Firstly, a massive thank you to the Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group for sponsoring me at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference. It’s a bit tricky to get a hold of funds in the final year of a PhD and I appreciate the help immensely.
Not going to lie, this was the first conference I had, initially, felt a little out of my depth in. Although I look at migration between spaces and identities, and look at the regional idiosyncrasies of healthcare provision, I am by no means a geographical historian.
So a conference led by the Royal Geographical Society was a little intimidating.
That being said I was, as per usual, worrying for nought. But my impression was that, this was the type of conference where your panel chairs and the people who share your panel could make the event for you – just because the sheer scale of the conference makes it difficult for the organisers to be everywhere, obviously. So even though the organisers were very thorough and helpful, my panel, ‘Examining troubling institutions and geographies at the nexus between care and control’, was in the very capable hands of Tom Disney and Anna Schliehe. This is what impressed me the most, I think. The speakers couldn’t have expanded on a wider range of topics. Carceral and psychiatric spaces and spaces of care, children, the elderly, the mentally ill, tenants, asylum seekers, prisoners, soldiers, Scotland, India, America, Norway, Switzerland, France, Finland, Denmark and Mexico. All were represented in this panel, and represented bloody well. I was so impressed with the quality of the papers throughout the day. I took more than one tip away with me for future presentations of my own.
But I also took away something else – and I think this is what makes these huge, international, interdisciplinary conferences so important for final year PhD students especially. Listening to the papers on carceral spaces, the tension between duties of care and control and the identities of the men and women and children confined in these spaces, I was led down a few paths I would quite like to tease into my own research. Listening to papers on therapy, expression and communication (all in Scotland, I might add), I was again reminded just how closely linked these studies are. Listening to papers exploring the body itself as a site of care, of the complexities involved in exercising spatial control over vulnerable groups, helped me look back on my own research with another perspective.
A perspective that’s easy to lose in the tunnel vision of a PhD.
So, given that I’m writing up now with some restructuring to do on a couple of chapters, I’m hoping to take all of this back into the office with me. Who knows, maybe it’ll make my viva pass a little more smoothly whenever that day comes, but for now I’m quite content that conferences like the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference expose you to a dozen other worlds of research disciplines, methodologies and schools of thought that aren’t so isolated from your own research as you may have first expected.