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.

 

 

 

The RGS-IBG Annual Conference: A Social Nexus

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The Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers Annual Conference took place this year at the RGS-IBG in Kensington (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I spent most of last week at the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers (more commonly known as the RGS-IBG to save time!) Annual Conference in South Kensington. It is the fourth big international conference I have attended since I started my PhD, and apart from being more familiar with big conferences and how they work, I noticed one big difference from my previous conference experiences: I know people now. During the tea breaks, lunch breaks, and drinks receptions, I could be fairly confident that I would find someone I know to talk to. Not that there’s anything wrong starting a conversation with a stranger; I did a little of that too. But knowing that I could probably find someone I already knew to talk to make the prospect of networking less intimidating.

The overarching theme of the conference this year was Nexus Thinking. One of the latest buzzwords in geography, a nexus is a space of connections, of junctures, and of interaction. It got me thinking about the way in which conferences bring people together from a wide range of geographical locations and subject areas- they function as social nexuses (see what I did there?).

I saw lots of people that I know at the RGS-IBG, many that I haven’t seen in quite a while. There were previous Royal Holloway students who have now moved on to further study at other universities; current Hollowegians who I haven’t seen since the end of the summer term, or who I don’t normally get to talk to in the day-to-day life of my PhD; and people that I only really see at conferences.

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Myself with some fellow Hollowegians during a lunch break. From left to right: Ben Newman, Rachel Squire, Innes Keighren, Hannah Awcock (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Many of them were fellow PhD students, whose PhDs I have followed via conference papers and chats over tea and biscuits, lunch, or a drink in the pub at the end of the day. I have watching from afar as their research has developed and progressed, and it was really nice to see them last week, as we all come in to the final stretch.

The RGS-IBG Historical Geography Research Group too, have been an intermittent presence throughout my PhD, particularly at the annual Practising Historical Geography conferences. The more established members are so supportive and generous with their time, never seeming to get tired of the incessant questioning from postgraduate students.

Sometimes when I am sat at home at my desk staring at a computer screen for hours on end, a PhD can feel quite lonely. Last week I was reminded that I have become part of a community; a group of people who know and understand what I’m going through, and that feels really nice. It might be a largely long-distance community, that requires a social nexus like the RGS-IBG Annual Conference to bring us together, but it is one that means a lot to me. And I am now confident that I will always be able to find someone to eat with during the conference lunch breaks.

Sans Dust: Flickr and Instagram as Archives

Rachel Taylor graduated from Royal Holloway’s research-based MA Cultural Geography last year. She is currently working for the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). Her research interests include public engagement with academia, museums, identity politics and how we understand human remains. Here she reflects on online archives, particularly photographic ones, as a research method. The internet is not one of the first things that springs to mind when you think of archives, but it is a valuable resource for academics if we only made use of it. Follow Rachel on Twitter: @mereplacenames


 

A photo of the British Museum available on Flickr (Source: Alex Roach)

A photo of the British Museum available on Flickr. Rachel Taylor used websites such as Flickr and Instagram to analyse visitor behaviour in museums in the research for her Masters dissertation (Source: Alex Loach).

In an age where the most popular ‘camera’ used by Flickr uploaders is the iPhone 4S, it’s time to reconsider photography, contemporary archival methods and move beyond the idea that dust – “the scholar’s choice of dirt” (Lorimer, 2009: 248) and tangibility are the only bedfellows of archival scholarship. Cultural geographers and non-geographers alike are beginning to consider the importance of the online archives that are increasingly playing an important role in our day to day life, and what follows are some brief reflections on the promise and pitfalls of working with these modern archives.

The field of online research is still in its infancy. Having conducted research on the place of Web 2.0 in understanding modern museum behaviour, I’m interested in the many ways in which this infancy provokes questions on the methodological difficulties of working with online archives.

While working with archives has often involved accessing material fiercely guarded by gatekeepers, with a strong emphasis on the physicality of the archive, contemporary visual archives such as Flickr and Instagram offer the chance to conduct research from any location and to gain an immediate appreciation of how the ‘photographers’ that use these sites articulate their social identities and make memories. Rather than delving into little seen and barely touched sources, the empirical data of online archives is generally available to anyone with an internet connection, with “the family photo album, once confined to living rooms…brought into the equivalent of the town square” (Kramer-Duffield and Hank, 2008: 1).

A man studies some paintings in a museum in Denmark in this image from Flickr (Source: Peter Kirkeskov Rasmussen).

A man studies some paintings in a museum in Denmark in this image from Flickr (Source: Peter Kirkeskov Rasmussen).

Despite online photographic repositories offering innovation in archival methodology, both Flickr and Instagram can be accused of hosting throwaway images, with each Instagram photograph “rapidly replaced by the next” (Champion, 2012: 86). Champion draws upon van Dijk in considering the disposability of Instagram images, suggesting they can be equated “to postcards which were meant to be thrown away” (2012: 87). While online visual archives act as a repository of memory, the very fact that they serve as repositories means permanence and importance are not privileged. In a world where some feel the need to photograph every morsel of food they eat, images are no longer confined to capturing the extraordinary. Rather, the banal, everyday moments of life take centre stage.

