So my very first academic presentation has finally happened. The debut occurred at the annual MeCSSA (Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association) conference which was hosted by the Media School at Bournemouth University between 8 and 10 January. Our research team has organised a panel to present two projects: the Everyday Growing Cultures and the AHRC Cultural Values of Digging. As the EGC project member I had an opportunity to not just participate in the conference, but to finally try myself at presenting in front of an academic audience. This first experience was scary, but highly rewarding – I was proud to be able to make a contribution to the impact our research is making and genuine academic and public interest it is generating. The panel discussion provided a valuable opportunity to have a fresh look on the work we’ve done, the issues we’ve raised and some of the results the project has achieved so far. We took a chance to reflect on all the stages we went through since the summer, which is when the project’s main phase was completed. First, Ian gave a presentation on mapping as metaphor and practice in which he talked about all the mapping walks and activities that were part of the project’s effort to help people identify and open up potential growing spaces. Full of colourful and eloquent pictures representing almost every step of the walking and mapping process, Ian’s presentation set the atmosphere and allowed the audience to sense the genuine enthusiasm of all those who came to the walks to share their time, resources, expertise along with good food and positive feelings.
Then it was time for our project’s gem – the Everyday Growing Futures film – to be presented and shown, and I was entrusted with introducing the documentary and explaining its background and role in the wider context of our research. In five minutes I tried to articulate the film’s main idea and purpose, its methodological and research value as well as some of the social effects we hoped to achieve by capturing and sharing growing experiences across the UK and US – an impossible mission to complete, but the movie did what the words could not do, and I believe the audience was captivated by the stories the film told just as I myself was the first time I watched it.
After the documentary, Farida delivered a fascinating presentation on the notion of digging tracing the historical evolution of the digging motives from the nation-building to a lifestyle choice, to the national heritage and community engagement, to the modern idea of the digging as a gift of an individual to the rest of the community. Farida also explained the background of the allotment project she initiated back in 2011, which is when and how I became involved in this fascinating area of sustainability, alternative food networks and responsible consumption. Finally, Penny took up the discussion on the cultural value of digging by tracing the development of the idea of digging from the war-time rationing, when digging and growing activities were associated with government-inspired frugality, to the current understanding of it as a manifestation of alternative – greener and more responsible – approach to the production and consumption of food. In the Q&A session a number of meaningful issues were raised proving the subject to be of real interest and concern to the academic as well as general audience. Overall, the panel was really successful in providing an overview of the project and also in leaving some space for reflection on future practical (identifying and opening up growing spaces as well as data on them) and research (understanding motives for digging and growing activity and its cultural and social meanings) possibilities.
My personal take-aways are significant too. The conference provided me with the platform for my very first academic presentation, and it looks like I stood the test. But it also granted me a valuable sense of belonging to a wider academic community, a sense of much-sought self-identification with people who dedicate their lives to exploring the issues that fascinate them. I was thrilled to meet and talk to Dr Mike Goodman, whose work has to a significant extent informed my understanding of the subject I am addressing in my PhD thesis. Sharing the auditorium with high-profile academics was truly inspiring and uplifting, and I can only hope to have more such opportunities in the future.
In the end, I’d like to thank our project leader, Dr Farida Vis, and all our team members for making participation in the project such an exciting and valuable experience. Looking forward to doing more equally fascinating research with equally fantastic academics!
P.S. Slides from the EGC panel presentations can be seen here