Sunday, 24 April 2011

ISCHP and a Good Friday for an Ethnographer to be in Dubai

I am posting this blog before having breakfast and making my way to the airport to come home from what has been one of the best conference trips I have been on in a while. I am in Dubai now, after arriving from Adelaide where the International Society of Critical Health Psychology held their 7th Biennial conference. The conference was chaired by the indomitable Wendy Stainton-Rogers. She is a fearless lady and takes no prisoners.

There were some other influential colleagues in attendance as well, Professor Raewyn Connell who presented on the psychological dimensions of social transformation, often using examples of her own personal journey of transformation as a trans-gendered woman. This was the first time she had described publicly this journey. The openness and inclusion to be found in the presentations and discussions was unusual and made for some lively debates – it was these debates and discussions that are often missing in the busy-ness of our everyday academic lives, and yet are precisely what we, as academics, should be facilitating more often.

There was an extremely good Pecha Kucha session where the presentations were outstandingly brilliant, both in content and style of presentation. The use of images, voices and music was stunning. Each session was perfectly timed to 6 minutes and 40 seconds, and although some presenters had many more slides than the normal 20 slides, each were delivered within the automated time frame. It gave me renewed enthusiasm to try this approach again at future School Development days. In a similar vein, were two sessions that allowed individuals the platform for five minute challenges (again the sessions were timed). These challenges could be about current problems, aspirations for the future, or just to start a debate going. Again I will try and use this approach at future School Congress (or whatever replaces them in the new Governance framework).

And so it was coming back home that brought me once again to Dubai for a couple of nights. I arrived on Good Friday and once unpacked, thought about doing some work and enthusiastically took my lap-top to the pool. This is one of those so called infinity pools, three floors up and with a glass wall that perfectly merges the pool with the sea beyond – both of which were brilliant blue. It seemed churlish not to use the opportunity to consider developing an ethnography of pool behaviour. All was revealed (well nearly all in some cases), but it struck me that it was a great place to witness the behaviours of others and to try to make sense and understand the significance of these behaviours for the individual and families. – I made lots of notes and will write up – but that is for tomorrow.

In terms of human behaviour and the significance this has for our self and for others, two of the presentations from the conference stood out for me in illustrating this. One was from New Zealand and the other from Japan. Both used vivid, uncompromisingly graphic and emotionally moving images of the absolute devastation wrecked by the earthquakes and tsunami. Yet both these presentations were using the images to show what it was that people in both these communities and from across the world were responding to in terms of human kindness, generosity and in the facilitation of hope and opportunity for others.

Easter is traditionally the time of renewed hope for the future. Yesterday I was fortunate to travel 140 meters upwards in just 14 seconds in the Burj Khalifa tower. This wonderful building is truly impressive. It is the tallest building, and the tallest free standing structure in the world. It has the highest number of floors of any building and the highest outdoor observation deck in the world (Empire State Building you really need to get your act together) and the 140 meters travelled in 14 seconds – travelling in the longest single continuous elevator in the world was impressive. 10 metres travelled every SECOND! Spookily, you did not feel a thing until your ears popped at around floor 56.

The trip up gave me a 360 degree view of UAE and what appeared to be a huge commitment to how a new future was being successfully built against the back cloth or some very traditional ways of doing things (and the in a very inhospitable environment of sand and heat).

Likewise, in the UK, Easter will for some be embedded in religious celebrations, others will turn their attention to DIY. Such stores make a great deal of money as people start to redecorate, remodel the garden, and generally start on the repairs put off during winter. So for all of the readers of this blog who might be doing something like this over the Easter weekend, just spare a thought for those still grappling with the reclamation of their homes, communities and lives, and in so doing please just send out a message of understanding and support.