Why ask questions?

Like many, I’ve recently returned from the Institute of Australian Geographers annual conference in Canberra. I listened to some terrific research papers, especially by graduate students from around the country: well conceived, carefully planned and structured, rehearsed and timed, executed with interest and sometimes pizzazz.

But the speaker’s final word does not mark the end of the performance. It is now time for questions. There is a moment of tangible nervous energy in the room.

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Pregnancy, motherhood and firefighting

“When I decided to make this profession my career I cried because at that point in time [early 1980s] every woman who got pregnant or got married left the profession. Then I had to deal personally with accepting that I also was gay. That was a whole other crying moment because it’s like, okay, I chose a profession over what society says you’ve got to have—family.” Continue reading

Unmasking gender privileges: the flipside of inequity

At first thought, many men (and some women) express a belief that gender inequality is an issue of the past that has been overcome by a generational shift within the emergency services. Upon greater reflection this notion usually turns out to be more complex than initially proclaimed. Continue reading

Eyes wide shut: bushfire, gendered norms and everyday life

“Pop-psychology”—this is the term used to define the obsession in public discourse and media with labelling of gender differences as if these differences are biologically set-in-stone. Western society’s captivation by such dichotomy-based definitions has problematic outcomes when, for example, in leadership debates men and women are portrayed as being incapable of getting along because their ways of communicating are too different.

I was witness to this very scenario at a Community Engagement and Fire Awareness Conference hosted by the NSW Rural Fire Service for 400-odd staff and volunteers in 2011. Continue reading

Why gender matters in emergency management

Gender is a matter of social relations—i.e. social structures with enduring or widespread patterns, rather than an expression of dichotomous biology. Social characteristics, such as gender, cannot be understood in isolation of other social characteristics, such as class, education, disability, age, race and sexuality. As argued by Connell (2010, 6):

‘People construct themselves as masculine or feminine. We claim a place in the gender order – or respond to the place we have been given – by the way we conduct ourselves in everyday life.’

Why is this important in the context of emergency management? It matters for three key reasons. Continue reading

Post-presentation shutdown and the art of question time

Professor Lesley Head.

Professor Lesley Head.

You’ve nailed the presentation. Structured it well. Timed it just right. No powerpoint stuff-ups. You’re pretty sure you had most of the audience with you. You draw breath and take a glass of water. Your brain relaxes.

But wait, there’s question time, and if you’re lucky, a chance for extended discussion. Just as your brain relaxes, you need it to function more than ever, and fast. Continue reading

Illuminating wildfire vulnerability through environmental history

The following is a discussion of how environmental history recently has broadened my understanding of wildfire vulnerability. It is based on my reflections from the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) conference in San Francisco, which together with the Association of American Geographers (AAG) conference in Tampa bracketed my recent trip to USA. The purpose of attending both conferences was to share key lessons on gendered dimensions of wildfire vulnerability and resilience as presented in my new book. Yet, the format of my input to each conference was distinctively different. Continue reading

Call for papers IAG/NZGS 2014: Nonhuman Agency

Institute of Australian Geographers/New Zealand Geographical Society Conference, University of Melbourne, 30th June – 2nd July 2014.

Organisers: Dr Leah Gibbs (University of Wollongong), Dr Andrew Warren (University of New England), Mr Charles Gillon (University of Wollongong)
This session is concerned with the agency of nonhumans in shaping environmental politics, environmental decisions, and everyday encounters. Nonhuman agency is currently the subject of research across cultural and posthumanist geographies, political ecology and political economy. Each of these fields brings into focus different aspects of the agency of nonhumans, as well as a range of critiques. Political economic research has been critiqued for adopting an overly constrained view of agency, and for failing to confront the political subjectivity of socio-natures. ‘The inadvertent consequence is a failure to address the full scope of environmental processes’ (Bakker 2010, 717). Cultural geography – and especially posthumanist approaches – have extended agency beyond the human realm, to consider agency of animals and objects, and more recently plants and elements (including freshwater and the sea). However, such accounts of distributive agency have been critiqued for flattening relations too much. Accounts of nonhuman agency enable better understanding of events and relations, the implications of environmental decisions and actions, and present opportunities to pose alternate questions of conceptual and practical importance. This session seeks to advance interrogation of the role of the agency of nonhuman animals, plants, elements, objects, and processes, and the question of which things and processes have the power to act. 
We welcome papers that focus on:
  • conceptual and theoretical questions;
  • theoretically informed empirical research;
  • methodology; and
  • political implications of nonhuman agency.
Session format: Standard paper session (4 papers). This session is being sponsored by the Cultural Geography Study Group.
Instructions: Please email Charles Gillon (cwg317@uowmail.edu.au)  with your abstract of 250 words or less by March 28th. Additionally, submit your abstract on the conference website when you register.

Call for papers: Sustainability in the Anthropocene

Institute of Australian Geographers/New Zealand Geographical Society Conference University of Melbourne, June 30 to July 2, 2014.

Organisers: Dr Lauren Rickards (Uni Melb) and Prof Lesley Head (Uni Wollongong)

Still under review as a formal geological term, ‘the Anthropocene’ – the idea that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch due to the accumulated effect of human influences – is, like sustainability, an interdisciplinary concept. It not only brings together multiple scientific disciplines, from geologists and geomorphologists to ecologists and climate scientists, but is fast becoming an intellectual meeting point for a far wider range of scholars, including those coming from historical, political, economic, social and cultural perspectives. Combined with the way that the Anthropocene thesis challenges the ontological basis of the disciplinary divisions listed above, and demands close attention to spatial and temporalscale and boundaries, the Anthropocene is a rich theme for many geographers.

The implications of the Anthropocene for the environmental sustainability project are contested. Some commentators, including some of its originators, see the concept as a call-to-arms for the environmental movement. But others suggest that it reveals the environmental sustainability enterprise to be out-dated or out-moded: ahopeless or misguided exercise.  This session calls for papers that address challenges to sustainability in the Anthropocene from a range of critical perspectives. These could include papers on how issues such as climate change, ocean acidification or species extinctions are positioned within the Anthropocene discourse, critique of certain Anthropocene narratives or images, or implications of Anthropocene relationships for particular policy areas such as geoengineering, mining oragriculture. Other possible topics include the relationship between the Anthropocene and debates about ‘human impacts’, planetary boundaries, species thinking, the human-nature relationship and imaginaries of the future.

Session format: Normal paper format (4-6 papers), with possible discussant depending on number of papers

Instructions: Please email Lauren Rickards (lauren.rickards@unimelb.edu.au) with your abstract of 250 words or less by March 28. And submit it on the conference website when you register.

Shards of the past and seeds of the future

Pondering the details of everyday life in the Bronze Age, as I did in a post several weeks ago, took me back to a discussion between Nigel Clark and Michelle Bastian at the RGS-IBG conference in late August. They wondered how we might need to reassemble the shards of the past in different ways in the future. As I pack up to leave Gothenburg and head home, my head is spinning with ideas, comparisons and lists of things to do. So I will just present a few thoughts as disconnected shards that may or may not sit together in a strong stone wall.

Stone wall, Gotland. Photo: L. Head

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