Geography and the New Empirics – a workshop organised by the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group

Registration now open: register here
Recent years have seen a renewed engagement with the empirical, witnessing the emergence of research methods and dissemination activities that critically engage theory and practice in new and exciting ways. These vibrant approaches have included: participatory and action research methods; performative and non-representational work; engaging with more-than-human entities; forms of creative address; as well as interdisciplinary and beyond-the-academy working practices. Yet undertaking this kind of research has, arguably, created a shift in the form and nature of the empirical, leading to a series of challenges surrounding how we make sense of, work with, and write about, these contemporary forms and expanded volumes of qualitative and quantitative data. Re-thinking the empirical is an emerging agenda throughout the social sciences (e.g. Adkins and Lury, 2009) and while similar debates have been played out in geography (e.g. Harvey, 1969; Smith, 1987; McDowell, 1993; Dewsbury, 2003), the range of emerging perspectives has yet to be collectively examined. Whilst these debates necessarily include methodological concerns, they also engage epistemological and ontological questions about what and how we research.
In an intellectual context that celebrates uncertainty, complexity and multiplicity, this workshop engages with the practicalities and demands that these ideas place on the doing and dissemination of research. This workshop aims to bring together post-graduates and early career researchers from across social and cultural geography to engage with ideas of the empirical and to address some of the issues and challenges of research in this contemporary context. The workshop begins on the afternoon of Thursday 20th January with a series of discussion/reading groups. These are designed to allow space for sharing the experiences, practicalities and problems raised by the changing nature of empirical research. The groups are organized around four themes: generating and gathering data in face of excess; experimentality, encounters and ethics; collaborating and distributing expertise; interpretation and the challenge of making sense (further details below). Friday 21st January will compromise a series of paper sessions followed by a panel session. Confirmed panellists include Ben Anderson (Geography, Durham), Kye Askins (Geography, Northumbria), David Demeritt (Geography, King’s College), Malcolm Fairbrother (Geography, Bristol), Alan Latham (Geography, UCL) and Celia Lury (Sociology, Goldsmiths).Places  will be limited to around 50 participants to ensure opportunities for discussion and exchange.  We are keen to ensure the affordability of this event, but there will be a small charge (in the range of £15-£20) to cover catering costs.  For further details please contact the organising Committee: Chris Bear, Harriet Hawkins, Amanda Rogers, Alex Tan.
Friday 21st January 2010 (RGS): Paper sessions on Geography and the New Empirics
This day of paper presentations will showcase research by post-graduates and early career researchers from across social and cultural geography working in innovative ways with the empirical. It will be followed by a panel discussion with invited speakers, addressing the key themes of the workshop.
Call for papers
For the Friday, we invite abstract submissions on the theme of ‘Geography and the New Empirics’. Papers can include (but are not limited to) the following themes:

What is the role of the empirical in the character, function and position of social and cultural geography?
What types of knowledge do the empirical include? How new are these forms of knowledge?
What are the challenges of defining and working with some of these knowledges? How can their geographies be captured?
Is the subject and spatiality of the empirical shifting? If so, how?
How is the relationship between empiricism and relevance configured? How is it re-worked by new forms of empirical knowledge and description?
What are the impacts of these shifts on our methodological practices and theoretical approaches?
Do shifts in the nature of the empirical entail new forms of rigour, judgement or criticality, both in universities and in wider society?
How does recent work in geography on (for instance) animals, performance, aesthetics and technologies affect the discipline’s relationship with the ‘empirical’?
How does collaborative research change the form of, and response to, the empirical?

Abstracts should be submitted via the conference registration page by Friday 26th November.
Thursday 20th January 2011 (UCL): Workshops on ‘Doing and Dissemination’The conference event at the RGS is preceded by an afternoon of practical workshops on ‘Doing and Dissemination’.  These will be held at UCL, with parallel workshops from 1pm, followed by an optional workshop dinner.
Parallel Workshops
Generating and gathering data in face of excess (led by Owain Jones and Chris Bear)Contemporary research practices are facing up to excess in a number of different ways.  For some researchers the issue is the sheer volume of data that is now produced. New technologies, particularly the growth of the internet, and the desire for transparency and accountability, have multiplied the quantity of data available. Yet the notion of excess can also encompass the sensory, emotional, and affectual experiences of the non-representational and the more-than-rational that are negotiated during research and writing. How, then, do we deal with excess, how do we navigate it as both a quantity and quality of data? How is excess incorporated into our research, if at all? What are the implications of trying to keep up with ever-growing ‘bodies’ of information? Do we end up gathering and simplifying data, rather than generating it?
Experimentality, encounters and ethics (led by Jo Norcup and Harriet Hawkins)
Ideas of experimentation and creativity have recently come to acquire great currency across geographical research. These notions push the boundaries of methodological practice, particularly through visual and performative methodologies introduced through a cross-section of different art forms. How do such encounters refigure our notion of the empirical through the type or form of data collected? How does our understanding of research practice, or research quality alter in this process? Often such practices also create unexpected changes in, or challenges to, the subjectivity of the researcher, forcing attention to new complexities of collaboration and engagement. How might the nature of ethics change as a result, and indeed, how are ethics understood or engaged with differently by different parties? What tensions does that create for us as researchers?
Parallel workshops
Collaborating and distributing expertise (led by Gail Davies and Emma Roe)
Collaborative research and writing are increasingly common across the academy, entailing working with or beyond the discipline with other academics; taking more seriously the role of non-human others during research; and engaging beyond the academy. With a growing attention to impact and knowledge transfer, it is increasingly important that we critically engage with different forms of collaboration, but what are the challenges of engaging others in our research both within and beyond the academy? For instance, what are research findings for an academic audience and for an industry or policy-orientated audience? Are they the same? What journey of translation between the two is required? Does this affect research practice or change our utilisation of theory – if so, how?
Interpretation and the challenge of making sense (led by Elaine Ho and Russell Hitchings)
In the face of a growing volume of data, a proliferation of its forms, and the inclusion of a variety of stakeholders, making ‘sense’ of our research is an ever-more complex challenge.  As researchers we often celebrate complexity, but such messiness also changes existing ways of thinking about, practicing and disseminating research. Does the changing nature of the empirical create shifts in the type of research outputs we now produce? How do we value such shifts? Does communicating research to different audiences affect or challenge our understandings of relevance? How might changes in the data we collect and the outputs we create pose challenges to the skill and practice of writing? What other forms might such writing take and how does it impact upon our interpretative processes?