RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2013

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67 100+, Comforting Geographies (1): Comforting encounters, materialities, and care.
Affiliation Social and Cultural Geography Research Group
Women and Geography Study Group
Convenor(s) Laura Price (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Danny McNally (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Chair(s) Laura Price (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 28 August 2013, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Room 119
Session abstract Comfort is an ambivalent and highly complex term (Bissell, 2008). To be in one’s comfort zone is perceived to be conservative, and socially and culturally unadventurous. At the same time the embodied, material experience of ‘comfort’ is anticipated for satisfying experiences of everyday life. Geographers have engaged with the notion of comfort in a variety of contexts: migratory experience (Gorman-Murray, 2009); identity and resistance (Holliday, 1998); passenger comfort and discomfort (Bisell, 2008; Martin, 2011); the clothed body (Colls, 2005; Woodward, 2005); nighttime economies (Elridge et al, 2008); sociability in public space (Boyer, 2012) and thermal heat provision (Hitchings et al, 2011). David Bissell (2008) has argued that through cultural geographies, ‘comfort’ has often taken on gendered connotations, associating experiences of home, care and warmth with feminine experience and domesticity. Feminist geographers have been critical of the ‘comforting’ associations of home and femininity; highlighting home as negotiations of experiences, especially those that are unjust or negative that are concealed by deterministic associations of home as comforting (Brickell, 2011). This session on ‘comforting geographies’ seeks to explore the liminality of ‘comfort’. The geographical practices of making comfort in discomforting spaces; experiences of discomfort in ‘comforting spaces’ and the complicated experience of social and cultural and embodied, felt comfort. With this session we hope to move beyond discussion of just ‘another emotion’ (Pile, 2010), towards a politics of comfort that attends to the possibilities of this notion to make sense of the textures of everyday life – helping to better theorize the potential of ‘comforting geographies’ as a new frontier for social and cultural geography.
Linked Sessions 100+, Comforting Geographies (2): Negotiating comfortable bodies, processes and things.
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2013@rgs.org
Comforting materialities, green public spaces and super-diverse communities: exploring multiculture, belonging and urban parks
Sarah Neal (University of Surrey, UK)
Katy Bennett (University of Leicester, UK)
Allan Cochrane (The Open University, UK)
Kieran Connell (University of Birmingham)
Hannah Jones (The Open University, UK)
Giles Mohan (The Open University)
This paper draws on ethnographically inflected data from the authors’ current two year, ESRC funded research project that explores everyday social life and contemporary formations of multiculture across three different geographies in England. The paper builds on the recent emphasis given to the importance of materiality and things (Tolia-Kelly 2008; Millar 2008; Neal; 2009; Askins and Pain 2011; Wilson 2011) in making and sustaining social interactions, transformative belongings and skilled exchanges between diverse, mixed, migrant populations. The paper uses this work to suggest that urban parks, with their pleasure and well-being associations, can be interpreted as spaces of comfort, in which local belongings, attachments, interactions, social encounters, memories are routinely created and experienced. Our individual and group interview and participant observation data from diverse parks users in London, Leicestershire and Milton Keynes show that the things in, and the often tactile materiality of local parks – trees, flower beds, lawns, views, lakes, paths, hills, hedges, seats, playgrounds, animals, birds – are integral, interactive elements to these social processes of belonging and attachment. By exploring how very mixed populations routinely and differentially share, experience and negotiate places intended and used for convivial, recreational, festive, relaxing, leisure, quiet and lingering time, the paper argues that urban parks, as ‘green public space’, allow the research team to explore the interrelationship between a particular material environment, non-human things and everyday urban multiculture.

