Why conferences are so important
The format of a big subject association conference will be familiar to most academics: a small number of plenary lectures by leading academics interspersed with a larger number of parallel break-out panel sessions. When it all comes together well, it can be intellectually invigorating. When it is put together badly, it can be one of the most soul-destroying expreiences of our careers.
By good fortune, the main subject assocation I am part of, the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes, run an extremely welcoming and productive annual conference. Coming away from the panel I spoke on this year*, I feel inspired and reassured that the future of our discipline is in very safe hands. While I am nearly 9 years post-PhD, my fellow panellists are all in the throes of starting out on their academic careers. What impressed me most was how each of them sought to challenge accepted viewpoints of the discipline, often interrogating the work of more senior colleagues sitting in the room listening to the papers. It is absolutely what conferences should be all about: finding the intellectual space to have those conversations which critique what we believe to be true of the areas we research.
What will I do differently after this conference? If there is one thing, it is that I will be mindful to see my own research as part of a trajectory that is not just about what I can offer, but also about discipline-shaping. I don’t mean simply targetting that elusive concept of field-defining research. I mean thinking in terms of field-redefining by making sure the right questions can be asked along the way.
* SDN Panel: Conflicts with Societal and Stylistic Traditions
- Daniel Finch-Race (University of Cambridge) – The Conflict between Bucolic Tradition and Urban Modernity in Baudelaire’s ‘Paysage’
- Valentina Gosetti (University of Oxford) – Social Conflict in Prose Poetry: Between Gaspard de la Nuit and Le Spleen de Paris
- Marion Joassin (University of London Institute in Paris) – Amour, amitié – guerre et dilemme; ou, le conflit historique, dramaturgique et stylistique dans les Vêpres siciliennes de Casimir Delavigne
- Helen Abbott (University of Sheffield) – Conflict or Crisis: poetry in the aftermath of 1870