Geography are engaging with and attending to the manifold provocations posed by the concept of Nexus Thinking.  ‘Nexus thinking’ is taken here to refer to the varying ways in which human geographers are working to consider the entanglements and interconnectivities between environmental and social domains.

We are encouraging postgraduates to present a brief ‘snapshot’ of their work (whether a photograph, a quotation, a field diary entry, an image of an object, or mini-video clip) as a focus for 5-10 minute contributions that explore the ways in which their theoretical and/or methodological interventions expand or restrict the propensity for and the possibilities of nexus thought.

It is envisaged that the snapshot will be the main artefact around which each contribution is orientated. We encourage participants to fully utilise their snapshots in ways which further deepen and enrich the developing trajectories, tensions, and textures associated with the mobilisation of the Nexus Thinking.

Please email prospective contributions or any queries to Katie Ledingham (KAL210@exeter.ac.uk) and Phil Emmerson (pxe991@bham.ac.uk). The deadline for submission is Tuesday 16th February 2016.  Please include:

  • A title for your presentation
  • An abstract of max 150 words
  • A description of the ‘Snapshot’ that will be used
  • Your name, affiliation and contact details (email address)

How Critical is Research Impact Conference, University of Glasgow, 10/12 – 11/12/2015

Catherine Oliver and Phil Emmerson from the University of Birmingham share their experiences and reflections of the conference

@katiecmoliver, @PhilEmmerson

We have spent the last couple of days at the ‘How Critical is Research Impact’ conference at the University of Glasgow, hosted by the Human Geography Research Group. We thought we’d spend some time reflecting on what happened and our thoughts and questions that have arisen over the course of the event and the days that have followed. We’ll quickly run through the content of the event, what was said by who, and then spend a moment offering some more general reflections and questions.

Kye Askins: Mapping Impact Together – alternative approaches.

Kye spoke to the tune of a different approach to impact, drawing on her research using participatory geographies and co-production of knowledges. She questioned impact in terms of the frameworks set out by RCUK and REF 2014, and the implications of this for an increasingly neoliberal university sector. The framework of her commentary was focused around an executive summary of a forthcoming wider report published by N8 Research Partnership, the University of Durham, and the ESRC, of which more details can be found at https://www.dur.ac.uk/resources/beacon/MappingAlternativeImpactsummaryfinal.pdf.

Rather than detailing her talk, we have drawn out the points that had resonance with our individual research, and those which led us to formulate questions around impact. The first of these is focused around the co-production of impact between researcher and researched, rather than the donor-recipient model, which reverberated with the way we both see our research unfolding. It led to questioning of who gets to define impact, and how this can be approached in search of rebalancing power relations.

The scale of impact was also questioned, particularly through the phrase “bigger is not always better”, whereby research can be less grand and more meaningful, putting the impact into the context of the lives it may affect. It is important that impact can be considered at the small scale rather than striving to produce knowledges that have obvious extensive reach. It gives a chance to practice the famous plea of feminist geographers to ‘think global, act local’.

Hester Parr – Research Impact: Shaping Attitudes, Changing Lives

Hester spoke about her work with Police Scotland, The Scottish Institute for Policing Research, the University of Glasgow, the University of Dundee and the ESRC regarding the geographies of missing people (see www.geographiesofmissingpeople.org.uk). This is a well-known project and has received significant attention recently within the academy, including winning the ESRC Impact Prize 2015 for Outstanding impact in Society.

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7j0YHS1nI8g&feature=youtu.be] Despite the recognition that Hester has received for this work, it was refreshing to hear that she maintained an element of critical awareness surrounding the process, and particularly the “impact agenda”. She spoke at length about the need to be self-conscious of both how we assess and present the impacts of our research, and a certain amount of care not to become too aligned with the institutions and processes we are being critical of.

Hester also spoke about the time commitments of impact-based activities and the implications that this can have upon both personal and professional life. She didn’t offer a solution to these questions, but perhaps such issues can only be considered with experience and at the level of the individual.

