By Nick Skilton and Ellen van Holstein
Nick Skilton and Ellen van Holstein are both PhD Candidates with the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research. They are currently at the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in Tampa, Florida.
Nick: We’ve finally all found each in the downstairs bar of the Floridan Hotel. The chandeliers scream old school bling, and the waitress is surly because we don’t get tipping etiquette. They don’t have kettles in hotel rooms, but they have great bourbon, and burgers that get served ‘bloody’ enough to send me – the vegan AUSCCERite – upstairs to my room for dinner.
The AAG in Los Angeles last year was my first big international conference and I left it wanting more sessions and papers that I could relate too. So this year I decided to co-organise with Andrew Gorman-Murray (an ex-AUSCCER geographer, now at UWS) my own session to bring together a bunch of people with commonality in research interests. Andrew couldn’t make it in the end, and as it turns out, organising our own session may have been unnecessary since an entire gender and sexuality mini-conference has been scheduled within the Tampa AAG. My session was scheduled to be 2nd session on the opening day, so feeling weary after some wine and inspiration, working through ideas in a lavish hotel room (sans kettle) and attempting late night paper revision, I showed up early to sort out the room and quickly adjust to the conference scene. Nothing like being thrown in the deep end!
How did it go? I find it difficult to capture vivid memories out of stressful situations. I know my paper felt underdone. I know I wanted to chair the session better than I did. I wished I hadn’t sweat through my shirt but that’s why you wear black, right? But I was happy with the papers. Our 20 minute empty session at the end (we couldn’t quite fill the session based on our earlier call for papers) provided a bonus time slot for fluid and interactive conversation. My supervisor Chris says it all went well, the conversation after formal papers was lively and the feeling in the room was of likeminded people finding many points of agreement across the papers. I’m happy, and happy to be done, and happy to be in the bar, happy to be talking about creatures we share houses with we’d keep or kill, the difference between our loves for fresh or salt water, and no doubt a bunch more by the time we’ve finished.
Ellen: I couldn’t agree more with Nick when it comes to how glad I am to be done and to be in the bar. I started this day at the first session of the conference. It was a session along the lines of ‘how to survive the AAG for beginners’. Finding the actual room was a first challenge. Having 8000 geographers around didn’t make it easier either.
I presented my paper today. It was in the session ‘Assembling life in the margins’; a session aimed at rethinking how marginality could be understood beyond the homeless, the poor or any other a priori minority category. I entered that session very enthusiastically, feeling pretty confident about my paper. I left the session quite disillusioned. Apart from slight annoyance over every paper going over time, which didn’t leave much time for questions or comments, the papers also didn’t seem to cohere. Many were fascinating individual papers that opened discussion into all sorts of directions, but many others were urban stories with assemblage theory sprinkled on top. As such, the papers were actually quite illustrative of current discussions over the merit of assemblage thinking. Reflecting on my day it left me thinking that perhaps in the future I should seek out sessions that have a tighter empirical or thematic focus rather than a conceptual one.
I was surprised to learn from AAG experienced AUSCCERites that my experience is not uncommon. Apparently the AAG is a big gamble: sessions can seem very exciting and appropriate on paper, but then afterwards might leave you wondering what you were doing there to begin with. It is great “flying in AUSCCER formation” again and learning all the little tips and tricks of surviving a big conference such as the AAG. It is also reassuring that although assemblage thinking didn’t bring me much satisfaction today, at least there is geographical bar talk about monstrous rivers, Christmas beetle larvae, and the evil of unpaid internships to feed my curiosity – and that enables me to return to my century-old royal hotel suite quite content and ready for day two of this grand event.