Spaces of Solidarity and Transnationalism: Reflections on The Biannual PolGRG Workshop

By Viktoria Noka

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Blue skies and sunny spells welcomed delegates to the University of Glasgow, the proud host of the Political Geography Research Group’s Biannual Workshop from 2nd-3rd May 2019. At a time where our news is (still) flooded with Britain’s Brexit woes and Donald Trump’s tweets, it is clear that the political climate is fraught with tensions and is, at times, incomprehensible. However, we have also seen a rise in political activity and a heightened political consciousness that challenges the current state of affairs. It is timely, then, for Political Geographers to (re)envisage and renew the ways in which we understand and theorise activism, solidarity, and transnational movements within and in response to a myriad of shifting political landscapes.

The workshop themes of solidarity and transnationalism seemed timely, then, to speak to the politics of the here and now, but also to reflect the broad range of work in political geography that has emerged in this context. Over two days, we heard presenters from across Europe considering questions around the rise of the far-right in Europe and how we might start to think about activism and transnationalism within those networks. Inevitably, we also spoke at length about the Brexit process and how this intersects with issues around citizenship and migration. Indeed, discourses around “sanctuary cities”, the practices of everyday bordering, and contesting the urban border through migrant activism provided the source for much discussion over tea and biscuits.

Our fantastic keynotes speakers each provided a different take on these themes. Óscar García Agustín from Aalborg University discussed new municipalism and transnational solidarities and Sumita Mukherjee from Bristol University spoke about her work on transnational networks of Indian suffrage activism. Kate Botterill and Diarmaid Kelliher from within our department at the University of Glasgow also ran two workshops on decolonisation and migration research and on doing politically engaged research.

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On ethics and decolonising research – Credit: Kate Botterill

As a 1st year PhD student still trying to find her footing in the world of academia I will admit that in taking on the organisation of an event like this I really had no idea of what I was getting myself into. Everything from deciding on a theme, sending out a call for papers (sending out another call for papers because no one replied to the first one), applying for funding, writing budgets (and then sticking to them!), booking rooms, organising catering, only to then have to improvise morning tea and coffee because catering was fully booked (home baked cookies galore!), and making sure everything runs smoothly on the day was a new experience. I don’t think any doctoral training course could have prepared me for the hard work, flexibility, and creativity that is takes and, ultimately the joy that comes from bringing people together to discuss new and exciting work in political geography.

A big thank you goes out to everyone who attended the workshop, Oscar and Sumita for giving two wonderful keynote lectures, Kate and Diarmaid for their workshop inputs, and to Dave Featherstone for co-organising this workshop and making this workshop such a success!