Hayden Lorimer – Research Impact: Working with the Creative Arts and Rolling with the New Cycle

Hayden’s commentary looks to try and bring the fun back into the discussions of impact. He spoke of his work with the arts group NVA, a Glasgow based collective who have gained creative control of a site in which they have a 20 year plan for regeneration and other arts and education based activities (http://nva.org.uk/artwork/invisible-college/).

Hayden considered how the impact agenda in his work was led by the artists and local communities involved with the reclamation of Kilmerhew/St Peters, which potentially gave a disordered “impact story”.

To counteract this, he argued it was important to brand the impact early on in the research process, which he did through setting up the ‘Invisible College’ as a way of encompassing the different activities into a coherent structure co-habited by all interested parties.

Another important point Hayden raised was the importance of which people commit and are highly visible and present throughout the process, in contrast to those who are more fleeting and how difficult it is to evidence these different levels of engagement.

Group Discussions

At this point our stories diverge, as we moved into smaller group discussions and thus split up. These smaller groups were both interesting and useful in providing a nice comparison to the more academic-led commentaries of the day thus far, as the academics were not even in the room. Having this interlude in the conference allowed for us to communicate openly and honestly with some of our concerns regarding impact seeping into PhD life, our worries over a lack of knowledge around what impact means for us, the ethics of impact, when we should provide impact, and how to negotiate the impact of often-shifting projects. It was interesting to hear that there were many disagreements about the answers, if there are any, to these questions and the diversity of opinion even amongst PhD students. What did emerge from these small group discussions was an atmosphere of support and conviviality between us, in trying to negotiate what appears to be an emerging and uncertain aspect of PhD life.

Film Screening: ‘Detention Without Walls’

To end the academic side of the first day of the conference, Bridget Holtom screened a film that came from her MRes project working alongside a collective of ex-detainees facing deportation (the Life After Detention research group) and living their lives in precarious conditions. The film speaks more powerfully than we ever could, and is definitely worth watching. It is not yet published in its entirety, but excerpts can be found at https://vimeo.com/detentionwithoutwalls.


The evening activities were unstructured, but we found that the day had inspired several ideas that we shared over dinner regarding collaborations and how our research relates to impact. In stepping away from the larger group, we had more intimate conversations between ourselves and a third PhD student that were perhaps more relevant to our positions at the University of Birmingham than other discussions over the course of the day that did not relate to such insights. Look out for the forthcoming collaborative film at the launderette forthcoming out of cultural geography students at UoB!

We also joined Glasgow students and staff for some drinks later on in the evening, and it was lovely to be welcomed and see how close their relationships are and get to know them and hear about their research in a much more informal setting. Evening drinks at conferences always seem to be productive in their own ways and both the staff and students made the evening really enjoyable and gave us a taste of the fun that has had in their department outside of the formal conference setting.

Jo Sharp – International and Interdisciplinary Challenges in Following Impact

Day 2 started with a fourth commentary given by Jo Sharp. Jo’s work was a fascinating case, as the research project that she talked about predated the focus on the impact agenda, and particularly the language and evidencing of the ways in which research has impact. What this brought to light was first and foremost the non-linear nature of the impact story throughout, and indeed after, the research process. Due to her position as necessarily backdating and tracking the impact of her research process on a long since completed project, her commentary reflected the struggles of identifying where impact was present, and how it can be in very different forms than the expected ones.

What was key for Jo was the way in which a focus on impact has changed the way we work together and form relationships within research, shifting from organic, genuine connections to a necessity to create relationships that evidence impact. Jo suggested that there are more ways of demonstrating value that cannot be empirically measured and shown, such as these relationships that form throughout the research process. The gradual building of research impact was important to Jo’s work in Egypt, and it is worth noting that much of the impact has come about as part of what you might call “legacy” whereby the people she was working with have directed their own projects around education and farming relatively without her input.

