The Geography of Enthusiasm: Exploration and Fieldwork

This is the third and final post covering our activities at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference in Edinburgh and features our session The Geography of Enthusiasm: Fieldwork and Exploration. When we were thinking about what we wanted our session to be about, and how we might best make connections with other researchers who are working in areas overlapping with, but not necessarily in direct relation to our project on architectural enthusiasm, we decided that positioning exploration and fieldwork – the very stuff of geography – as enthusiastic pursuits and practices that operate both in any beyond academia, probably came as near as we could to grasping the crux of what we’ve been grappling with in our project to date.

Sarah Evans (UWE), who presented her paper first, set up reference points very aptly in her discussion of the feminist historiography of geography by focusing on women’s expeditionary work. Drawing on archival sources Sarah discussed how expeditions and fieldwork, all too often terms entangled with adventure and derring-do, can actually be fraught emotional landscapes. Rather than the heightened emotions and sensations of enjoyment, pleasure and passion, we heard how expeditionary work can be punctuated by a distinct lack of enthusiasm. How gender and ambivalence – to fieldwork companions, to unfamiliar places and purpose of endeavour – are vital yet overlooked parts of the emotional geographies of our disciplinary history.

Ian Waites (Lincoln) continued in an historical mode in his discussion of growing up on a council estate in Lincolnshire in the 1960s. This very personal exploration of a past, both near and distant, drew on fragments of memory and history to recreate a childhood space, of possibilities of a new way of living when the future was a blank canvas and council housing hadn’t yet been residualised and marginalised in cultural and geographical discourse. For more on Ian’s on-going project on the Middlefield Estate see his blog: Instances of a changed society.

Next up was Kate Evans (Swansea) who, like Sarah, positioned her discussion around practices of being in the field. During her discussion of parkour as an embodied, emotional and affective practice she highlighted how absence from the ‘field’ (usefully defined as something that has resonance outside of academic geography) caused by injuries can nonetheless be subject to what were described as ‘corporeal memory experiences.’ We can be away from our sites of study/practice/exploration and still be in contact with the physicality, emotions and motions of those places.

Place was a theme that continued in Ceri Price’s (Bristol) paper in which she introduced her research on a particular project carried out in Bristol which invited community members to create and represent their local areas. Ceri’s project has uncovered an unexpected enthusiasm for standard image nostalgic images on behalf of the community groups (despite being given a blank canvas to work from). Local landmarks and a perhaps nostalgic yearning for community pointed suggested attachments to particular spots and appreciation of the everyday as a means of celebrating local places.

Luke Bennett (Sheffield Hallam) rounded things up with his talk on ‘Defensive Enthusiasm.’ In his talk Luke introduced his on-going work on what he terms ‘bunkerology’, the study, use and, one might say anorak enthusiasm for Cold War defence bunkers. Here Luke drew our attention to the knowledge practices surrounding an enthusiasm for bunkers, gaining access to sites, recording and listing their vital statistics and the value of this knowledge beyond the enthusiasts themselves. There is a particular ‘erotics of knowledge’ surrounding enthusiasm that requires further exploration.
Luke is an avid tweeter (@LukeBennett13) and blogger, and we thoroughly recommend looking up his latest posts, including a summary of a recently published paper on gender and ‘the urge to explore abandoned military bunkers’ (which we also understand is free to access at the moment via the Gender, Place and Culture website).

In our call for papers we made what we thought might have been a rather bold in our statements. After all, how many times have you read a conference session overview and been mildly disappointed that things didn’t quite live up to expectations on the day? We gestured that “this session offers an opportunity to challenge how geographers have examined people’s understandings of the world, their place within it, and their fascination for it.” We are glad to say that our speakers did exactly this. Many thanks to all involved – speakers and those in the audience – who came along to find out what this ‘enthusiasm’ thing is all about. It was great to see such a good turnout.

– Hannah, Hilary and Ruth

Please also look up Hilary’s ‘The Culture of Enthusiasm’ blog for her personal impressions and reflections on the RGS-IBG and our session.

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