What do Geographers do in their summer holidays?

Post by Dr Andy Davies

When term time is over, a lot of students think that the University shuts down and that we academics get really long summer holidays. Of course, we do have some time off, but work carries on around the University, even if it is significantly quieter with most students away for the summer.

The summer is a great time to do fieldwork, but one of the things that most academics do in the summer is spend time at conferences and workshops to discuss the latest ideas and talk about their research. For Human Geographers, one of the biggest conferences is the Annual Conference of the Royal Geographical Society (with Institute of British Geographers) (RGS), which was at the University of Edinburgh in July this year. I, together with other members of the Department, was involved in presenting papers at this conference. However, this wasn’t all that went on during my time in Scotland.

When in Scotland, you have to have an Irn Bru on the train!

Geography obviously has lots of topics to study within it, from more ‘physical’ topics like glaciation and climate change to more ‘human’ ones like health and development. One of my roles as an academic is as a Committee Member of the Geographies of Justice Research Group (GJRG) of the RGS-IBG. The RGS-IBG has many research groups, where researchers on specific topics within Geography meet and discuss the latest developments within their own sub-field, but also to ensure that the work we do continues to be relevant and important to the wider world. The GJRG is, as it’s name suggests, interested in issues of justice and equality, and at its heart is a commitment to doing research that is socially ‘just’.

So, before the RGS-IBG conference, I spent a day in the University of Dundee, attending a pre-Conference event on ‘Shaping Agendas in Justice Research’. Having never been to ‘the sunniest place in Scotland’ before, it was unsurprisingly raining on the day I arrived. However, there were seals basking in shoals of the River Tay, and the train journey from Edinburgh to Dundee was beautiful and a real surprise. The day itself was spent with a variety of papers which took the quite broad theme of ‘justice’ and thought about issues such as social in/exclusion in the regeneration of Dundee’s waterfront, participatory research with street Children in Accra, Ghana and student activism in Chile. The variety of presentations and topics within them showed how vibrant Human Geography research is, but also how Human Geographers are committed to doing work that is explicitly socially just – i.e. that it produces outcomes that are beneficial to humanity, and do not act in ways that serve to increase inequality within the world.

The River Tay in Dundee – sadly, no seals visible!

These are very real challenges which many of us in Geography at Liverpool are committed to working on – using Geography to do work that struggles against injustice. That’s why I’m a member of the GJRG, and also one of the main reasons why I work as a geographer – because as a subject, its commitment to understanding how the world around us functions allows us to (hopefully) create a better world for future generations. It also proves that, despite what students may think, we also do work in the summer holidays!