Harvesting the conference season 2021

This conference season I have attended many research conferences. Some of them were postponed from last season and others are just too exciting to pass, since virtual attendance makes it possible to attend them from home. Timewise it has not always been optimal (other work, care responsibilities, time zones), but since rarely everything is, I’ll focus on the good aspects.

Fields of study

I attended this many conferences mainly because as an (organisational) ethnographer I’m often in search of a suitable field. Although I have my disciplinary toolkit from organisation studies and I identify myself as an environmental social scientist, the nature of the phenomena also determines with whom I should talk.

This season I have attended (and will attend) conferences & sessions focusing on
⁃ political science
⁃ (critical) forest studies (a concept we coined in one session)
⁃ social movement studies
⁃ alternative organising
⁃ feminist economics
⁃ ecological economics
⁃ degrowth
⁃ environmental humanities
⁃ sociology
⁃ institutional ethnography
⁃ extractivism

The list of my past presentations in conferences is here. Sometimes I get a lot of comments and other times none. This is part of my process of trying to find an interested audience. This is a laborious process compared to scholars who go to the same conference every year.

You might ask why I don’t attend same conferences every year. Why not attend, for example, an organisation studies conference regularly? This is a good question and I don’t have a simple answer.

First, based on previous experience, many (large) conferences in organisation studies seem to focus on academic careers rather than talking about the content. Or to be even more precise, on surface they seem to host an atmosphere that focus on the content. But when digging deeper, the focus on content is justified as long as it advances one’s academic career. When I first realised this, I got angry and sad. While I have met fantastic people in large organisation studies conferences, I’m growing tried of trying to find them. Nowadays, I’d rather spend my time in places were my studies evoke interests because of what they focus on and not (only) what they can do for people’s (or my) career.

Second, while everything is indeed about organisation (that much I’m an organisational scholar), this is hardly a finding in my field. Yet, this could be: In what ways postgrowth work is organised? How is the citizen movement for forests organised? To answer these, I need to talk to people who have encountered similar phenomena, not only to people who know theories of organising but have little interest in the phenomenon.

Third, I’m a transdiciplinary scholar, while I struggle with that at times. This identity means I need to talk to people in various disciplines. Organisation studies as a discipline is multidisciplinary anyways, so actually attending conferences with a focus on certain phenomena (rather than discipline) or people representing several disciplines feels like home. In fact, the most difficult conferences for me at the moment seem to be the ones with a very strict disciplinary focus, especially if there is no explicit focus on the impacts of the field to the world in which they function.

Interesting concepts

So what have I found about organising postgrowth work and forest struggles?

ISEE-Degrowth conference (Manchester) focused on livelihoods, which is very promising for my study. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend other sessions that week beyond the Fada open session, with I co-facilitated. However, in an anticipation of the recordings, I and others can freely access the recordings of the plenary panels.

Feminist Economics conference 2021 had many talks about the impact of the pandemic on women’s and other groups wellbeing, work and livelihoods. It is still possible for the participants to return to the recordings. Thus far, the most influential presentations included

  • a feminist analysis of green new deals by scholars working in the Feminist Roadmap for Sustainable Peace and Planet project. This was a fantastic overview of various criticism that was drawn together.
  • a feminist analysis of investments done to alleviate the economic impacts of the pandemic. This analysis shows how investment in care creates more jobs than investments in maintaining infrastructure.
  • Bina Agarwal’s perspectives on knowledge creation. She encouraged scholars working in the global North focusing on global North to do empirical studies also in the global South. I have been shy to engage in this, but I feel I’m more knowledgeable of my privileges and potential pitfalls – although this work never ends.

The Environmental Humanities conference STREAMS has been very fruitful. The notion of environmental justice made a crashing re-entry into my thinking. I have familiarised with the notion when reading about ecofeminism, which is at the crossroads of gender and environmental justice discussions. However, Julie Sze’s keynote lecture about climate justice as freedom movements open my mind. Indeed, I can frame most of the initiatives that I follow to take part in the environmental justice struggles.

Another concepts emerged from roundtable discussions: undisciplining and scales. Undisciplined environments is an interesting initiative that was a theme of one roundtable discussion. I’m still in the middle of the recording (the session took place the same time with my presentation), but it is fantastic how scholars create new perspectives with integrity in the midst of uncertainty. Scales relates to thinking about the tension between everyday actions and large scale transformation. Where is change achieved? This relates to theories of change that people have when they engage in environmental struggles.

The 25th edition of Alternative Futures & Popular Protest was, as is the tradition, organised around presentations by the participants without keynotes. However, it hosted two plenary roundtables. I attended to present my work with Meidän metsämme and to understand how my work could translate to social movement scholars.

Similar reasoning preceded when I applied to present in The Annual Conference of the Finnish Political Science Association themed Democracy’s Crisis and Future – but in relation to political science. The session focusing on forest policies was magnificent. We coined a concept critical forest studies that could bring together (environmental) social scientific work focusing on forests – compared to forest studies often characterised by natural sciences.

Next steps

I have still three conference presentations to come before a break from conferences. Next summer I will definitely attend less conferences. While this has been very stimulating, it has been perhaps a tad too much.

I’m in a process of drafting my next grant application. As part of the requirements, I plan international mobility. Meeting with colleagues has been helpful in this regard.

As always, onwards!

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