RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2020: PERG Sponsored sessions

The Planning and Environment Research Group (PERG) would like to announce this year’s PERG Sponsored sessions at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference to be held in London, Tuesday 1st – Friday 4th September 2020.

The 2020 Annual International Conference will be chaired by Professor Uma Kothari (University of Manchester, UK). The Chair’s theme is borders, borderlands and bordering.

More information about the 2020 RGS-IBG Annual International Conference can be found here.

Confirmed PERG Sponsored sessions

1: Plastic Geographies 

Session Organisers: Alison Browne (University of Manchester, UK); Peter Kraftl (University of Birmingham, UK)

Session Abstract: Plastics are on the agenda. In different contexts, in different ways, plastics have rapidly emerged as central to environmental debates, politics and behaviours, as well as to academic and technical work across a range of disciplines. This session seeks to encourage expansive, critical and creative approaches to plastics and their geographies. It seeks to emphasise how an awareness of geographical processes – and geographical analyses – might enable us to grapple with the synthetic, sticky, slippery characteristics of plastics. Yet, since plastics constitute, challenge and percolate through more-than-human systems, at different spatial scales, the session will also engender debate about the kinds of inter- and trans-disciplinary scholarship required to address ‘plastic geographies’. This session seeks to draw together empirical, critical, experimental, applied (and more) research that can respond to the machinations of plastic geographies.

Keywords/tags: Plastic; waste; sustainability; materiality; intersectionality

Session #1: Plastic Geographies 1

Session Chair: Alison Browne (University of Manchester, UK)


  • High rise plastic – negotiating material sustainabilities in apartments Ralph Horne; Louise Dorignon; Tania Lewis (RMIT University, Australia)
  • Windows of opportunity for water and plastic management? The case for taxing bottled water Christian Fischer (Oxenu Consultancy for Development and the Environment, Germany); Godfred Amankwaa (Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, UK)
  • ‘How can we help our coasts to be free from plastics?’ Exploring activist responses, environmental citizenship and Wales’ Future Wellbeing Goals Kinga Niedzinska; Eifiona Lane (Bangor University, UK)
  • Urban Initiatives to Ban the Use of Plastics in Israel – Will the New Local Buzz Lead to a Global Change? Yonat Rein-Sapir (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
  • Unwrapping the history of plastic food packaging: the case of Marks and Spencer Rorie Parsons (University of Sheffield, UK)

Note: Plastic Geographies 2 and Plastic Geographies 3 are sponsored by Social and Cultural Geography Research Group (SCGRG) and Geographies of Children, Youth and Families Research Group (GCYFRG) respectively.


2: The impoverished politics of active travel

Session Organisers: Tom Cohen; Rachel Aldred (University of Westminster, UK)

Session Abstract: Walking and cycling (collectively known as “active travel”) could be described as transport royalty: they bestow huge benefits and incur very low costs. From health and well-being, to social inclusion, to improved air quality and reduced carbon emissions, active travel might seem like a no-brainer. But, in many places, their policy status would suggest the opposite. Studies of policy and governance have offered some explanations, including transport policy being in the hands of the (car-driving) elite; a focus on “strategic” (i.e. long-distance) movement; and active travel falling between different levels of governance. Cultural marginalisation and stigma matter too: for instance, cycling as the “poor man’s mode” (or indeed the “new golf”); the invisibility of walking despite its ubiquity. This session (in two parts) offers an opportunity to explore this gulf between what might be and what is. The first part will include papers on the policy relating to active travel in England, Switzerland, Malta and New Zealand, and will provide the opportunity for comparison across these settings. The second part will centre on the language and discourse of the policy/politics of active travel, providing novel and more familiar theoretical approaches to its analysis. The talks will be kept short in order to give plenty of time for discussion and debate.