Panel Discussion/Open Debate

The panel discussion was made up of Chris Philo (University of Glasgow), Caleb Johnston (University of Edinburgh), Emma Laurie (University of Glasgow), Bridget Holtom (University of Glasgow), and Heather McLean (University of Glasgow). It will be difficult to capture everything that was talked about in this session, but we can provide a summary of what each said.

Philo talked about who should be providing impact, and the expanding role of the academic outside of scholarship, and ‘academic creep’.

Johnston was highly conflicted by the impact agenda, talking about how on the one hand academics are encouraged to produce meaningful work, but worried about the pressures and the way in which this was folding into a wider neoliberal university.

Laurie talked about the impact that research could have on academic worlds, including the personal developments describing this as a different form of impact (with a small i).

Holtom questioned what can actually be done with impact, and who benefits from this, noting that actually it is often the academic who is most ‘impacted’.

McLean talked about the need to be honest about the complexities of doing particularly action research. She spoke passionately about a need for academics to work together, rather than competing with each other in terms of impact.

The discussion was very thought-provoking, and sparked wider questions for the open debate including:

  • How can the impact agenda fit beyond a humanist agenda?
    • How can we include historical and more-than-human geographies etc?
  • Is the idea of impact making geography less critical, leading to false conclusions or a more channelled “pathway” in scholarship?
  • Conversations about what impact means, and to who?
  • Questions of the ‘soulfulness’ and ‘realness’ of impact processes.

Overall, we both thoroughly enjoyed the conference and found it beneficial not only to our own work, but sparking ideas around collaboration as well as making us be critical about the way we might work in the future. The main provocations focused around the reciprocity and co-dependency of impact i.e. the need for impact to be both engaged and co-produced in the same way we might come to the findings of our research. This in turn has raised the question of ownership of the impact, really focusing on who the impact is for and being aware and honest of the way that we benefit from this as academics ourselves. Finally, the main question that we both took away surrounds the need to be thoughtful and (self-) questioning about ethics when providing impact. We are well-trained to consider ethics when gathering and analysing data, but perhaps less than we should be when it comes to disseminating and working with our findings.

As a final more comical point, it is perhaps worth noting that in producing this blog we have in some ways contributed a small amount of impact from the impact conference itself… #impactception

7 things we wish we had known in first year…

It’s the time of year when PhD offices around the country will be seeing an influx of new PhD students. We would like to offer a huge welcome to the SCGRG PGR blog to our new Social and Cultural geography colleagues! We have also been reflecting on our experiences of the first year of our PhDs and we know it can be a confusing, frustrating and exciting time. As such we have put together a top 5 things that we wish we had known going into first year. Please feel free to add to this list and to refer to the PG Tips section of the website for more hints and tips!

1.      You don’t have to know what your PhD is about right away

It may seem obvious in hindsight but a major thing that many PhD students worry about in their first years is that they don’t know what their PhD is exactly about. This often isn’t helped by every friend and family member – pretty much anyone you tell that you are doing a PhD – will ask is “What’s your PhD about?” To counter this question is probably worth having a stock answer that you can tell people in answer to this question while in the background you can get on with working out what it actually might be about. There is no rush however, often you can continue on into the writing up stages before you work it out and this is more than ok!

2.      That there are 10000000000 ways to do a PhD

The next thing to say is that there is that there is no set way to do a PhD. This is true for every aspect from methods, writing style, where people work, how they work, the amount of time they take to do things or the order that they do them in. While there are a number of commonly used ‘formulas’ these are no better than any other way. First year is a great time to experiment and find the way to do it that suits you best!

3.      That you are not stupider than your peers

The second thing that people worry about is that they are not as clever or capable as their peers. It’s fair to say that ‘imposter syndrome’ is definitely a thing. The key thing to remember though is that no matter how calm or confident your peers may appear, they will also feel this way from time to time. If they tell you that they never do, then they are probably lying.

4.      To learn from other people around you

The people around you are a fantastic resource to learn from. Chances are that in your department there will be a wealth of experience in doing PhD, both from the people who have completed them already to the people who are only a year ahead of you. Talk to them all and get ideas, hints, words of advice and encouragement. As with most things, a PhD is a lot easier if you can learn from the mistakes and positives of other people.