On a practical note, this disposable nature of the online world hinders attempts at locating images, often exponentially increasing the labour of data collection and encapsulates the difficulties of carrying out research on the Internet. Instagram’s web platform allows a maximum of twenty images to be viewed at any one time, with no means of viewing large amounts of images at once. Web platform such as spots.io and Websta do provide assistance, but issues with cached data and partial information ensure data collection remains a demanding task.

An image of a woman studying something at a museum on Flickr (Source: Pedro Ribeiro Simões).

An image of a woman studying something at a museum on Flickr (Source: Pedro Ribeiro Simões).

While paper may crumple and ink fade, webpages can be edited, deleted and moved. More traditional forms of archival scholarship are reliant upon gatekeepers’ superior knowledge of their collections to guide the researcher in knowing what to look for. In the online world, images are effectively lost if one does not know what they are looking for, with elements such as hashtags, captions and geotags all serving as digital clues to contextualise the images in the vast visual banks of photographic repositories. The wealth of information contained within these non-visual cues demonstrate that when carrying out archival research with online sources, visuality is only one element of the photographic archives.

Despite these challenges, platforms such as Instagram and Flickr offer the chance to engage with how users visually curate their lives. The act of photographing something denotes it as something ‘worth’ seeing. These images then are “increasingly active objects” (de Rijcke and Beaulieu, 2011: 665). These active objects shouldn’t be viewed as objective records, but rather seek to actively represent the person taking the photograph, “negotiated” with an audience in mind (Goffman, 1959 in Larsen, 2005: 419). Photographic practice acts as a form of memory making and establishing one’s presence, allowing content producers to self-curate their everyday life and activities. In an ever increasingly visual world, online archival work offers the ability to understand and interpret contemporary behaviour – sans dust.

Rachel Taylor.

Image Sources 

Loach, Alex. ‘British Museum,’ Flickr. Last modified 20 January 2013, accessed 16 March 2015. https://www.flickr.com/photos/53825985@N02/8511913573/in/photolist-dYaMmz-6gvd6S-r1WK48-4kJjwN-6Hd3CP-r3AEfA-6fSDBu-rkG8bG-qUtFr6-kaZYtK-qK2xpQ-pXVAJx-nxeVVc-knC3mt-p5AtAA-eddJf-eLhnGA-7Wtfoq-69Z6so-f8iCdQ-pFNHFt-qBu2ug-egQaH1-qpmTvJ-qTpi3G-qmABJD-jfT5Dx-egUieh-rbCsCz-rd9cgz-33uFJg-4hGJCF-5M4nRX-8y3FSm-6Ffpq5-qCPUwu-oWvcZY-rmVgbN-cCcccJ-eKmgWY-9qVj39-dxddWb-bD3stx-e9CS8i-dQNzLD-6DDprL-mko8q-r54Yjy-mBmNr-peMD4r

Rasmussen, Peter Kirkeskov. ‘Art Lover,’ Flickr. Last modified 23 May 2014, accessed 16 March 2015. https://www.flickr.com/photos/peterras/14836699804/in/photolist-oB4XX3-pAbmw9-nJpFiX-5jiP2o-59Ca2w-dYaMmz-6gvd6S-r1WK48-4kJjwN-6Hd3CP-r3AEfA-6fSDBu-rkG8bG-qUtFr6-kaZYtK-qK2xpQ-pXVAJx-nxeVVc-knC3mt-p5AtAA-eddJf-eLhnGA-7Wtfoq-69Z6so-f8iCdQ-pFNHFt-qBu2ug-egQaH1-qpmTvJ-qTpi3G-qmABJD-jfT5Dx-egUieh-rbCsCz-rd9cgz-33uFJg-4hGJCF-5M4nRX-8y3FSm-6Ffpq5-qCPUwu-oWvcZY-rmVgbN-cCcccJ-eKmgWY-9qVj39-dxddWb-bD3stx-e9CS8i-dQNzLD

Simões, Pedro Ribeiro. ‘At the Museum,’ Flickr. Last modified 7 September 2013, accessed 16 March 2015. https://www.flickr.com/photos/pedrosimoes7/9963567134/in/photolist-gbrTof-eQtr7R-eNi91F-kS7xZG-9iRWE4-p9r7xJ-8wEJ4i-qGyxkU-dJe3X1-7HPno-hWikPC-ggEYvo-fjrkti-nuXEBU-bQM6F8-hZLuW3-ggFfBU-7Jxfvm-52VDyu-52RiAx-52RnCn-52VG1J-gx23J3-4M5AMj-8M11qQ-o6zto2-7Lm6fD-hscdSo-gb3Nv4-ek5HQV-pNWxRf-axtYjo-ff867-gRWHM1-5asFL2-hrnKAS-omNwf7-5asxNR-87JwvP-6oFrtA-nSRAPy-nGKKk2-8VG5Th-qAVRw5-oRnx9N-7BmL1Q-6mjAiq-hZxjVh-7LXw1y-oGczzQ/