Reflections 4 – Student-led, LAHP-funded conference: ‘(Im)mobility: Dialectics of Movement, Power and Resistance’

This conference represented a joint effort between a ten-strong organising committee to hold a one-day event for early career and PhD scholars in the Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences to share, discuss and develop their research in a formal yet supportive conference setting. Drawing on the strategic London location LAHP offers, we were able to use the stunning LSE PhD academy to great effect, offering four interdisciplinary panel sessions and a keynote lecture by Dr Alexander Samson (University College London) across the day. The conference was a great success, pulling together researchers from the UK, Europe and beyond, and benefited the organising committee in a range of ways.

On the one hand, it offered an unrivalled opportunity for us to refine and develop our skills in conference organising, something several of us noted would be invaluable as we continue forward on our academic trajectories. In the run-up to the conference, this included abstract selection, communicating with delegates, use of social media, venue liaison and teamwork. On the day of the conference, it also meant panel chairing, photography, liaising with delegates, and ensuring other aspects of the conference including the evening meal, ran smoothly. On the other hand, it also represented a great opportunity for the group to develop scholarly relationships with delegates from outside London whilst at the same time nurture a sense of collegiality with other LAHP peers. Similarly, the conference also provided a significant opportunity for establishing connections with students in other disciplines. The program included ten papers, with subjects ranging broadly in the fields of the Humanities. Talking and listening about mobility, we spent a day travelling through time and space, gaining awareness on how the mobility paradigm can be successfully applied to various fields, and to studies with very different approaches and aims.

We began the day listening to Johanna Hopp (University of Oxford), who communicated her work on hitchhiking as a psychological experience, focusing on aspects of how this particular mobility is inherently gendered. Then Avital Beirach Barak (Tel Aviv University) and Philip Corran (King’s College London) reflected on experiences of mobility or immobility as forms of resistance to the dominant trends in society. Avital’s paper concentrated on corporeal mobilities, namely the decolonial mobilities of Palestine Parkour groups, and was contrasted by the contribution of Philip, who elaborated on his ‘non-corporeal’ (but still ‘transportive’) mobilities research with elderly disabled Londoners. Various contributions then focused on narratives of mobilities.

Maria Teresa Franco Aguilar (Queen Mary University) talked about Mexican cinematic narratives of urban automobility. Urban movement was also the focus of Lise Villemoes Grønvold (University College London), whose paper dealt with the novels Open City (Cole 2011) and 10:04 (Lerner 2014). Lise stressed how, the high amount of narrated corporeal movement corresponds to a lack of aim and destination in the novels. The same lack of teleology in narrative movements was then identified by Jonathan Lewis (University of Liverpool) in the novel Bel-Avenir (Tadjer 2006), which Jonathan presented as a ‘site of transcolonial francophone connection’. The dichotomy ‘mobility-freedom’, Jonathan sought to challenge was also questioned by Semra Horuz (Technische Universität Wien) during her presentation of the autobiographical travel writings of two Turkish women travellers who lived in the second half of the nineteenth century.

More historically focused papers followed: Michael Economou (University of Oxford) reported on the Greco-Roman Red Sea as a liminal, multi-ethnic space, reflecting also on the dynamics of power and coercion which developed in the area, and, interestingly cautioning about the risk of ‘idealising liminalities’. Susanne Bartels (University of Geneva) then offered us some insights on seventeenth-century guild regulations in Dutch artists’ mobility, while Cosmin Minea (University of Birmingham) shared his research on the conflict between imported aesthetic canons and the will to preserve the Romanian heritage in the process of establishing the Romanian architectural paradigm in the late nineteenth century.

Topping off the day was Alexander Samson’s very dense keynote, which dwelt (among other points) on ‘errancy’ and ‘border-crossing’ as characteristic conditions of humanity from early modernity onwards (defined by the parallel emerging of the notion of ‘state’), aptly revisiting many of the themes which had been brought up by the speakers earlier in the day.

For full programme outline visit:

‘A similar version of this article appears on the LAHP website’ 

Jacob Fairless Nicholson is a first-year PhD student in the Department of Geography at King’s College London. Sara De Martin is a first-year PhD student in the Department of Classics at King’s College London.


Reflections 3 – Our University: Some Thoughts on the UCU strike

The front windows of KCL’s Strand campus present fifty famous people who have some association with the college. For the most part, it is an honourable roll-call of former students and teachers who went on to do useful and remarkable things. Ivison Macadam, the founder of NUS; Cicely Saunders, who started the world’s first purpose-built hospice; archbishop Desmond Tutu. A notable exception is Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, who neither studied nor taught at King’s, whose role in setting up the institution is sometimes exaggerated and who was one of the most reactionary prime ministers in British history. His direct descendant, Charles Wellesley, 9th duke of Wellington, was chairman of the college’s governing council from 2007 to 2015. Like his ancestor, he neither taught nor studied there (his wife, princess Antonia of Prussia, is an alumna) but did preside over a period of increasing student fees and stagnating academic wages.

One of the council’s current members is the principal, Edward Byrne. With academics’ pensions under threat, his six-figure salary has become an emblem of what is wrong with the institution. On Tuesday, under the gaze of Macadam, Saunders and Tutu, striking lecturers held placards comparing him to Mr Burns, the billionaire megalomaniac from the Simpsons. The enormous wealth of Byrne and vice-chancellors around the country makes the suggestion that academics should lose about £10,000 a year of their final pensions especially difficult to accept. It also gives students a sense that their astronomical fees are not necessarily being spent in ways which directly benefit their education. Student unions have encouraged their members to stand in solidarity with those on strike, and the response – if Tuesday’s picket line on the Strand is representative – has been impressive.

But the most obvious disparity is between the salaries of vice-chancellors and those of cleaning, catering and security staff. At King’s, Justice for Cleaners are campaigning against outsourcing, exploitative contracts and appalling working conditions. As campaigners have often pointed out, KCL has one of the best medical schools in the world, but its cleaners, often female migrants, are exposed to long-term health risks with little or no protection. Without these people, the university would collapse into chaos within days or even hours. Without students and academics, it simply would not exist. ‘We are the university’ was a refrain from all groups on Tuesday’s picket line. The managers, from Wellesley to Byrne and the rest, could hardly say the same.

Jonah Miller is a second-year Phd student in the Department of History at KCL and an editor at the Still Point Journal.