The temporality of comfort: forgetting pain
Jayne Sellick (Durham University, UK)
This paper addresses the role of ‘comfort’ as part of disabled people’s lives, exploring the everyday practices that allow users to momentarily forget their pain. Forgetting is shaped by the affective and temporal capacity of material items, producing moments of comfort that are (re)negotiated on a day-to-day basis.
The temporality of comfort draws from these everyday experiences to understand how at particular moments participants feel comfortable, despite being in constant pain. The relations between participant’s bodies and objects produces these moments of comfort and highlights the temporalities of living with – spinal cord injury and –chronic pain. Using in-depth accounts from participatory research with disabled people I will address the different temporalities of comfort that are produced as participants interaction with particular material objects determines the type and length of comfort, including whether it actually takes place or not. I will explore the various negotiations that take place as participants body-(wheel)chair, body-bed and body-windowsill relationships produce different temporalities of forgetting.

From the familiar to the dissimilar: the place of comfort within therapeutic spaces
Daryl Martin (University of York, UK)
This paper reports on the early stages of a research project that seeks to understand the social meanings of buildings and spaces designed to have therapeutic effects for those who use them. Based on research with a charity whose services have been designed to support those with cancer, their families and carers through periods of diagnosis and treatment, the paper will explore the affective qualities of their buildings, and how their designs seek to enact spaces of reflection, sociability and healing. The buildings of this charity will be placed within a heritage of healthcare architecture; in particular, those historical examples that, through their design, have tried to re-orientate our understandings of care and well-being. Most specifically, the paper will focus on the dynamic, within the architectural briefs and this charity’s contemporary buildings, between designing buildings and spaces that are, at the same time, familiar and unfamiliar, ordinary and extraordinary, comforting and challenging. The embodied response to the buildings will be discussed, and related to the aspirations behind designing radical and empowering spaces outwith the services and settings of conventional medical care. Theoretically, the paper will build on a Lefebvrian understanding of the experience of space to locate its findings within contemporary debates about the associations of comfort with place.

Comforting Others: sociality and the ethical aesthetics of being-together
Danny McNally (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
In this paper I will discuss the idea that encounters during moments of sociality can be understood to generate a sense of comfort in being around others. In recent years there has been considerable academic thought committed to the task of understanding ‘the encounter’ (e.g. Amin 2002, 2010, 2012; Thrift 2005; Valentine 2008; Laurier and Philo 2006; Wilson 2011). This paper will engage with the connective essence of the encounter through addressing occurrences of sociality during an art event called First Thursdays. Drawing on the work of the sociologist Michel Maffesoli it will argue that instances of sociality have an ethical aesthetic form. From this it will move on to investigate the role of space, tactility and the non-human in the emergence of sociality during First Thursdays, subsequently linking this to the discussion of the ethical aesthetic form of being-together. To finish it will suggest how this evidences a comfort in being around others, and how this concept can speak to both current Human Geography research on meaningful encounter and ideas of aesthetics.
Assembling a Great Way to Fly: Performances of Comfort and Affective Care in the Air
Weiqiang Lin (Royal Holloway, Unversity of London)
Comfort in air transport has long been a subject of debate since the advent of commercial flight. While the harsh conditions of flying have necessitated aircraft manufacturers to design cabins that can survive the ravages of the Icarian environments airplanes inhabit, aviation medicine has emerged as an eminent branch of science tasked with ensuring the comfort and health of passengers cruising at stratospheric heights. With the mobilities turn, geographers have begun to join in these conversations too, elucidating topics like experiences/discomforts of early flight; coalescences between flying technologies and health/comfort discourses; and advice aimed at helping passengers achieve in-flight ease. Illuminating as these documentations are, I argue, however, that the patent focus on passenger (dis)comfort derived from resonances between the flyer and the cabin, the seat, the atmosphere has room to expand to include other ‘living’ bodies servicing airspace—namely, between flyer and cabin crew. Specifically, I want to examine how the latter had been key to the production of another layer of (gendered) comfort—and a viable business—for a newly-forged, postcolonial Singapore Airlines in the early years; these agents thus existed less to address the technological and ergonomic limitations of flight, than to create the aesthetic and the fantastical for a largely ‘Western’ audience. Through archival research on two Singapore Airlines newsletters and other in-house publications, this paper evinces how affective registers of comfort were not only (partly) performed through people-to-people assemblages in this instance, but were also deemed instrumental to drawing traffic to/through the airline’s city-state home-base.