Writing your way to success

Today I took part in my first writing retreat, organised by @azumahcarol as part of the University of Hull, Doctor of Education (EdD) programme. I have to admit that while I had read some literature on support of this process (Murray & Newton, 2009; Moore, 2003; Petia & Annika, 2012), I was sceptical about it in this context. Sitting down from 9am to 5pm and focusing on writing alone sounds like a great idea – but I had two main concerns:

  • The third year EdD students had not seen each other for weeks. In the case of our three Netherlands-based peers this was MONTHS. Surely after so much time apart we had too much catching-up to do to sit in silence?
  • We are all at the very start of our thesis stage and sitting and writing for a whole day seemed like a big commitment and something we may not be ready for. (Okay – I admit, moving house has seriously destroyed my reading time!)

Despite my concerns, I hit the ground running this morning. I was determined to make the most of this opportunity. It isn’t often that I get such a large block of time to work on EdD coupled with the guarantee of no distractions. I had to make the most of opportunity as it was costing a day of annual leave. If I was going to waste the time, I’m sure I could have found something more fun to do.
For the first session I was able to write over 1,200 words in the 90 minute block. In honesty, most of this was achieved in the first 60 minutes as my concertation seemed to stagger towards the end of the block. I had a similar record for my second session 90 minute session, taking my total to around 2600 words. I have to admit I was proud of myself. 2600 fairly decent words in 3 hours. Just some tidying and referencing to go.
We concluded the morning at 13:00 and set off for an hour break. I was certainly hungry by this point and needed the break. I have to admit I had some concerns about the afternoon as my head was rapidly running out of things to write about. My lack of reading was finally coming to bite me.
Strategically, I spend the third session in the afternoon looking at something different. I was recently rejected from a journal and had to respond to some comments. This wasn’t my best idea as after the first 40 minutes I was thoroughly depressed and it soured the rest of the session.
That brings me to the last hour. It gave me the opportunity to Mindmap some new ideas, add another 300 words to my total and then write this.
All in all, I’ve written 3460 words today (including this blog post) and I’m pretty happy with that 🙂

Yes – I’m completely sold on structured writing days and I look forward to the next similar opportunity. We also did pretty well at resisting the temptation to write so clearly we’re all very dedicated! The power of finding ‘space’ to work.


Moore, S. (2003) Writers’ retreats for academics: exploring and increasing the motivation to write. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 27(3), 333-342.

Murray, R. & Newton, M. (2009) Writing retreat as structured intervention: margin or mainstream? Higher Education Research & Development, 28(5), 541-553.

Petia, P. & Annika, C. (2012) Using structured writing retreats to support novice researchers. International Journal for Researcher Development, 3(1), 79-88.

A cacophony of spaces

A few days ago I took a short break from Soja’s Thirdspace to make this diagram. In ThirdspaceSoja identifies what he calls a cacophony of spaces in a list that is so long, I had to make this visualisation to display them all. While there is nothing new in this list for me, I found it quite striking to see so many of the spaces identified across the literature listed in a single place. I’m going to keep this as a living diagram  on my computer so I can continue to amend it. There are indeed spaces missing 😉

Spaces of protest, repression, sexualities, identity and dystopia. What is missing for you? (Comment below)



So what is geography?

I have spent a great deal of time talking about geographical approaches so far and thought it would be useful to look at geography in a bit more detail. What is geography?

To borrow the approach that Bonnett (2008) takes, geography is about this:

Figure 1: The Planet Earth (Pixabay)

At the simplest level, Figure 1 is the perfect representation of geography. It is about the planet Earth, it’s environments and it’s peoples. This can also be seen in the very root of the word geography. While addressing the same question of what is geography, Cloke et al (2005: viii) return to the Greek origins of geography as “to write (graphien)” and “the earth (geo)”. While this may be clear enough, it is also incredibly broad. Could it not be argued that every discipline is associated with our planet in some way? This is further complicated by the fact that geography holds and shares thousands of concepts with other sciences, humanities and social sciences. With this in mind, it is important to ask what is the geographical approach?

In my opinion, the answer is simple. It is space. Thrift (2008: 85) argues that space is the “fundemental stuff of geography”. Unfortunately space as a concept is multidimensional, multifaceted and complicated. I think this needs a post in itself, but for now I turn to a horrific simplification of Thrift’s introduction to space in the context of ‘modern’ geography which sees four spaces:

First (empirical) space: The tangible, physical space that people measure and map.

Second (mental) space: The mental space that people live, interact and move within.

Third (imaginative) space: The symbology and imagery people use to register the spaces around them. (culture)

Fourth (place) space: The embodiment of space. Where people confirm and naturalise the existence of certain spaces

I could go on to look at this in much more detail, but for now I think that establishes enough to move on to look at geography as a discipline. It can be argued that as discipline, there are two distinct areas to geography: the human and the physical. While I hate to simplify things too much, most geographers experience this distinction throughout their studies and in some cases it is almost a divide. If I had to draw a crude distinction between the two, I would argued that physical geography takes a positivistic/scientific to the earth. It focuses on a spatial and temporal understand of Earth’s hydrosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere. While this may seem the familiar territory of other disciplines, Bonnett (2008) suggests that “geology, climatology, ecology, environmental science and a number of human sciences evolved from geography”. While there is still much to unpick, I want to focus on human geography as it is my area of interest.

Human geography focuses on a spatial and temporal understanding of Earth’s people, their cultures, development, economies, interactions with the environment, histories and politics. The knowledge produced by human geography varies from the positivistic to the postmodernist and this has changed through time as the discipline has gone through many turns. In this case I thought human geography is based overviewed by looking at a typical textbook: Introducing Human Geographies (Cloke et al, 2005). This morning I quickly mapped out the foundations, themes and issues that fall within human geography and this is the result:

Figure 2: Overview of Human Geography based on Cloke et al (2005)

The beauty of geography is that there are many different interpretations and to some extent, it is a personal construction. Indeed, I think all geographers need to have their own personal statement for what geography is and I am glad I’ve started to write mine down. I think that is perhaps as good an overview of human geography that I can achieve before 9:30am on a Sunday morning. There is still a lot to explore, but I think this is a good start! I have purposefully left it at a mind map as I think it is a more powerful symbol of human geography for me than a series of paragraphs. Indeed – I should perhaps develop the above mind map to further explore geography…

Hope that is interesting 🙂

Bonnett, A. (2008) What is geography? Sage: London.
Clifford, N., Holloway, S., Rice, S. P. and Valentine, G. (2008) Key concepts in geography. Sage: London.
Cloke, P. J., Crang, P., and Goodwin, M. A. (Eds.) (2005) Introducing human geographies. Oxon: Routledge.
Thrift, N. (2009) Space: the fundamental stuff of geography. In N. J. Clifford, S. L. Holloway, S. P. Rice and Valentine. G (Eds.) Key concepts in geography. Sage: London. 85-96.