Justice and the Digital: The Second Annual Digital Geographies Working Group Symposium

The second annual symposium of the Royal Geographical Society’s Digital Geographies Working Group (or RGS-IBG DGWG for short) took place on the 6th of July 2018 at the University of Sheffield. The theme was Justice and the Digital. I am Events Co-ordinator for the group, and I was on the organising team for this event, so it was a pretty stressful day for me. Everything went really well though, if I do say so myself, and I had a fantastic time!

Symposium Group Photo

The attendees of the second annual Digital Geographies Working Group at the University of Sheffield (Photo: Lucy Dunning).

The day started with a panel entitled “What’s justice got to do with it?” A combination of academics and practitioners (representing Oxfam UK and the Good Things Foundation),  discussed the relationship between justice and the digital. Whilst it might be quite obvious that inequality shapes who has access to digital tools such as the internet, the panel discussed the ways in which injustice and inequality can play out even once access is gained. The digital is not a silver bullet that can instantly relieve inequality, it can also make things worse if it is not used in the right ways.

After the opening panel, the day split into three parallel strands. I convened the strand on Citizenship, Protest, and the Digital. We had talks from two excellent speakers, digital shorts (I’ll explain later!) and a really interesting discussion. The first speaker was Dr. Sam Hind from the University of Siegen, who spoke about his research on Sukey, an app developed during the Student Tuition Fee Demonstrations in 2010 to help protesters share information and avoid police kettles. The second speaker was Professor Karen Mossberger, who joined us via Skype from Arizona State University. She spoke about place-based projects were used in Chicago to improve digital citizenship and create a culture of technology use.

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Dr. Sam Hind (University of Siegen) talking to the Citizenship, Protest, and the Digital strand (Photo: Ozlem Demirkol).

It is important to the DGWG committee that the group is accessible to, and supportive of, postgraduate students and early career researchers. This ethos extends to the events we organise, so we introduced digital shorts. These are 2-3 minute presentations, with or without slides, about a research project. Generally this project is a Masters dissertation or PhD thesis, but it is not compulsory. They are meant to be informal and low-stress, although it can be difficult to summarise your research in just a few minutes! In the Citizenship, Protest, and the Digital strand we had five great shorts of topics ranging from Eurovision fandom to the Paris terrorist attacks, via protest in Turkey, Libya, and Dublin.

After the stands, the groups came back together for a closing panel to discuss what geographers can bring to the study of the relationship between justice and the digital. Speakers from the three strands responded to the topic, and we came to the rather satisfying conclusion that there is something unique geographers can offer, due to our specific methodological standpoints that differ from other academic disciplines.

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Symposium attendees ‘networking’ at a nearby pub (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

No academic event is complete without a trip to the pub, so that it where we headed after the final panel. The next day, some of us met up in Hathersage in the Peak District for a ‘walk-and-talk,’ which pretty much does what it says on the tin. It was a great opportunity to carry on some of the discussions that had been started the day before, and to walk off some of those conference biscuits!

Walk and Talk Victory

The Walk-and-talkers celebrate making it to the top of Stanage Edge in the Peak District (Photo: Hannah McCarrick).

See how the day unfolded on Twitter by looking at the Wakelet story generated by the wonderful Sammia Poveda, which can be accessed here.

 

 

 

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