2023 RGS-IBG Conference insights from Australian geographer

21st September 2023
By Nicole Miller - Communications Officer, IAG
The RGS-IBG Annual International Conference is a major event for the global geography community. The IAG’s Professor Elaine Stratford presented at this year’s event in London and has reflected on her experience.

The RGS-IBG Annual International Conference is a major event for the global geography community. The IAG’s Professor Elaine Stratford presented at this year’s event in London and has reflected on her experience.

The conference is run by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), which describes itself as “the learned society and professional body for geography”. The event attracts more than 2,000 attendees each year, including many Australian geographers. This year’s event was held in London and ran from 29 August to Friday 1 September.

The 2023 theme was Climate changed geographies which “invites a conversation about how climate change is, and is not, changing our discipline - our ways of knowing, exploring, understanding and acting geographically – and with what consequences”.

IAG Elected Officer and Geographical Research Editor-In-Chief Professor Elaine Stratford has reflected upon the sessions as well as her presentation which discussed “emotional geographies and the digital”. 

Was this your first time at the conference?

My first experience of a conference hosted by the Royal Geographical Society/Institute of British Geographers was in 2010. I wish it has been a decade earlier, when I finally had my feet under a tenure-track desk at the University of Tasmania, because these meetings have the capacity to be intellectually transformative. They also underscore a point that I have stopped railing against (mostly): Anglo-American geographical circles are powerfully influential and if one is not in them, there are all sorts of aspects of careers that could be … well … limited. International networks matter. I guess I simply wished that the reciprocity were more evenly balanced.

Why did you want to attend this year?

I had a clear set of aims when I decided to attend this year. I wanted to participate in a double session as a speaker because the theme resonated with my current research on the cultural and political geographies of cultural and political geographies of drowning and the drowned, funded by the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Grant Program. And I wanted to hear what new work was being done in terms of elemental geographies – studies of earth, air, fire, and water in human geography that also inform my work.

What have been a few of the most interesting presentations or discussions?

I must confess that, having attended 50+ conferences over the last 25+ years, I sometimes come away from them slightly deflated. Not so on this occasion.

It was fascinating to sit in on Rob Kitchin’s ‘author meets critics’ conversation about his new book, Digital Timescapes: Technology, Temporality and Society, which was hosted by the SAGE journal Space and Polity. Kitchin’s breadth and depth of knowledge is impressive, and his initial summation of the book and his interlocutors’ critiques were reasoned and stimulated some great questions from the audience. I relate to such participatory engagements.

I also attended some stunning presentations on dust, affect, and atmosphere; on the hauntologies of slavery and forced migration over water; on speculative time – for example, in climate changed conditions; and on nature in/and/of the archive in geographical research. It was energising to walk away from those sessions both intellectually nourished and with many questions in my head.

Did you present at the conference?

I certainly did – in a double session on emotional geographies and the digital organised by colleagues Tess Osborne (Birmingham), Associate Professor Danielle Drozdzewski (Stockholm), and Senior Lecturer Natasha Webster (Örebro).

My paper was entitled ‘Digitization - necessary but insufficient? Code, archive, field’ and it had two aims. One aim was to share fragments of how I have been working with digital, archival, and field methods in my work on the drowned. The other was to add empirical weight to an argument that digital geographies’ capacities are strengthened when they are part of a suite of methods that involve the archive and the field and when we are cognisant of the ethical and emotional challenges (and, perhaps, opportunities) of such approaches.

If you presented, how was it received - any interesting questions or comments?

The applause was generous, and people were still wanting to ask questions at time, and a number approached me afterwards. I would be fibbing if I said that conference presenters tire of kind of reception.

Did you make any new connections or have any interesting discussions with fellow delegates? 

Where to start … so many … people in the digital and emotional geographies and archive sessions in particular … and I am so delighted to see the energy and skilfulness of early career academics I encountered both physically and in sessions offered in hybrid mode. I will be especially keen to witness the ongoing work of people such as academics such as Dr Sasha EngelmannDr Catherine Oliver, and Dr Merle Patchett and doctoral candidates such as Milo Newman, Senel Wanniarachchi, Leon Hughes, and Austin Read.

Did you meet up with any other fellow Australian geographers?

It was great to see lots of Australian geographers at the conference or in hybrid sessions and I had some lovely, albeit brief, conversations with Associate Professor Michelle Duffy, Senior Professor Pauline McGuirk, Professor Lauren Rickards, and Associate Professor Jess McLean and attended a session where Dr Kaya Barry was online. We are usually a strong contingency at these conferences … I wish we could attract a reverse flow south!

Any final observations?

Just a lovely time … stimulating, engaging, and nourishing. I know that it is a long and morally complex way to come in climate-changed times, and that is also at the forefront of thinking about hybrid models … I imagine time will tell.

Professor Elaine Stratford’s University of Tasmania profile

Read about Elaine’s research at the University of Tasmania.

Geography careers

The field of geography is diverse, with many career opportunities.  Read our interview with Associate Professor Paul Munro and Dr Adele Pavlidi and Dr Diti Bhattacharya.

Institute of Australian Geographers Conference

The Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) holds an annual conference. The IAG2024 Institute of Australian Geographer’s Conference will be held in Adelaide.

IAG Membership

An IAG membership includes many benefits, including a discount on the annual conference registration free. Post-doctoral members can also apply for travel grants to attend the conference.

Geographical Research

Geographical Research is the internationally-refereed publication of the Institute of Australian Geographers. Read Geographical Research, published by Wiley.

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