It’s been over a month since I’ve written – the month of March was a crazy one! First my parents came to visit for a week, which was great, and then I had a lot of writing to do to meet some deadlines in the middle and end of March, which was not so great. Now that they’re over, though, I’m looking forward to the post-submission chilled period, which should last a week, at least!
One of the deadlines was because last Wednesday-Friday I participated in my first academic conference: a conference on cross-movement mobilisation at the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany. For a first conference, I would have to say that it was a great experience. I’d been to the area before and it’s not too far from Brussels, so while it was exciting to take the train abroad for a conference it also wasn’t too stressful.
The conference was specifically on social movements, so fell more into sociology than political science (the faculty where I work), although of course it borders the two. In any case, the crowd was an interesting mix and I can say for sure that social movement scholars seem to be more openly left-wing (and have a higher ratio of piercings and dreadlocks) than their political science counterparts – or at least the ones in Leuven!
The conference was definitely very full-on, with an evening reception before two full days running from 8:30am-7pm, but it was also hugely intellectually stimulating. It was literally two days surrounded by people with lots of different ideas, making it the perfect place get new insights into areas you’re famililar with – and, as in my case, ones you’re not! This conference in particular was the perfect size for a first conference, with about 100-150 attendees: large enough that there was plenty of choice of different panels, all very interesting, but also small enough that it wasn’t overwhelming and it was possible to meet the same people more than once.
My presentation went well: the organisers of our panel had chosen three papers which worked well together. I was talking on ethical consumer groups, and the other two presenters were exploring climate camps and transition town initiatives: three examples of how the environmental movement has adapted to use strategies other than protest, including the creation of new spaces for the movement to act in by using non-political strategies. It led to a good discussion afterwards, which was valuable for everyone.
I also got to see some of my academic ‘idols’ (i.e. people whose work I have read and cited multiple times) speak, which was interesting: a couple were great presenters, while one (who will remain unnamed) definitely writes much better than they speak! One particularly interesting part of this conference was the equality between all academics: from PhD students to the top professors in their field, the discussion was on very equal footing and everyone’s ideas were listened to and shared. I’m sure that this isn’t the case in all academic fields or at all conferences, but at least here there was a very respectful atmosphere, which was really great.
After a nice dinner on Friday evening discussing feminist movements, labour unions and social welfare policy in the Nordic countries compared to the rest of the world (yes, really) I took the bus back to Brussels full of energy and inspiration. I was on such a high that I even tried to do some reading and brainstorming on the bus, at least as much as my motion sickness would allow me to.
I’m very happy with the way this conference went, and now am looking forward to the following workshop session and conference I’m attending at the end of April and beginning of September. Let’s hope that they both turn out the same way!