on my way… to the UK

In a couple of days, I will be starting an eight week visiting student placement in the Geography Department at Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL). I am equal parts excited and terrified.

Before we left Australia, people kept asking me, “So, why are you going? What do you hope to achieve?”. There are moments when, I confess, I wonder if it is all just a glorified academic junket.

But I think there are adequate justifications. I have copied below the submission I made to the University of Melbourne in seeking some funding to help with costs, which explains some of the official reasons.

There are unofficial reasons, too, like the fact that ever since I was an undergraduate student I have daydreamed about working in the RHUL Geography Department, or that it cements a connection to the discipline of Geography even though I am doing a PhD in anthropology, or that it was easier to suggest to my husbands’ employer that he take a couple months off work to look after our 2 year old on this adventure than to parent at home.

I have not done as much preparation as I had hoped before getting here and I worry that I will not get quite as much done as I intend. But I have learnt over the last 15 years that both of those feelings are pretty much constant baggage I carry around with me, and that good things usually happen in spite my levels of preparedness or productivity.

So, I shall just jump in the deep end…

While overseas, I intend to:

  • spend two months as a visiting research student in the Geography Department at Royal Holloway;
  • present at the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth’s 2014 annual conference
  • Conduct participant observation in churches in the greater London area that are similar to the churches that have been the subject of my fieldwork in Melbourne.

I will be writing up my research on the interaction between faith and migration for Christian migrants in three churches in suburban Melbourne. My field site is ‘at home’; unlike most anthropologists who travel to conduct fieldwork and return to their academic institution to write, I will remain in my field site during writing up. I am committed to staying in dialogue with my research participants while writing about their stories. A relatively brief visit to another institution, however, will facilitate a more intense level of analytical focus from which to return to these conversations with my participants.

Royal Holloway’s Department of Geography has a great deal of relevant expertise to my research project; for example, the work of Professor David Gilbert on suburban geographies of religion in London, the work of Professor Veronica Della Dora’s work on sacred space, pilgrimage and memory, and the work on mobilities by Professor Peter Adey and Professor Tim Cresswell (formerly of RHUL). In addition to the academic staff, Royal Holloway has an exciting group of graduate students doing projects on similar topics. I have organised temporary supervision with Prof David Gilbert, Head of Department, during my stay. I will actively participate in departmental seminars and programs but am not intending to undertake coursework while at RHUL.

In addition, I expect to learn from the creative expressions of scholarship and deep attentiveness emerging from the RHUL Department of Geography (for example, from their program PassengerFilms and the exhibition “Time, the deer, is in the wood of Hallaig”). I have collected data that are multi-media, including words, voices, film and photography, and spending time in the RHUL Department of Geography will help me to explore more innovative ways of presenting my research findings.

While in the UK, I hope to attend churches with similar denominational and migrant compositions, providing me with a contrast through which to understand my field site in Melbourne all the more.

I will present a paper at the 2014 conference of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwelath at the end of my stay.

This trip will add value in three ways;

  • First, to to the quality of the written thesis and it’s engagement with theory by engaging with additional expert supervision,

  • Second, it will add depth to the quality of my understanding of my fieldsite through comparison with sites in Greater London,

  • and third, it will add value to my capacity to communicate my research findings both in formal academic settings and in developing creative ways to exhibit research findings.

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