RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016

RGS 2016 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:

Geographies of Faith and Volunteering: youth and the lifecourse (1) / social action and ‘moral economies’ (2)
Tim Fewtrell, T.fewtrell@lboro.ac.uk (Loughborough University)
Sarah Mills, S.mills@lboro.ac.uk (Loughborough University)

These two sessions aimed to provide a discussion on the growing interest in the relationship between faith and voluntary action (Lukka and Locke 2000; NCVO 2007; Smith and Denton 2005). The diverse interactions between religion, spirituality and volunteering were explored, with a particular emphasis on age and the lifecourse in the first session, and a focus on social action and the ‘moral economies’ of volunteering (Wolch 2006: xiv) in the second session. The papers within both sessions covered a variety of different faith-based motivations that have shaped both small scale, highly localised provision and contributed to major international relief and development work.

Respective papers each raised multiple points of interest within the overarching themes, each from a unique of context and perspective. From the local and city levels (Stephanie Denning; Tim Fewtrell; Peter North) to national and supranational contexts (Sarah Mills and Catherine Waite; Bronwyn Wood; Ruth Judge; Nina Laurie et al.), the papers all contributed to create a dynamic environment to discuss ideas and concepts within this field. 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.

Children, Young People and Nexus Thinking: food-water-energy and everyday geographies
Peter Kraftl & Sophie Hadfield-Hill (University of Birmingham); John Horton (The University of Northampton); Ben Coles (University of Leicester)

This session focussed upon the possibilities for ‘nexus thinking’ in the geographies of childhood and youth. Session one comprised four papers that examined various nexuses. The papers focussed not only on food, water and energy, but on education for sustainable development, caregiving in the context of HIV AIDS, and young people’s participation in dance. The second session was led by two discussants, who focussed on critiques of the nexus and its possibilities for research on children and young people. The lively discussion that followed explored several themes that geographers and others might take up in future: how the concept of the nexus can extend other approaches (e.g. assemblages, relational thinking, network analyses) to do more than simply ‘map’ different parts of the nexus; how the nexus might be examined in terms of its political potential to highlight the multiple challenges and opportunities facing children and young people in different contexts; how academics can work with policy-makers and practitioners to challenge and extend the often Westernised, top-down conceptualisations of the nexus that are mobilised in (for instance) development rhetorics, in particular in order to highlight the impacts of such approaches upon children and young people.

Creative & Poetic approaches to Pedagogy & Research in Outdoor Spaces (1)
Co-convenors: Tracy Hayes & Caroline Larmour (University of Cumbria)

The two sessions provided an interesting and eclectic range of presentations exploring alternative approaches to pedagogy, research and practice. In the first session, we started by discovering more about ‘Open Air Schools’ and their belief in the potency of children’s interaction with nature, which they saw as essential to strengthening children’s health and wellbeing (Sarah Sheridan). This fascinating historical perspective relates well to current movements towards efforts to reconnect children with nature. The session moved on to consider creative approaches in/through outdoor spaces through the use of photo-elicitation and photo-journaling, focusing on Newfoundland (T.A. Loeffler). The final presentation of this session was presented in the form of a story, in which narrative conventions were appropriated and subverted, to highlight aspects of environmental issues (Hayden Gabriel). The overlapping themes of the three presentations demonstrated the effectiveness of creative, poetic approaches to bring about transformative learning.

Playfully being outdoors: research, pedagogy and practice (2)
Mark Leather (University of St Mark & St John, Plymouth), Heather Prince & Tracy Hayes (University of Cumbria)

We had an overwhelming response to this call for papers, resulting in a very full session, offering a diversity of perspectives on the concepts of play and playfulness. This included exploring children’s encounters with the non-human world as a way of enabling playful states to emerge, facilitating creativity through acts of spontaneous unpredictable play (Katherine Mycock). The session moved on to consider the role of the adult, and the many implications for pedagogy related with adult’s expectations and children’s learning (Angeliki Bitou). Both of these themes were further addressed (Chris Martin) through a contrast between conceptions of play as either adhering to a nostalgic picture of the innocent child, ‘playing nicely’, or being harnessed to an instrumental outcome such as ‘learning through play’. The playground as a place of playful learning provided the focus for the next presentation (Nick Schuermans), with the last two presentations (Alkistis Pitsikali and Hilla Michowiz Setton) exploring playfulness in urban public spaces.

