RGS 2017 GCYFRG sponsored sessions reports

After a successful RGS annual conference this year we are happy that we could present in many GCYFRG affiliated sessions. For those who could not participate this year or did not have the chance to visit certain panels, please find here reports of some of the sessions:

1)     Constructing the higher education student: understanding spatial variations
Convenors: Rachel Brooks, r.brooks@surrey.ac.uk (University of Surrey) and Johanna Waters, johanna.waters@conted.ox.ac.uk (University of Oxford)

Background
Many scholars have argued that, in contemporary society, higher education policy and practice have both been profoundly changed by globalising pressures. Indeed, some have contended that the state’s capacity to control education has been significantly limited by the growth of both international organisations and transnational companies and that the three traditional models of university education in Europe (Humboldtian, Napoleonic and Anglo-Saxon) have been replaced by a single Anglo-American model, characterised by, inter alia, competition, marketisation, decentralisation and a focus on entrepreneurial activity. Nevertheless, this analysis is not universally held. For example, not all European nations have sought to establish elite universities or maximise revenue through attracting international students, and significant differences remain in the way in which higher education is funded. In explaining such variations, scholars have pointed to differences in political dynamics, politico-administrative structures and intellectual traditions, as well as the flexibility and mutability of neo-liberal ideas themselves. However, research to date has focussed primarily on the extent of convergence (or divergence) with respect to top-level policies; as a result, little work has explored the perspectives of social actors, nor the ways in which policy may be ‘enacted’ locally, in ways that diverge from formal policy documents.

In our two sessions at the RGS-IBS conference, we sought to bring together papers that explored the ways in which ‘the higher education student’ is constructed across different spatial contexts. We hoped that they would speak to debates about what it means to be a young person within the contemporary university, as well as to those that relate more specifically to the geographies of higher education.

Papers presented
We were able to accommodate ten papers across the two sessions and, as the list below attests, they were wide ranging in their focus. A number of the presentations explored the way in which mobile students, in particular, are understood. Rika Theo and Maggi Leung’s presentation examined the precarity of some mobile students, particularly those for whom overseas study is a form of exile, while Sylvie Lomer focussed on the construction of mobile students in UK policy documents, and Nancy Amoudi on the construction of mobile Palestinian students. Yvonne Riano’s paper provided a detailed account of study-to-work policies for international students in Switzerland.

Other papers focussed on national constructions – with Lene Møller Madsen (with Lars Ulriksen and Henriette Tolstrup Holmegaard) examining the ways in which assumptions about students (or the ‘implied student’) affect their experiences of teaching and learning in Denmark, Rachel Brooks exploring the construction of students as ‘vulnerable’ in English policy documents, and Graeme Mearns and Peter Hopkins assessing how social and spatial relations are constructed (but also contested) by students from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds at an English higher education institution. Richard Budd adopted a comparative approach, exploring the differences between dominant constructions of students (and university more generally) in England and Germany. Taking a slightly different perspective, Mark Holton presented a fascinating analysis of the way in which university halls of residence can impact on the construction of student friendship groups, while the paper by Peter Kraftl and Gavin Brown argued for an emphasis on the concept of ‘cohort-ness’ in understanding students’ lives.

Overall, we were extremely pleased with the variety and quality of the papers presented, and the interdisciplinary nature of the sessions – with presenters from education and sociology, in addition to geography. We would like to thank those who spoke, as well as those who came along and participated in the lively discussion. Last but not least, we are very grateful to the GCYFPG for sponsoring the two sessions.

Session 1
Constructing ‘spaces’ of student friendship: understanding the socio-spatial co-production of friendship in UK university halls of residences (Mark Holton, Plymouth University, UK).

Cohortness and more-than-neoliberal subjectivities: (mis)fitting into student life (Peter Kraftl, University of Birmingham, UK and Gavin Brown, University of Leicester, UK).

Black and minority ethnic experiences of a university campus in northern England (Graeme Mearns and Peter Hopkins, University of Newcastle, UK).

The role of the university – and therefore the student? (Richard Budd, Liverpool Hope University, UK).

The meaning of discipline in constructing the implied student in higher education (Lene Møller Madsen, Lars Ulriksen and Henriette Tolstrup Holmegaard, University of Copenhagen, Denmark).

