May 12, 2013

peace isn't sexy?

The blog has been quiet because I've been recovering from doing two academic conferences back to back.  Bad idea.  I went from the International Studies (ISA) conference straight to the Association of American Geographer's meeting (the AAG is considering a name change by the way).  As always, in every slot there were several sessions I wanted to go to and I had trouble choosing! Really sorry to have missed so many great papers I wanted to see - but it's a sign that there's a lot of exciting work happening in geography.

I spent a long time in the sessions on Violence and Space organized by Simon Springer and Philippe LeBillon.  Too long probably. I think there were 8 sessions and I sat through 6.  Listening to so much work on violence (often with gruesome pictures and descriptions) left me feeling flattened.  I wish we had coordinated better with the four sessions that I helped to organize on Geographies of Peace.  Maybe if we had gone back and forth it would have been easier to hear.  But I was struck by how different the vibe was in the two series.  The violence sessions were in a large central room and were generally packed.  The peace sessions were in the furthest away of the conference hotels, and in a tiny room.  I guess the study of peace is still marginal in geography - unlike the ISA, which has a whole large track of peace and conflict studies sessions.

The paper that made the most impact on me in the AAG was one by Guntram Herb.  He used to teach a course called geography of war, that got a large number of mostly male students for many years.  When he changed the course name to geography of peace, he got a much smaller number of mostly female students.  Now he teaches it as geography of war and peace and gets both more students and better gender balance.  An example I will likely follow!

The final geography of peace session was one that I organized, where LA based activists from the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity spoke.  I was worried about making it a comfortable space for them in an academic setting, particularly for survivors telling harrowing stories of losing family members in the violence in Mexico.  I was unsure about the wisdom of having geographers follow that up with comments. I am pleased to report that it went really well, thanks in large part to Josh Inwood and Byron Miller, who took on the difficult task and got the tone of their thoughtful commentary just right. 

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