Taking the two sessions as a whole, it was clear from the presentations, and from the audience participation that there is a genuine interest in the re-conceptualisation of playtime and the development of playfulness as a useful approach to cultivate creativity, that goes well beyond childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood. The proposal for an edited book or a journal special issue (with an offer of support from Chris Philo) was welcomed and this will be actioned by the convenors.

We gratefully acknowledge the kind sponsorship of the Geographies of Children, Youth and Families Research Group, which made these sessions possible.

‘young people, public space and gender’
In the panel  Claske Dijkema and Mattias De Backer hosted five papers. Mohammed Almahmood presented insights from Riyadh about how men and women push the boundaries of formal and informal rules of public space interaction. Similarly, Anshika Suri focused on practices of female negotiations in informal settlements in the context of East-Africa. Morgane Cohen and Claske Dijkema presented data from the ‘urban fringes’ of Grenoble, while Mattias De Backer discussed the intersection of gender and ethnicity among young people in Brussels. Patricia Wijntuin, finally, presented a rather similar case from data gathered in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
After some inspiring remarks by discussant Kathrin Hörschelmann, the session eventually transpired in a discussion of the spatiality of visibility/invisibility, intimacy, freedom and fear, rather than gender per se. Claske and Mattias are planning to host a special issue on the topic.


The Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference will take place Thursday 30 August 2016 – 2 September in London this year.

Please take a look at the GCYFRG affiliated sessions:


or at our list of GCYFRG sponsored sessions at the end of this page.

This year’s GCYFRG AGM will take place on Weds 31 August 2016 during the Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference.

During the AGM we hold elections for GCYFRG Committee roles from which current members are stepping down having completed their maximum permitted term.  This year this applies to two roles: Membership Officer and Workshop Officer.

GCYFRG Membership Officer
This role involves maintaining the JISC mailing list.  Tasks include:
– Adding/deleting list members in accordance with monthly reports from RGS-IBG.
– Sending ‘welcome’ emails to new members.
– Reviewing requests to join the JISC mailing list.
– Posting messages to the mailing list for non-members (e.g. conference announcements).
– Updating email addresses for list members.
– Reporting details of membership numbers at the AGM.
The role involves a time commitment of around one hour/month.  Timely responses to emails required.
The post-holder MUST be an RGS-IBG Fellow (or Postgraduate Fellow).

GCYFRG Workshop Officer
The GCYFRG Workshop Officer works with other members of the committee to devise and organise workshops of interest to the general membership.  S/He may work closely with the Conference Officer and Postgraduate Liaison Officer(s) in particular, but will be supported by the whole committee.
The post-holder need not be an RGS-IBG Fellow (or Postgraduate Fellow).

If you think you might be interested in taking on one of these roles but would like to know more about them, please contact either me, rebecca.collins@chester.ac.uk, or our Chair, Dr Sarah Mills (s.mills@lboro.ac.uk) in the first instance.

If you would like to be considered for one of these roles, you will need to secure the support of a nominator and a seconder.  Nominators and seconders need not be members of the RGS or the GCYFRG.  They will each be required to either i) be present at the AGM to nominate/second you; or ii) email me to me in support of your nomination.


