Wednesday, 4 June 2014

New paper: 'The geographies of the conference'

Protesting the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
Ruth Craggs and I have a new paper out in Geography Compass which reviews existing work on the political and cultural geographies of conferences in politics and science.

The collaboration emerged from the discovery of a shared interest in conferences as sites of knowledge production and political action, where the micro-geographies of social interaction collide with broader geopolitical or cultural forces in the pursuit of agreement, consensus or dissent. Conferences play an important part in the rhythms of both science and politics, and we thought it would be interesting to put these spheres next to each other in order to tease out some commonalities. Of course, conferences often do this work of conjunction themselves, with conferences on issues like climate change frequently bringing together individuals from the very different social worlds of science and politics into the same room, with fascinating consequences.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Red mist descending: the curious history of the IPCC's 'burning embers'


By Martin

A couple of years ago I wrote a short paper (here in PDF) with Mike Hulme discussing the evolution of the IPCC's (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) 'reasons for concern' diagram, which became colloquially known as the burning embers. I'm now putting the finishing touches to a longer paper on the production and circulation of the diagram, and how it's become a prominent part of the visual culture of climate change. Last week, a new chapter opened in this story with the publication of the IPCC's Working Group II report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. As with previous updates to the diagram, the headline is: "it's worse than we thought".

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Presenting my PhD research - conference schedule summer 2014

By Helen

In an attempt to get as much feedback as possible on my PhD work whilst I write it up, and to take advantage of cheap conference fees for graduate students, I've developed a fairly ambitious conference schedule for the summer. The titles and abstracts for my various talks below give a decent outline of the main elements of my PhD work. I'm dipping my toe into a few new disciplinary contexts as well to see how I fit in at the British Sociological Association and at a political science department, partly with a view to helping me work out what to do post-PhD and where I might want to be based in future. If you are going to be around at any of these conferences and would like to meet up - give me a shout!

Friday, 7 March 2014

Exploring the future-conditional with Pinterest

I've recently been developing an interest in how speculative futures are visualised, particularly regarding the relationships between climate change and urban change. I came to this topic through my participation in a workshop on climate-induced migration discourses at the University of Bremen, the proceedings of which will soon be published as a collective, extended working paper. I spoke about the 'Postcards from the Future' project which used digital photographic montage techniques to create images of a future London ravaged by ice, heat, water and - in quite regrettable ways - human migrants.


Friday, 21 February 2014

Bruno Latour on war and peace in a time of ecological conflicts

By Martin

Update: audio and video now available here

Bruno Latour delivered a lecture at the London School of Economics last night in which he outlined some of his recent thinking on the relationship between science and politics in a time of accelerating environmental change and policy stagnation.

Latour has cut an interesting figure in the climate debate in recent years. A key target of attacks against ‘relativism’ and irrationality in the 1990s ‘Science Wars’, he has since speculated as to whether the insights of science studies concerning the social constitution of scientific knowledge have inadvertently contributed to the ‘artificial extension’ of the debate over the reality and severity of anthropogenic climate change. More recently, Latour has sought to cast himself as an ally of the climate scientists and the activists who seek a political solution to climate change. He even related last night how climate scientists, in France at least, have even started to seek out his advice on how to conduct a ‘debate’ against a well-funded, smartly coordinated campaign to sow doubt and ignorance about the causes and consequences of climate change.

Monday, 10 February 2014

New paper - 'Organizations in the making: Learning and intervening at the science-policy interface'

By Helen

I am very excited to announce that my first official publication from my PhD has appeared online, in Progress in Human Geography. Entitled 'Organizations in the making: Learning and intervening at the science-policy interface', it is a review paper which synthesises insights from my early literature reviews on organisational learning and reflexivity. It's been a long process (almost 18 months) between initial submission and publication, during which my supervisor and I have refined and streamlined the argument of the paper a lot, hopefully making it more relevant and interesting to geographers with diverse interests. I'll offer a short summary of the paper below and try to outline where I think it can contribute to the current debate. If you don't have access to the journal and would be interested to read my paper then do get in touch.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Endings: politics, future, world

By Martin.

While Helen has spent much of the last month thinking and writing about democracy, I've been working through a quite random selection of texts as I go about developing some new research projects. These include Amanda Machin's Negotiating Climate Change, Franco 'Bifo' Berardi's After the Future and Timonthy Morton's Hyperobjects. They are all connected with my broad interest in the cultural politics of the future and the mediation of imagined futures through the physical sciences. All of the books either present or challenge particular endings, so I thought it might be interesting to consider them alongside each other, despite them all residing in very different intellectual traditions.

Monday, 25 November 2013

A month of thinking and writing about democracy

Image credit: University of Brighton
I've been doing a lot of writing elsewhere this month, so it's been a bit quiet on the Topograph. This is partly because of my position as a news editor on the Royal Geographical Society's Geography Directions blog, which involves writing posts twice a month which relate current news stories to perspectives from papers in the archives of the RGS journals. It's been a great experience so far, but can sometimes sap my energy for other writing. I've also been commissioned to write a few extra posts by some other research blogs who have picked up on my work.

