16,227 km, 26 hours, 4 trays of airplane food, 3 airports, 2 flights and 1 passport’: The time I flew to the other side of the world to talk about airports. By Samantha de Wit

My name is Samantha de Wit and I am a PhD student at the Hawke Research Institute at the University of South Australia. I live in a small town about 30km south/east of Adelaide with my family, 20 sheep, 4 chickens, 1 cat and the occasional blue tongue lizard. The aim of my PhD is to investigate how gender informs a passenger’s experience of an airport space.

Through the support of the Hawke EU Centre for Mobilities, Migrations and Cultural Transformations, I was given the wonderful opportunity from the 16th to the 27th of November to visit the Centre for Mobilities Research at Lancaster University.

On the Tuesday of the first week I met with John Urry. During our meeting, John and I discussed my research, the importance of commercial air travel in developing strong social and professional bonds and the lucrative side of commercial air travel (e.g. the use of private jets). For lunch that day Pennie Drinkall was kind enough to take me out for a margarita pizza.

The following day I met with Monika Buscher, Katrina Petersen, Catherine Easton and Xaroula Kerasidou for a ‘stand up’ meeting. During the meeting we discussed the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, how the attacks have been portrayed in the media and what effect the attacks may have on the current refugee crisis. That afternoon I met with Monika. During our meeting, Monika and I discussed the methodological components of my research as well as the different ways in which I can narrow or expand the scope of my study. Following my meeting with Monika I met with James Faulconbridge. Over a cup of hot chocolate, James and I discussed the different ways in which I could approach the airport experience within the field of mobility studies. Later that afternoon, I chaired the Centre for Mobilities Research reading group, which was attended by Sam Thulin, Joe Deville, Monika Buscher and Maude Gauthier. The article I selected for the reading group was “Gender-blind marketing: businesswomen’s perceptions of airline services” by Sheena Westwood, Annette Pritchard, and Nigel J. Morgan.

On Thursday I had lunch with Joe Deville. Over a super food salad, Joe and I discussed the embodiment of the airport experience, in particular how passengers become more aware of their own body as they pass through different parts of an airport. The following day I met with Katrina Petersen. Over a cup of coffee, Katrina and I had a lengthy discussion about airport security and how the securitization of airport spaces differs from that of other public spaces. Katrina and I also touched upon the complex cultural components of airports by debating how much or how little a particular culture informs the social structures of an airport.

On the following Tuesday I attended a seminar presented by Brigit McWade titled, ‘Was it autoethnography? Ongoing reflections about writing the self in, and then out of my research’. Following the seminar I met with Allison Hui. Allison and I discussed the social peculiarities of airport spaces and how differently people behave in airports in comparison to other social spaces. On Tuesday afternoon I attended the Institute for Social Futures reading group. The article assigned for the reading group was ‘On putting the active back into activism’ by Rosi Braidotti. On Wednesday afternoon I participated in a set of discussions with students from the university about the sociological study of disasters. On my last day I had a Skype meeting with Sarah Becklake. Sarah and I had an extremely interesting conversation about the militarization of airport spaces, how airports have become the ‘cities of tomorrow’ and what constitutes the ‘perfect’ passenger in the eyes of a particular airport.

I would like to thank everyone in the sociology department at Lancaster University, and especially those associated with the Centre for Mobilities Research. I had a wonderful time I hope to see you all again very soon.

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