Sponsored sessions, which had a call for application:

1. Session title: Children, Young People and Nexus Thinking: food-water-energy and everyday geographies

Session convenors: Peter Kraftl (University of Birmingham); Sophie Hadfield-Hill (University of Birmingham); John Horton (University of Northampton); Ben Coles (Leicester University)

Contact: p.kraftl@bham.ac.uk; s.a.hadfield-hill@bham.ac.uk; john.horton@northampton.ac.uk and bfc2@leicester.ac.uk

Nexus thinking offers opportunities to consider the inter-relations and inter-dependencies between the vital components that constitute life-itself. Recently, nexus thinking has been mobilised to consider the entanglement of food, water and energy in especially urban locales. This session aims to consider both what might be the specific implications of the food-water-energy nexus for childhood research, and, more broadly, whether and how childhood scholars might take up the challenge of nexus thinking. On the first point, it is clear that children’s geographers and others have led often critical debates about food consumption practices, anti-obesity policies, Education for Sustainability, familial energy practices and the everyday interdependencies that make up domestic life in diverse contexts. However, with few exceptions, childhood scholars have tended to treat food, water and energy as separate entities. Moreover, despite ground-breaking research into the embodied and everyday experiences of food, water or energy, there is little research that examines whether or how children experience these three resources together – as a nexus. This is particularly problematic given that, on the one hand, children are in many contexts key producers and consumers of nexus resources, and that, on the other, much research on the nexus tends to focus on larger scale urban systems: on metabolic flows through cities, on urban justice, often at abstract levels. Childhood scholars – particularly children’s geographers – could be particularly well-placed to theorise and exemplify everyday, embodied, emplaced experiences of the nexus.

Beyond food-water-energy, however, childhood scholars might develop and extend nexus thinking in particular and significant directions. For instance, they might examine childhood as a nexus, asking how doing so might progress contemporary theories of childhood. We wonder: what might be the opportunities for extending emergent more-than-social, hybrid or biosocial theorisations of childhood through a nexus frame? How might nexus thinking enable intra-active forms of inquiry that see children produced through multi-scalar discourses, embodied performances, affects and materialities? What might the implications be for thinking through longstanding questions about rights, agency, voice, social action and social (re)production? Alternatively, childhood scholars might explore – empirically and conceptually – the operation of other forms of nexus in and through children’s lives, beyond food-water-energy. What, for instance, are the key operational nexuses that exist in children’s lives across diverse geographical contexts? How are resources like technology, housing, education, play, or greenspace positioned?


2. Session title: Educating undergraduate geographers for/about/using the geographies of children and youth
Co-sponsored with HERG

Session convenors: John H. McKendrick (Glasgow Caledonian University) and Derek France (University of Chester)

Contact:  J.McKendrick@gcu.ac.uk and d.france@chester.ac.uk

It is almost twenty years since the Journal of Geography in Higher Education’s published Hugh Matthews’, The geography of children: some ethical and methodological considerations for project and dissertation work (Matthews, 1998), soon followed by his co-authored paper with Faith Tucker on Consulting Children (Matthews and Tucker, 2000). Viewed in context, these papers were part of an emergent field of geographical study, which together with the impetus provided by the breadth of geographical research in the ESRC’s 5-16

programme and the emergence, initially as a Working Group, of the RGS-IBG’s Geographies of Children, Youth and Families Research Group, laid the foundations of what has flourished into an established sub-discipline of geography in the UK and beyond. Although the approaches, positions and research priorities of this sub-field have been challenged in recent years, as might be expected for a maturing field (e.g. Robson et al., 2013; Holloway, 2014), what is less clear is an understanding of the ways, and extent, to which the geographies of children and youth are embedded in the education of students of geography in higher education.


3. Session title: Young people, public space and gender

Session convenors: Mattias De Backer (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) and Claske Dijkema (Université de Grenoble)

Contact: mattias.de.backer@vub.ac.be and claske@modop.org

In our increasingly surveilled, commercialised, privatised and sanitized public spaces (Sorkin, 1992; Davis, 1998; Zukin, 2000; Atkinson, 2003; Lofland, 1998; Davis, 1998) young people negotiate their way and claim their place in particular ways. On top of this, young women have to take the gendered nature of the public domain into account. Dominant family role patterns transform public space in a masculine realm, pushing young women to the safe feminine spaces of the household (Valentine, 1989). Also among youngsters territory is claimed and demarcated by boys. In mixed groups, boys usually dominate the division of space: girls do not exert any direct influence on the composition, shape and activities of groups (Karsten, 2001).