Though there was no clear project or agenda in my head when I was working on these different posts, I realise now that I have unwittingly been working through some of my thoughts about the nature of the democracy and representations of 'the public'. And this has in turn been very helpful in redrafting a paper I am about to submit to a journal, focussing on democratic practice. So this post is my attempt to synthesise and crystalise some of these thoughts for your perusal and responses and with one eye on my thesis write up which will start in January.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Social media strategy for early career researchers

Image from pandodaily.com
Yesterday I ran a course for PhD researchers in my faculty offering some insights into how they could use social media to develop their academic profiles. As part of running this course I spent some time gathering resources from other academics together and developing some of my own perspectives on social media use for early career researchers, so I thought I would share these here while it is still fresh in my mind. So here's my two pennies worth! You can also access the handout I developed for my session which includes links to other relevant information on social media use for academics here.

Friday, 4 October 2013

New paper, new job, new projects

It's been a bit quiet on here from my side over the summer, mostly because I've been working on finishing off and handing in my PhD thesis. I trailed some of my arguments at a few conferences during the summer, including the RGS-IBG in London, the annual Interpretive Policy Analysis conference in Vienna, and the International Congress for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine in Manchester. I managed to hand my thesis in on 20th September, just in time to start a new post at King's College London (see below).

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

'Society in the Anthropocene' - Reflections

A few weeks ago Martin and I attended the 'Society in the Anthropocene' conference at the University of Bristol, hosted by the Cabot Institute and the journal Economy and Society. More information about the conference, including recordings of many of the talks, can be found here. There is a forthcoming special issue in the journal Economy and Society which will feature many of the papers from the conference. It was a very interesting and enjoyable conference, with a line-up of top academics that read a little bit like an undergraduate geography syllabus - many of my formative academic heroes were there. In this post I will offer some reflections on the conference, following up on the posts that Martin and I wrote back in April.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

2°C and the geographies of truth and power in Copenhagen, 2009

I have a post over at the Merton Stone blog of the 3S Research Group introducing a new paper of mine in Geoforum, which is titled Boundary spaces: science, politics and the epistemic geographies of climate change in Copenhagen, 2009.

Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters
The paper explores some of the science-policy debates which played-out in the run up to the ill-fated international climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009. I engage with literatures on boundary-organisations, -objects and -work, as well as literature on organisational space to develop the notion of 'boundary spaces'. I basically try to argue that theories of formal boundary organisations are insufficient to capture the complex geographies by which scientific knowledge is negotiated and related to political decisionmaking. By these "complex geographies", I mean the diverse physical and discursive settings where knowledge is constructed and contested, often under certain guiding assumptions about how 'knowledge' and 'action' are related.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Trying to practice what I preach: a brief foray into public engagement

Last week I ran a small public engagement exercise in the centre of Norwich on the topic of, er... public engagement. The occasion was the annual UEA post graduate research showcase, which involves transplanting around 50 or 60 graduate students from our edge-of-city campus into the heart of Norwich, in the Millennium library. Researchers present their work through a mixture of posters, 'pecha kucha' presentations and cafe conversations. I applied to run a cafe conversation based on my research (on public participation and engagement) partly because I thought it would be fun but also because I hoped it would be an interesting experiment in practising what I preach. Would trying to run a cafe conversation myself alter the way I see the practice of the participation professionals who I study and critique or the way I view engagement exercises more generally? And how would members of the 'public' react to being involved in a conversation about how they could be involved in other conversations about science and science policy decisions? Would this be a reflexive turn too far?

Friday, 19 April 2013

The Anthropocene - reflections on a concept, part 2

From the artist David Thomas Smith's series
'Anthropocene'. Three Gorges Dam. 
see http://www.magicalurbanism.com/archives/5442
Following on from this post by Martin last week, here are a few reflections of my own on the concept of the anthropocene, and its potential to stimulate new debates and new forms of political action.

I must admit to having, until recently, reacted with scepticism and disinterest to the conversations and (as I saw it) hyped-up claims about this new geological era, which were being bandied about by some deep-green activist-type friends and some of more offbeat natural scientists. This feeling remained unchanged whilst the concept began to garner more mainstream interest and prominence. Why are we getting distracted with impossible to answer questions about large-scale earth system changes, I thought? Does this really help us to tackle important environmental and social challenges in the here and now? Isn't this all a little vague and naively romantic to be going about trying to claim that humanity's relationship with the natural world has undergone a fundamental physical and metaphysical shift? And how narcissistic of us to start making such vast claims about our importance and influence!

I can't put my finger on exactly what has changed my view. It probably has something to do with attrition, and it is also linked to the increasing number of highly imaginative and thoughtful academic and artistic projects related to the concept which I've become aware of. Whatever it is, I have started to move away from seeing the anthropocene as a difficult to prove and potentially calamitously distracting concept, towards being more aware of the potential openings and opportunities that can come from this increasingly prominent way of thinking.