SRHE Newer Researchers Conference

Today I attended the SRHE Newer Researchers Conference at the Celtic Manor in Newport, Wales. Titled Exploring freedom and control in global higher education, the conference has been a fantastic networking opportunity to meet other researchers and look at some of the latest developments in diverse fields. The day started with an icebreaker where we got to meet everyone on our tables:

Which leads well onto the keynote:

Knowledge creation – a dialogic approach: the power of networks and networking, mentors and mentoring

Helen Walkington opened the conference with a very throught provoking keynote. She demonstrated the importance of dialogue in the creation of knowledge, but also stressed the importance of involving undergraduates in this. A core part of this process was the use of students as researchers, engaging undergraduates in real research-based courses that enable them to make their own discoveries.

From the library perspective, this was particularly interesting as their institutional repository was used to disseminate the student outputs (or at least those that have passed the assessment criteria). This emphasis on real and meaninful research was very interesting and it is easy to see how this can be very engaging for students. Arguably, the role of student as researcher highlights a new liminal space providing students a real taste of academia, particualrly when research outputs are later disseminated via papers and conferences.

While this summary does the session no justice, it was very useful for my work and research.

[NOTE: Take a look at Universities, the Citizen Scholar and the Future of Higher Education, this was recommended by Helen and it is something on my list now!]

Parallel sessions

The parallel sessions (which included my own contribution on rhythmanalysis) were really interesting. The first strand, research methods and methodologies contained presentations looking at diverse tools in interviews, models for research-based learning and research risks. From a work perspective I was quite interested in the card sorting, network maps and documentary analysis of the first presentation. In particular I would like to thing about how this could be analysed with software like NVivo 🙂

The next set of parallels looked at supporting student success with presentations on student leader development, perceptions of failure and mature student experiences. Choosing one again the paper on student leader develop was particualry interesting as it looked at the advantages of a monastic retreat in helping leaders develop, reconceptualise time and realise the benefit of their volunteering on others. While the context for my own work is very different, I think there is a lot of benefit to be gained from remote retreat in helping students cope with pressure.

The final session looked at educational futures including my own peresentation. This strand was interesting and featured other presentaitons considering the REF and gender conceptualisaiton in Turkey. The feedback for my own contribution was very productive and I look forward to taking some of the ideas sparked from this in my own work.

Fireside chats

Sadly – no fire, but lots of chat. These sessions were an excellent opportunity to network with experienced researchers and get general advice. The group I was in focused heavily on work-life balance, time management and general career advice. It was good to know my concerns are not mine alone and to realise there are a whole range of pressures researchers face. It seems emails continue to be a major problem for a lot of people and it was interesting to see a number of people choose to only check their emails once a day. I’m not sure I could manage that but I am interested in the different management techniques people choose. I was also facinated by the different spaces people chose to work in and it continues to highlight the beauty of ‘finding a space to work’.

Conference close

I have already made some connections from the conference and look forward to making more at the main SRHE Conference tomorrow through to Friday. So fortunate the SRHE Newer Researchers Conference provides us with business cards.

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.