by Kate Carruthers Thomas
Happy accidents of conference programming yesterday took me outside the conference venue, further into the city and the North East region, both physically in terms of the Feminist Walk and intellectually/visually in terms of the Tyneside Specificities session. This second day was in striking contrast to the first which I spent entirely in the conference venue, engaged in the processes and practices of conferencing and the developing sociality of Undisciplining. Fresh air and physical exercise were welcome antidotes to that interior intensity.
The Feminist Walk offered opportunities not only for my Fitbit step count however, but more importantly, to engage with the city’s feminist history through visible landmarks, testimonies and voices – participants each carried a book from the Women Artists of the North East Library and were encouraged to read aloud from it. Back within the walls of the BALTIC, the Tyneside Specificities then provided interdisciplinary perspectives on and wider insights into, the city/region: on Newcastle urban planning and consultation and the maps of the unbuilt; on Gateshead women experiencing the ‘slow violence’ of austerity (just beyond the BALTIC); on the curious case of the ‘splintered’ Englishness of the North East and on the managed disposal of social housing in Hordern, Co. Durham, where the blank-eyed, empty homes are part of a contraflow of capital and people between the North and South East of England.
Each of the above, in different ways, drew on ideas of place and people, on the everyday, to deeply consider lives ‘in place’. Each enriched my own experience of being in place, in this city, at this time. Live blogging has, for sure, enriched that experience further.
by Kate Carruthers Thomas
I’m sitting out the last plenary session to write this blog post. Earlier today, Mark Carrigan wrote about being alone at conferences and I’m writing this while sitting alone in the Cube. I can vaguely hear the muted conversations between Event Team members in the reception area. It’s the first time I’ve been alone since I entered the building at 8.15am and after such an active day, it feels like a luxury.
Time seems to travel more slowly in solitude than in company. And time is a significant element in the act of reflection. In the bloggers’ briefing this morning, Mark and Pat differentiated between the recording/reporting functions of live Tweeting and the reflective potential of live blogging. Is reflection then, an act of separating past from present?
I ask because a theme which has been particularly apparent for me today, looping through formal sessions and informal engagements, is that of temporality. Bev Skeggs’s manifesto for The Sociological Review was/is an intention to respond to the ‘now’. Social media has accelerated access and responses to research, writing and debate. Ayona Datta’s (fantastic) keynote on India’s Smart Cities movement invoked an understanding of space as inherently temporal; ‘the future as a spatio-temporality of power and knowledge’; the postcolonial moment as ‘marked by the simultaneity of rational and mythological time’. And all this within the temporal structure of the Undisciplining conference programme, session flows punctuated by refreshment breaks, talks about future possibilities …
Physically and mentally refreshed by my own change of pace in the last hour (yes, it’s taken that long to write this!) I am inclined towards a more nuanced temporality of reflection. Perhaps, in this context at least, reflection is less about separating past from present (and future) and more about slowing the pace at which present becomes past?
By Kate Thomas
I’m typing this (one finger, on my phone, frustratingly slow) from BALTIC kitchen – the cafe in the spectacular venue for #Undisciplining. I arrived in Newcastle (from Sheffield) 2 hours ago. The late afternoon sunlight is gilding the extravagant curve of Sage Gateshead and the railway bridge over the Tyne is stark against an unexpectedly blue sky.
So much for the externals! Mark (inexplicably blogging from a cat cafe yesterday!) wrote of the #Undisciplining organisers’ hope that this event would open ‘up a space in which we can imagine how academic life might be different’. In one small way, this has already occurred.
I enjoy conferences. I find them fascinating, as much because of their tensions, traditions and inequalities as for the intellectual stimulation (occasional at worst) and social engagement, the sense of a tribe, a common passion, a shared commitment. I see them as games which those with the most power can play without realising.
This conference is different (for me) because it has given me the opportunity to reinvent myself as an academic. I bring with me not a USB with a Powerpoint presentation as per usual, but 4 printed A2 panels, a graphic essay entitled My Brilliant Career? They came with me in 4 boxes, awkward to carry on the train! I’ve set the panels up on easels in the Cube, essentially a white box, to be on display throughout the conference. The artwork makes me accountable, visible throughout the whole of these 3 days, not for 20 mins plus 10 mins for questions. As an academic who loves writing, loves words- I feel liberated. No less serious, no less academic. But somehow reinvented.
Come and have a look while you’re here.