Irrespective of ethnicity or class, girls and young women, much more than boys and men, negotiate fear and possible danger in the public domain, especially in the evening. Fear of violent crime, daily events of harassment and unwelcomed comments may result in a variety of coping mechanisms ranging from avoidance tactics to dressing ‘appropriately’, or young women may prefer to stay at home or obey to a self-imposed curfew. But not only women are victims of violence. Rather on the contrary, civil society organisations such as the black lives matter campaign in the USA and the 1st of June mouvement in Marseille call attention to the fact that the main victims of physical violence (police violence, fights and drug-related violence) in public space are men, especially if they are of color and live in poorer neighborhoods (Muchielli 2002).

In this session we hope to pose and answer some of the following questions: To what extent are traditional gender roles taken over by young people? How are these related to power dynamics? How do young women or young men negotiate daily fear and feelings of insecurity? How does class or income change young people’s mobilities in the city? What cultural or religious factors (in Islam culture, for instance) reinforce the above image or distort it? How is the interaction between the sexes shaped by dominant images of the female body?


4. Session title: Geographies of faith, volunteering and the lifecourse

Session convenors: Tim Fewtrell (Loughborough University) and Sarah Mills (Loughborough University)

Contact: T.fewtrell@lboro.ac.uk and S.mills@lboro.ac.uk

Over the last decade, there has been a growing interest in the relationship between faith and voluntary action across the social sciences (e.g. Lukka and Locke 2000; NCVO 2007; Smith and Denton 2005). Indeed, diverse faith-based motivations have shaped both small scale, highly localised provision and contributed to major international relief and development work (Montagne-Villette 2011; Milligan, 2007). As these debates on the relationship between religious identities, volunteering and faith-based organisations expand, there remains a need to be attentive to the dynamics of age and the lifecourse. Indeed, this has been demonstrated in recent studies on the experiences of young religious volunteers (Baillie Smith et al., 2013; Hopkins et al., 2015) and more broadly in work on older volunteers, for example within deprived communities (Hardill and Baines, 2009).

This session seeks to further explore the diverse relationships and interactions between religion, spirituality and volunteering, with a particular emphasis on age and the lifecourse. Furthermore, the session seeks to ask critical questions surrounding other ‘moral economies’ of volunteering (Wolch 2006: xiv) in order to consider the diverse motivations and practices of volunteering projects and individual volunteers. Consequently, papers may focus on a variety of different contexts, scales and religious affiliations, or themes surrounding the ‘post-secular’ landscape of voluntarism (Cloke and Beaument, 2013).


5. Session title: Geographies of supplementary education: race, ethnicity and educational inequality

Session convenors: Helen F. Wilson (Geography, University of Manchester), Saskia Warren (Geography, University of Manchester) and Susie Miles (Education, University of Manchester)

Contact: helen.f.wilson@manchester.ac.uk and saskia.warren@manchester.ac.uk

In 2015, supplementary schools made UK headlines when it was announced that they would be subject to new scrutiny and inspection regimes as part of the government’s counter-extremism strategy. Whilst political and media attention has often limited its focus on supplementary education to religious instruction and the role of madrassas, this session aims to engage the complexity and breadth of supplementary education and the multi-faceted spaces, contributions and practices that it encompasses.

Supplementary education is generally used to refer to the part-time provision of educational opportunities for Black and ethnic minority communities, which, in addition to academic achievement, has focused on the teaching of language, culture and religion, as well as wider societal and place-based concerns of identity and belonging (Andrews 2013, Clennon 2014). Working with this broad definition, the session aims to situate supplementary education at the heart of a number of political, economic and socio-cultural geographies. These include the geographies of children, youth and families; education and citizenship; considerations of race, religion and inequality; urban governance and surveillance; and migration, to name just a few. In so doing, the session also connects with emergent discussions on the diverse cultural geographies of alternative education (see Miles and Kraftl 2016; Kraftl 2013) and wider debates concerning the socio-spatial geographies of learning (Holloway and Jöns 2012; Wilson 2014).