5.      That reading widely is the best thing that you can be doing

There is an old adage that your PhD is the best time for reading. It’s something that can get a little tiresome to hear from your supervisors who will often tell you how jealous they are of you getting to read all the time when often all you want to do is write. Forgo this frustration if you can. Supervisors aren’t always right but in this case reading is a huge chance to explore a wider set of geographies to the ones that you are used to and to bring these through into your PhD as you go through.

6.      To use a reference manager

A more practical piece of advice now. Use a reference manager from the start! There are loads of options out there and many of them are free so have a look around and find one that works for you. It will make life infinitely easier when you come back to write the thesis and you can’t remember where you read that killer piece of information!

7.      That the RGS-IBG is a great resource

The final piece of advice is to use the RGS-IBG! They offer loads of information, advice and guidance, events and networks for Postgraduates. Obviously you have found us here at the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group but there are a tonne of other research groups. Join them and take part, each one has a Postgraduate Representative which is elected at the annual conference and many of them run sessions just for postgrads at that conference also. There is also the postgraduate forum who offer a conference in March just for postgrads. A great change to meet people and share your ideas in a friendly and fun environment.

Good To Eat? Knowing Food in Practice

Reflections on the Food Matters Symposium:  Systemic Food Waste, West Town Farm 1/09/15
By Louise MacAllister, University of Exeter

Arriving at West Town Farm for a symposium addressing issues of food waste, I walked into the venue in wellies, and took up a seat on a straw bale in the barn. The farm environment felt familiar to me, but catching snippets of other people’s conversations, the location for the symposium was badgeralready provoking lines of thought that would not be possible inside a more ‘standard’ venue.

The day began with some provocations from Professor Henry Buller, whose opening comments immediately highlighted the complexity of questions of food waste. Waste was framed in a variety of ways, including but not limited to; waste as a natural result of working with a biotic medium, waste as the result of unlimited consumption, waste as systemically inherent, waste that is actively produced, and metabolic waste. Waste that exists on scales from the household, to the 35 million male chicks that are seen as a waste product of the egg industry, and are therefore killed at one day old. However with these chicks mostly feeding the pet food industry, waste can again be differentially framed; waste as a commercial opportunity.

With these ‘provocations’ bouncing around in conversation we set off in groups for a farm walk. As we walked these provocations were made to feel real, complicated and entangled with everyday farming and the vital materialities of the farm. Andy Bragg who farms at West Town Farm led the walk. We stopped by a small herd of cattle which Andy spent quite some time talking about. The cattle watched us while we talked about their lives, their feed patterns, their everyday care, their breeding, their death, and the processing of their bodies. We talked about these things with the aim of reducing food waste, while simultaneowest town cowsusly being enchanted by the cute calves, the curious heifer at the fence, and the face-pulling of the bull.

Returning to the barn these real life complexities were extended to further contexts in the panel ‘knowing food in practice’. We heard more from Andy Bragg about the pressures of farming, and how food scares and food waste are governed by the madness of food export rules. We then heard from Kim Chenoweth of the Devon and Cornwall Food Association. Kim works as a volunteer helping feed those who may well otherwise go without, and explained the reliance of the charity on ‘waste’ food such as undersized vegetables, and the questions this raises about socially-just eating. Finally, we heard from Martyn Bragg who runs a farm to consumer veg box scheme and how food costs accumulate through wasteful practices such as unnecessary packaging, here our wasteful practices can be understood as generative of costs that structure access to food.

Following the panel it was time to practically engage with waste food to make our lunch! Splitting off into three groups to work with offal, ‘misshapen’ vegetables and past-best before bakery ingredients, I joined the latter group. The main question of this session being ‘how would we know food is good to eat if we take away the best before date?’ I think this session is worthy of a bit more attention that I will give to the other parts of the day because this was where we engaged with food itself and so came to approach the topic in ways that cannot be reached through traditional methods. The food we were working with was laid out on a table, the session leader, Ken, explained it had been left over when he closed his bakery in 2012.