Session 2
Constructing the international student in UK policy: the neocolonial subject (Sylvie Lomer, University of Manchester, UK).

A critical analysis of the Palestinian educational student im/mobility: motivation, challenges and identities (Nancy Amoudi, Leeds Beckett University, UK).

Academic mobility and precarity: study abroad as escape or emplacement among political actors (Rika Theo and Maggi Leung, Utrecht University, The Netherlands).

Implementing Study-to-work Policies for International Students in Switzerland: To what Extent are Federal Policies Re-interpreted at the Local Level? (Yvonne Riano, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland).

The construction and spatial positioning of higher education students in English policy documents (Rachel Brooks, University of Surrey, UK).

2)     Contextual safeguarding: Approaches to exploitation and abuse of children and young people beyond the home’
Convenor:
Jenny Lloyd, jenny.lloyd@beds.ac.uk, University of Bedfordshire

This month the Contextual Safeguarding Team held two sessions at the Royal Geographical Annual Conference on ‘Contextual safeguarding: Approaches to exploitation and abuse of children and young people beyond the home’. The two sessions were sponsored by the Geographies of Children, Youth and Families Research Group and aimed to bring together practitioners with academics to talk about new research and approaches to working with children and young people. Holding the sessions at a geography conference provided an excellent opportunity to talk about some of the ways that different spaces and places are important to how we understand and respond to different forms of abuse and exploitation. The seven presentations highlighted the importance of approaches to child protection that understand the context of where abuse occurs. There were clear links between the papers: the role of agency and choice in how young people make decisions and how this impacts the support they receive; safeguarding in different places and how we create environments that challenge abuse and protect young people; finally, how different methods and participation with young people can help develop innovative approaches to safeguarding that value young people’s experience and knowledge. The day started with an overview of what contextual safeguarding is and the role that geographers have to be contributing to research and practice in this area. I highlighted how geographical research could support practitioners to learn more about the different spaces young people spend time in and how to capture this in assessments.

The second paper was presented by Caroline Andow from the University of Winchester and Ben Byrne from Surrey County Council. Their paper provided fascinating insights into the different routes young people take into different types of secure accommodation. The research was based on case reviews of 69 young people in secure accommodation. They found that young people following the youth justice and welfare routes had similar backgrounds, experiences and needs but that factors such as gender were likely to have an impact on what type of secure accommodation they ended up in. Joanne Walker (University of Bedfordshire) presented new research on harmful sexual behaviour in schools. In particular, she highlighted how young people are adapting to unsafe environments by developing their own techniques of safe-keeping. She concluded by questioning the appropriateness of male-dominated environments and emphasised the role of inspectors to ensuring safety for all young people.

The final paper in this session, presented on video by Sarah Lloyd (University of Huddersfield) looked at the differences between how social workers talked about sexual abuse of young people in the home versus outside of it. Her paper raised important questions of agency and choice – suggesting that choice is often associated with blame. Carlene Firmin (University of Bedfordshire) explored the potential use of using transport data, bus route journey data in particular, to advancing the safeguarding of young people on public transport networks. Presenting findings from a large data set consisting of 11 million bus journeys by young people she highlighted the opportunities data sets have for understanding how young people are vulnerable to abuse in different places and opportunities for engagement and intervention.

A highlight of the sessions came from presentations from the Kirsche and Keeley two members of the Youth Research Advisory group (YRAP). Their talk highlighted the many ways that young people can inform and strengthen research and practice through participation. Speaking about their own experiences on two studies – Be Healthy and Marginal Gains – they spoke about how youth participation is valuable to young people and provided advice on how best to engage and value young people’s voices through research. The final paper of the day by Korinna McRoberts (University of Applied Sciences, Potsdam) looked at the institutionalisation of childhood sexuality. Using the UN convention on the Rights of the Child her paper highlighted the need for legislation that recognises the multiple ways that young people live and their rights.