6. Session title: Apps, mobiles and technologies: innovative methodologies in research with children, young people and families

Session convenors: Sophie Hadfield-Hill (University of Birmingham) and Cristiana Zara (University of Birmingham)

Contact: s.a.hadfield-hill@bham.ac.uk and c.zara@bham.ac.uk

This session brings together researchers working with innovative technological tools in their research with children, young people and families. Technologies are embedded in our everyday lives, shaping our practices, our social interactions and our relationship with space. How bodies communicate, navigate, move, work, play, eat and sleep are associated with technology. This provides a unique opportunity for addressing nexus thinking in our research with children and young people. First, a focus on technology can offer insight into interconnections, interdependencies and nexus relations, given the plethora of technologies (i.e. apps, mobiles, social media) which are woven throughout the social and material fabric of everyday life. Second, considering this pervasiveness, there are opportunities for researchers to embrace technological tools to explore this interconnectedness methodologically. Indeed, geographers are increasingly searching for, and experimenting with innovative uses of technologies in their research, prompting ethical, practical, empirical and theoretical enquiry. How researchers engage with, adapt and co-design technological tools with participants is of interest, highlighting the diversity of opportunities and challenges that this presents to research with children, young people and families across contexts and communities. The aim of this session is threefold: i) to explore the ways in which everyday technologies can be used to support existing qualitative methodologies in research with children and families; ii) to unpack the ethical implications of using technological devices as research tools with diverse population groups; and iii) to critically assess the potential of everyday technologies in researching nexus issues, cross-cutting themes, theories and methodologies.


7. Session title: Creative and Poetic approaches to Pedagogy and Research with Children, Young People and Families in Outdoor Spaces.

Session convenors: Tracy Hayes (University of Cumbria) & Karen Lockney (University of Cumbria)

Contact: tracy.hayes@cumbria.ac.uk and karen.lockney@cumbria.ac.uk

Come and join us as ‘…storytellers of life… We are storytellers all, and poetry, an equally ancient part of that toolkit, is about all of us. It always has been. Many in the one, one in the many. The particular in the universal’ (Brady, 2009: xv). In this session we will focus on approaches that aim to capture people’s imagination and their attention – for example through stories, fables, poetry, song. The more traditional scientific, often positivistic, approaches ‘…obscure the social, economic, political, cultural and ethical nature of the issues at hand. They obscure the role of people, behaviours, practices and institutions. And they limit which analyses and solutions are deemed possible and relevant’ (Connell, 2011 in UNESCO, 2013: 50). We advocate for something different.

Nexus thinking, whether taken as a method or a metaphor, encourages us to work across disciplinary boundaries, to think relationally and to make connections across time and space (RGS-IBG 2015). The key messages from the World Social Science Report (UNESCO, 2013: 46) represent a call for ‘…a new kind of social science – one that is bolder, better, bigger, different’. They further emphasise that there is an ever-increasing requirement for new ways of doing and thinking about science, to effectively address the interdisciplinary and cross-sector changes society faces. There is a need for transformative learning: as identified by Eyler and Giles (1999: 133), ‘Transformational learning occurs as we struggle to solve a problem…we are called to question the validity of what we think we know or to critically examine the very premises of our perception of the problem’.

However, the call for action on environmental issues is not new. So why is it taking so long for people to listen and to respond? Is it lack of understanding? Lack of awareness? Or a feeling of disempowerment as to what can be done? Or is there an arguably more alarming sense of disconnection with nature (for example, Louv, 2005; 2011) Does it matter how the message is being communicated from scientists to the general public – is something being lost in translation, missed in traditional interpretations? We propose that more creative, poetic approaches can bring about transformative learning through personally meaningful experiences that foster positive relationships. Creative and poetic processes can be used ‘… both as tools of discovery and a unique mode of reporting research’ (Brady, 2009: xiii). Poetic inquiry uses both creative and poetic thinking and can enable us to explore, gather and interpret in a more holistic and empathically connected way (McCulliss,2013).