From the simple question of how would we know this food would be good to eat came a whole range of possible approaches to this question. Just what is ‘good to eat’ in the first place? Does it mean it has the same nutritional quality as when it was first produced? How does flour degrade? What bacteria are at work, incorporating themselves into our food, into our bodies, and into debates about food waste? Does such degradation even render it unsafe anyway? Touching the ingredients prompted further thought; what are we feeling for? What does good food feel like? Can you smell bad food? What can we do with food before it reaches our mouth to ensure it is safe to take into our bodies in the absence of a black and white date, past which the food is widely understood to have ‘become bad’ and ‘waste’.

This is not just about the food itself though, thinking about food waste through a visceral engagement with food prompts questions of social justice and access. Who has to make these decisions about food waste and safety and who is afforded what may be considered the luxury of not having to worry about food safety, with food beyond the best before date being ‘safely’ consigned to the dustbin and firmly placed in the category of waste? Can society be divided today between those who eat first and those who eat what is left in a modern day version of ‘the upper crust’?

Besides such classed questions are questions of care. Are we taking care for our own bodies when we take in food that is past a particular date? Are we taking care of the environment if we do NOT take in food that is past a particular date? What about when we care for others? I was not the only parent in the group who would eat food past a ‘best before’ date myself, but who would be far more cautious about feeding it to my children. Here food waste becomes entangled with my gendered responsibilities to care. But who receives my care and who does not when I make these decisions about food waste? And is the decision to eat and feed my children food past its ‘best before date’ a particular privilege that I am afforded, that others do not have?

We had no such decisions to make today, lunch was based on food that would otherwise have gone to waste, and if anyone was under the impression that ‘waste’ food somehow automatically tastes bad, this was dispelled by the lunch, the scones below being part of the pudding!scones

Lunch was of course also an opportunity to talk to fellow delegates. Sitting in our conference barn venue, back on our straw bale seats, I spoke with several people about the venue itself. The farm walk may have seemed like some kind of fun interlude, but as one delegate explained, ‘it makes it much easier to think about food waste, it makes it seem more real’. The place of the conference itself, and the materialities we were engaging with during the day, were combining to forge new ways of framing and engaging with the topic, a way forward to solutions?

After lunch we returned to an academic focus with a panel session. Dr. Megan Blake talked about food waste in relation to neo-liberalism, Dr. Matt Reed about social structures and organic farming, and Dr. Emma Roe about the food animal carcass as a vital materiality whose ethics of distribution can be framed in terms of social and cultural practices.

The day ended with ways forward. Splitting into three groups and then returning for a roundtable discussion, the group I joined began from the starting point of ‘what might a less wasteful food production utopia look like?’ This could not be easily defined, from ‘eating your landscape’, to food justice, fish based diets, in-vitro meat, and finally the close celebration of the life of an animal we may consume through the example of the parties held for the slaughter of pigs in Spain, we found utoleavespia could not be grasped. Food, taste and consumption is at once personal and communal, and so it was that utopia was different for each of us. As the day had demonstrated, this is a complex issue that can be approached in a variety of ways. However the day had served as an excelled point from which to think about these complexities and forge connections and ideas for possible solutions. These possible solutions, thoughts and questions were captured at the end of the day not in the more standard ‘post-it note’ format, but in keeping with the day, on paper leaves, our ‘ink’ being charcoal produced on the farm.

What was perhaps most clear from today was that food waste is not something that can be addressed in a singular straightforward way. Approaching food waste and arriving at meaningful solutions demands that we take into account debates from household practices, to their social and cultural frames, to economic and political structuring. Accounting for such complexity is not a straightforward task and ways to prompt new lines of thought are vital for this. A farm-based symposium with visceral, academic, and industry engagements was a perfect approach from which to further this ongoing process from a venue that engaged and immersed us in the vitality of the world we talk about.