As it’s been nearly a year since my last entry (my sincere apologies, dedicated reader(s)) I thought it was high time I put pen to paper. Today I’m going to write about the three conferences I’ve attended since the publication of my last blogpost way back in June 2015.
Conferences can be amazingly enriching and terrifying experiences all at the same time. They present an opportunity to hear from and (if you’re brave enough) interact with scholars you admire and discover new connections and innovative work. Sometimes the food is good. Sometimes they take you to new cities and universities and you get a chance to take in some touristy sights. If you’re presenting, they can also give you the chance to share your work with people you respect, people who will give you constructive and encouraging feedback that may well shape your work in unexpected and long-lasting ways. But they can also be expensive! Especially on the PhD student budget. And they can be fraught with tensions as passionate academics spar over theoretical interpretations. Sometimes no one asks you a question during the Q&A following your presentation or worse, they ask a question that has nothing to do with your work or even your field. That all these things can be true at once is the nature of a conference, I think. And it’s what makes it worth going in the first place.
The three conferences I’ve been to were full of all of the above and more. My first was in Ireland in June 2015. The Motherhood and Culture conference, held at Maynooth University, was my first conference focused on mothering and motherhood. It was wonderful to be surrounded by so many different amazing scholars doing work on a wide array of subjects from so many different disciplinary perspectives. It was a supportive atmosphere but that didn’t mean we didn’t ask challenging questions or have interesting debates. The two keynote speakers, Profs. Chodorow and O’Reilly were fantastic and set the tone for three days of fantastic work. I heard some great presentations on attachment theory in Icelandic parenting advice, media portrayals of natural parenting in France and the motivations of surrogates in Thailand, to name just a few. And the food? So good! Hearty options for lunch and dinner and delicious scones to keep us going in between. Maynooth set a standard that has yet to be met let alone surpassed, to be honest.
The next conference I attended was held in the same week as Maynooth’s so it was a hectic day of travelling and packing for me. The Austerity, Gender and Household Finances conference was held at the University of Kent and was a much smaller conference than the one described above. As a result it was easier to get to know more people as we spent so much time together, hearing about each other’s work and supporting each other through technical difficulties (the conference hasn’t really started until someone’s powerpoint fails to load). This time the work was a bit beyond my field and included women’s relationship with money through the ages, the growth of mumpreneurs and the intersection between class, gender and shopping habits. All fascinating stuff and I learned so much. I commented on the food in Maynooth so I have to comment here: it was good! The conference dinner especially and I got to meet and chat with some great people doing interesting things in different places.
Finally, my third conference was many months later and also required my first trip to the US: the annual meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society. It was held in Boston which I’ve been told by many people is an excellent introduction to the States. I agree! The food (the seafood!) was fantastic and there was lots to see in the few free moments in between sessions. The presentations themselves were fantastic and included a look at the interactions between white female and African-American doctors in early twentieth century US and an examination of the pitfalls of the menstrual hygiene industry in India. Thought-provoking and fascinating work. Plus I met some heroes!
If I may leave you, dear reader, with a little bit of advice it would be: attend conferences! They’re a great opportunity to test out ideas and meet people who do interesting, relevant work. They can cost a pretty penny (and we, as critical academics, should definitely have a conversation about how that perpetuates elitism in the academy and how conferences further contribute to climate change) but for now, if you can find a local one that offers a bit of funding? I say go. And maybe you can blog about it!