8. Session title: Playfully being outdoors: research, pedagogy and practice.

Session convenors: Mark Leather (University of St Mark & St John, Plymouth), Tracy Hayes (University of Cumbria) & Heather Prince (University of Cumbria)

Contact: mleather@marjon.ac.uk; tracy.hayes@cumbria.ac.uk and heather.prince@cumbria.ac.uk

We hope this will be an interactive, thought-provoking session whereby participants are encouraged to reflect on their own experiences in outdoor spaces and to engage in the wider debate of how to support others to develop an awareness and appreciation of the world around them. We invite presentations, in both paper and more innovative formats, from across the disciplines, including geography, sociology, outdoor learning, higher education (pedagogy and research) and other related disciplines. We particularly welcome practitioners’ perspectives on how to maintain a playful attitude with older children, young people and adults.

We argue for the re-conceptualisation of “playtime” and the development of playfulness as a useful approach to cultivate creativity (Leather, 2014), that goes well beyond childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood. What is playfulness? It is a mood state that facilitates and accompanies ‘playful play’. It may not be observable in behaviour – playful individuals are not necessarily playing, even though they are in a playful mood. We can think playfully as well as act playfully (Hayes, 2015). It is a way of generating new thought patterns in a protected context (Bateson and Martin, 2013). Playful play facilitates creativity – sometimes immediately and sometimes after a considerable delay. It is acknowledged that there is a complex relationship between engendering creativity and the outcomes for learners. We suggest that there are two arguments for adopting a playful approach and hope that you may be able to suggest more.

Firstly, the neo-liberalist discourse about higher education is concerned with career employment. In this sense, creativity is seen as a graduate employability skill by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI, 2012) who consider the skill of creative thinking as a prime outcome of higher education. This CBI report found that a fifth of employers were not satisfied with graduates’ use of creative thinking. Secondly, there are theoretical and empirical accounts about adult playfulness that describe its relation to positive outcomes including: creativity and spontaneity but also quality of life, virtuousness, stress coping and academic achievement. Playfulness has the potential in serving as a lubricant in social situations and for teamwork in work-related settings. There is a clear relationship between exhibiting playfulness and experiencing positive emotions.

In our work we actively encourage outdoor educators to engage in “playtime” and have proposed a pedagogy of play to do this (Leather, 2014). However, we need to overcome the Victorian values of our educational heritage and its cultural association of playtime as frivolous so that playfulness can be seen as an intellectual act, opposing the view of playfulness in adults as being childish and without any great sense. ‘The world looks, smells, feels, sounds and tastes different when using this approach’ (Hayes, 2013).


9. Session title: Geographies of Young Children

Session convenors: Louise Holt (Loughborough University, UK), Stuart C. Aitken (San Diego State University, USA)

Contact: l.holt@lboro.ac.uk and saitken@mail.sdsu.edu

Early childhood is subject to much policy intervention and research investigation outside of geography, as it is seen as a specifically dynamic and critical stage of the lifecourse, and a unique moment to intervene to address embodied inequalities (see for instance the UK Giving all Children a Healthy Start in Life, 2013; the US Race to the Top/Early Learning Challenge, 2011).  Despite some early calls for geographies of early childhood (e.g. Aitken and Herman, 1997), there has been a relatively small number of studies about young children’s geographies (e.g. Gallacher 2005; Hancock and Gillen 2007; Horton and Kraftl 2010; Holt 2013). Attention to early childhood troubles geographies of children and youth by: (1) emphasising the dynamism and change of children’s bodies as they change from babies to toddlers, turning the gaze of geographers of children and youth back towards questions of childhood development; (2) necessitating questioning the nature of [children’s] agency; (3) presenting methodological and ethical challenges.  Since focusing on young children highlights the interdependency of the emergence of the subject/agent, it is helpful to figure young children’s bodies as “assemblages” : materiality forged through connections with a host of human and non-human others in specific space/times.