3)     ‘Educational Landscapes’: Nature, Place and Moral Geographies
Convenors: Jo Hickman Dunne, j.l.hickman-dunne@lboro.ac.uk (Loughborough University) and Sarah Mills, S.mills@lboro.ac.uk (Loughborough University)

There was an excellent response to this call for papers, which provided scope for two sessions offering a variety of perspectives on the interlinking concepts of nature, rurality and education. Session one comprised five papers and revolved around themes of formal education and youth. This included the historical and contemporary uses of nature in an educational setting (Sarah Sheridan; Jo Hickman Dunne; Helena Pimlott-Wilson & Janine Coates), and constructions and understandings of rurality and nature (Anne-Cécile Ott). There were also some innovate methodologies used to explore young people’s relationships with nature through encounters with food, water and energy (Peter Kraftl, Joe Hall and Sophie Hadfield-Hill). Session two was made up of four papers which placed an emphasis on the broader embodied experiences of nature and rural space. The concept of nature and rurality as an arena for character education was discussed (Sarah Mills; Francesca Church), as well as young peoples’ experiences in national parks (Ria Dunkley & Thomas Smith). The session was rounded of by a consideration of the spatio-temporal entanglement of humans and non-humans through the spectacle of the starling murmuration (Andy Morris).

The respective papers raised diverse points of discussion across the overarching themes, and all contributed to a vibrant environment for discussion and feedback. The kind co-sponsorship of the Geographies of Children, Youth and Families Research Group and Social and Cultural Geography Research Group made these sessions possible.

4)     Playing, listening, engaging and taking action with children.
Convenors: Tracy Hayes, Tracy.hayes@cumbria.ac.uk (University of Cumbria) and Sruthi Atmakur, sruthiatmakur@gmail.com (The Graduate Center, City University of New York).

In our call for papers for this session we highlighted that the UNCRC calls for listening to ‘all’ children’s voices, and ensuring their full participation in matters affecting them. This includes the ways in which children are able to make use of the environment they inhabit to exercise their right to holistic growth and development. Recognising two inter-related issues that are essential to fulfill children’s right to play in their environments as: (1) ensuring that voices of ‘all’ children are heard; and (2) taking action to improve the environment to support their play. How do we bridge research and action to exercise children’s right to play? We asked the questions as to how do we talk with and listen to people from different age groups and diverse abilities? And how do we then address those desires and needs in the environment? Particularly, how do we ensure participation and engagement of children with different abilities in creating opportunities and spaces for them to play? We invited presenters to respond to the conference theme of decolonial geographical thinking, whilst addressing these questions in a way that highlighted both different methodologies of working with children of different ages and abilities; and practical ways of engaging children in improving their play, leisure and recreational spaces. Presenters included Eifiona Thomas Lane, Shelly Newstead, Sarah Holloway, Helena Pimlott-Wilson and Patrizio De Rossi reporting on projects from across the UK. We plan to invite participants (attendees and presenters) to submit their work for publication in an edited collection, alongside contributions from sessions at RGS-IBG 2016 and from other interested academics and practitioners. We were delighted with the mix of presentations that spanned the fields of practice and academia and which generated lively and topical debate, and gratefully acknowledge the support of the Geographies of Children, Youth and Families Research Group.

5)     ‘Other’ childhoods: theories, approaches and methods.
Convenors: Nadia von Benzon, nadia.vonbenzon@gmail.com (Lancaster Environment Centre, University of Lancaster).

‘Other Childhoods’: Theories, approaches and Methods was run over two sessions at the RGS-IBG 2017 annual conference. Convened and chaired by Nadia von Benzon and Catherine Wilkinson, the sessions addressed research with children who might be considered to sit outside a heteronormative construction of childhood. In practice this means that these sessions focused on children who are not typically reflected in cultural and media representations of children and youth, and for whom social policy including educational curricula, laws and welfare might not be well framed. The two sessions included a wide range of empirical and theoretical contributions addressing a variety of global contexts including Bolivia, Bangladesh, Malta and Australia. A variety of intersectional identities were also explored including childhood disability, minority religious and ethnic identity and street-connectedness. Whilst the themes addressed in each paper were engaging in the specific insight they offered into the experiences of a particular, under-represented, group of children or young people, the breadth of foci served to highlight the shared experiences of stigma, isolation and precarity, experienced by children who do not fit. We have plans to publish an edited collected including the work of presenters, attendees and other interested researchers.

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