Keywords/tags: Active travel; cycling; walking; sustainability; policy & politics

Session #1. The impoverished politics of active travel: policy and politics

Session Chair: Tom Cohen (University of Westminster, UK)


  • The political economy of healthy sustainable transport: lessons from New Zealand Alex Macmillan (University of Otago, New Zealand); Kirsty Wild (University of Auckland, New Zealand)
  • The promotion of cycling in the Swiss constitution. Analysis of a national vote Patrick Rerat (Université de Lausanne, Switzerland)
  • Mind the gap: exploring the growing gulf between high quality evidence in support of active travel and the paucity of implementation by local authorities John Whitelegg (Liverpool John Moores University, UK)
  • A reality check on active travel. Assessing the difference between sustainable mobility policy and practice in Malta Maria Attard; Suzanne Maas; Carlos Cañas Sanz (University of Malta, Malta)

Session #2. The impoverished politics of active travel: language and discourse

Session Chair: Rachel Aldred (University of Westminster, UK)


  • Understanding why the adoption of sustainable mobility practices is different between urban areas Miguel Loyola; John Nelson; David Levinson; Geoffrey Clifton (The University of Sydney, Australia)
  • Reframing Cycling Cristina Caimotto (University of Torino, Italy)
  • Can bicycle discourses disrupt our car-based transport policy regime and support a mobility transition? Jane Van Der Meulen (Lund University, Sweden)


3: Geography and Public Policy: Exploiting past encounters to better navigate through present terrains.

Session Organisers: Mark Boyle (University of Liverpool, UK); Tim Hall (University of Winchester UK); Shaun Lin (National University of Singapore); James Sidaway (National University of Singapore); Michiel Van Meeteren (Loughborough University, UK)

Session Abstract: In this age of impact, civic engagement, useful learning, knowledge exchange, technology readiness levels, co-creation, or public affairs, the societal utility of geography is once again under scrutiny. Another moment of opportunity presents to geographers to demonstrate the value of geographical knowledge and skills to public policy makers. Equally, the risks of scholarship being compromised, politicized, incorporated, captured, or silenced are again especially elevated. Wrong alleyways await scholars insufficiently equipped to navigate effectively in the policy arena.

The lifelong advocate for applied geography, Edward Ackerman (1911–1973), was well aware of these tensions; however, he saw it with a different twist in his 1963 essay on Public policy issues for the Professional Geographer. Invoking the fable of Archimedes—killed because of his fundamental research rather than his contribution to the military fortifications of Syracuse—Ackerman argued that, in fundamental research versus public policy research: “There is nothing that is not dangerous under certain circumstances.” When David Harvey asked in 1974 “What kind of geography for what kind of public policy?” he was signalling of course that in the end the determination is political and ethical: who gets to decide what is dangerous? Geographies have to be made that serve the public good. Choices needed to be made about what constitutes the public good and geographies that serve it. And geographers have to take responsibility for the choices they make.

Of course none of this is entirely new. We have trodden similar paths many times hitherto. But as a consequence, fortunately, we now have a rich history of intellectual resources to help us navigate through the current fraught terrain. But these resources are being insufficiently exploited. How have geographers plotted a route through the opportunities, risks and wrongs which presented in applied research in the past? Are these sufficiently understood and appreciate today and has their potential to instruct be fully grasped. The purpose of this session is to excavate and reappraise these past resources so that they might more readily be mobilised to instruct present concerns. If they are to be more than objects of historical curiosity, episodes in the history of applied geography must be historicized and provincialized so that there significance can be rendered intelligible: their histories and meanings need to be better understood so that they might have futures and continue to do important work for the discipline.

We invite panellists then to explore past traditions as they bear on this latest episode in the history of applied geography. In particular, panelists might reflect upon the meaning and implications of past debates on:

  • Public policy in a “post-political” and/or post-truth age.
  • Public policy and political struggles, in particular those engaged by feminist, postcolonial, black and minority ethnic geographers.
  • Public policy in Society 5.0: the rise of AI, big data, new data analytic algorithms, technologies, and visualisation tools.
  • Public policy and the climate and ecological crisis in the age of the Anthropocene/Capitalocene.
  • Institutional contexts (in the UK, TEF, REF, KEF, employability, impact) shaping applied geographical knowledges in both research and curricula/teaching

Session format: We propose to convene a panel session or number of sessions excavating and interrogating the intellectual heritage of debates on geography and public policy to extract resources to help guide geographers through the opportunities and risks which present in this current age of research for impact and civic engagement. Sessions will last for 1hr 40mins.  Each session will comprise a chair and 6-8 participants. Panellists will speak for 5-7 minutes. Sessions will end with an open discussion on the provocations raised.