Mansfield College in Oxford, Great Britain was an ideal venue to ponder the questions of spaces, places and belonging. The historical, somewhat sublime, yet Potterian surroundings – old and almost castle-like buildings, dormitories, dining at a chapel with stained glass – created an unique atmosphere for the Interdisciplinary.net 7th global conference on Space and Place.
The three intensive days from 1st to 3rd of September, 2016 were organized into several sessions on a variety of subjects, including Technological mediations of Space and Place; Contestations of Space and Place in Israel and Palestine; Temporal Layers of Space and Place; Dystopian Images of Space and Place; Spaces and Places of Tourism; Literary Images of Neoliberal Space and Place; Sacred and Religious Spaces and Places; Indigenous Spaces and Places; Spaces and Places of Heritage; Contestations of Public Space.
Antti Vallius presented his research in the session Visual Explorations of Space and Place, where subjects from participatory photo-elicitation to artistic approaches and augmented reality applications in communicating the history of minorities were covered. Antti talked about Picturing Belonging, a term with which he refers to the lived environment that is visually perceived, presenting the cultural and personal imagery of meaningful places via photographs by the participants of his study.
The session where Tuija Sarema gave her presentation on Affective nationalism in digital echo chambers was called Digital Mediations of Space and Place; in it, the inclusive and exclusive aspects of digital communities were discussed as well as the continuity and interaction (instead of breaks) between geographical and digital spaces. Tuija’s presentation dealt with the Close the Borders movement and its effort to create a coherent “us” by presenting the “others” as a threat to the (white) nation.
The conference delegates were academics from a variety of fields: from architecture, archeology, anthropology, art history to media and communication, sociology, religious studies, urban design and literature. Te Kawehau Hoskins gave one of the most unforgettable presentations of the conference on the limits of Western knowledge and the possibilities of connecting indigenous ontologies and posthumanist or new materialist perspectives. With the case of a Ta Moko signature on paper, she effectively described “thingly power”. By chance, there was also another presentation on Maori relationship with the landscape by Bruno Marques. Also in presentations like Kate Oxx’s, that was received with a very controversial manner, the questions of what is knowledge and whose knowledge counts were touched.
The participants of this intimate conference gathered together from around the world: Besides Northern Europe, there were delegates from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Israel, India, Taiwan, Australia, US, and New Zealand. As so often, the most fruitful conversations and networking took place outside the academic lecture rooms. In the famous pubs of Oxford, where also chief inspector Morse so often visited, lots of intellectual discussions as well as some academic gossiping took place.
Inter-disciplinary.net organizes tens of global conferences yearly on a vast variety of themes. Participating in in the conferences several times enables noticing that besides the organizers, and even more so, it is the delegates that affect very much to the extent to what the conference forms a supportive, inspiring academic event.
Some of the problems of the conferences have to do with unfortunate cancellations; that was a bit of a downer in Oxford as well. What is more, in this conference, some of the sessions had been divided into Session A and Session B due to the great amount of presenters, which is actually against the interdisciplinary.net policy. Spending one of the days in separate spaces had a negative effect on the cohesion of the group; yet luckily there was a possibility to meet delegates also in the conference lunches, dinner and during leisure time.
Following the footsteps of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, the conference delegates gathered to a post-mortem of the conference to evaluate the academic offering of the Space and Place conference. We agreed that it is really difficult to follow the presentations that are read very quickly, especially if and when they are philosophico-theoretically oriented. The Interdisciplinary.net policy strictly forbids the use of powerpoints containing any text. However, visual images can and also should be more utilized to ease following the message of the presenters.
All in all, the Space and Place conference provided the delegates with a fruitful inter- and multidisciplinary arena for discussion. The concepts of space and place were discussed surprisingly little on a meta-level, people focusing more on their empirical work. However, the presentations ranging from alternate geographies and counterfactual histories to landscape architecture and the spatiality of telephone counselling practice gave a window to how much is happening in the interdisciplinary field of the study of humans in space and place, or, being-in-the-world, as Heidegger has it.
Photos: Antti Vallius.