A bittersweet moment at last week’s RGS conference where came to the end of my term as chair of the Digital Geographies Research Group, handing over leadership of the committee at the AGM. The RGS has some very sensible rules that committees should regularly rotate their memberships in order to keep new ideas flowing and stop fiefdoms and cliques developing. Having helped set up the group in 2016 and served as its chair since 2020 it was my turn to be shuffled off the committee.
It has been a really fun group to be involved with though I’ll admit that I was looking forward to the end of my term and having a bit more time for other things. DGRG wasn’t the first group doing digital geographies, but it created an umbrella to gather together activity within the UK. Indeed, perhaps its most significant achievement has been to lend institutional legitimacy to early career scholars in the UK who are starting to work on questions around the digital.
Service activity such as committee work for research groups is one of the less glamorous parts of the sector and, indeed, is sometimes talked about as the ‘domestic labour’ of academia – essential, uncelebrated and disproportionately undertaken by women. One of my previous line managers always argues that professional bodies like the RGS will take as much of your time as you give them and hence to not let service take over your life. My view in running the group was to be realistic about what activities our committee and membership actually had the capacity to undertake, rather than engaging in initiative-itis and thus undermining the group’s goodwill and enthusiasm. Most of the work is, of course, undertaken by committee members volunteering to take on particular tasks, with my role having basically been to act as a coordinator and facilitator. As a result, I can’t claim credit for the various important projects that happened under my watch, including drawing up an EDI statement for the group, setting up a dissertation prize and establishing a YouTube channel. Lots of people to thank, not least Sammia, Godwin, Harrison, Jack, Daisy, Jeremy, Hannah, Olivia, Nina and Caitlin from this year's committee, and Doug who volunteered to run this year's (logistically complex) hybrid symposium despite having stepped down from the committee last year.
Despite the pandemic, we managed to keep our programme of annual symposia running. Pre-pandemic we ran these as virtual/in-person hybrid events so the shift to online-only wasn’t particularly problematic for us. Indeed, we found larger audiences as people got more used to the idea of attending a symposium virtually. As a result of one of these onlilne symposia, we got an invitation from Edward Elgar to put an edited collection together. The result was A research agenda for digital geographies edited by Tess Osborne and myself, which came out earlier this year.
Tess has just taken over chairing DGRG – I’m sure she’ll be much more active than I was! It’s nice to hand things over at the point where digital geographies is well established as an area of work within UK Geography. As the edited collection and other activities within the group have demonstrated, this is a thriving area, with lots of really enthusiastic early career folk doing fantastic work. It’s been great working with the group but I also enjoyed getting a bit more involved with the RGS itself, which is an organisation filled with dedicated and hard working people. For all that I’m relieved to be taking a step back to focus on other elements of my research, I’ve no doubt that I’ll be drawn back into service with/for the RGS in the future. Although service activities can be a bit of a chore, it’s rewarding to spend at least some time working for the greater good of the discipline rather than just on your own career goals.
Phil Jones is a cultural geographer based at the University of Birmingham.
Phil Jones, Geographer