Kelly Kay (LSE) reports on SIEG2016 Kentucky

The EGRG was pleased to support Kelly Kay (LSE) to attend the Summer Institute in Economic Geography at Kentucky University this summer.  Kelly was awarded £175 towards her travel costs. A reports on her time at the Summer Institute can be found below.

Report on the Summer Institute for Economic Geography, 2016
Kelly Kay, LSE Fellow in Environment, London School of Economics and Political Science

From July 10-15 of this year, I had the pleasure of attending the Eighth Annual Summer Institute in Economic Geography (SIEG). The gathering took place at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and was organized by a very engaged and welcoming committee of faculty members. Each day was scheduled with a mixture of panel discussions, plenary lectures, and field trips. I was fortunate to see four diverse and interesting plenary lectures from Beverly Mullings, Jane Pollard, Neil Coe, and Gavin Bridge. Panel discussions ranged from theory to practice. There were conversations specific to the sub-discipline, its identity, future, and methods. There were discussions about practicing economic geography, which engaged topics like teaching, publishing in the subdiscipline, and navigating the job market. There were also a number of more theoretical, thematic panels around particular topics (e.g. markets, finance, nature). Field trips brought the participants out into the community to acquaint us with some of Lexington’s local industries (including horse racing, bourbon distilling, and automobile assembly), and to learn about the particular role that Kentucky plays in the global economy.

In addition to the formal programming for the week, SIEG was immensely rewarding because of the ample opportunities to build community and interact in more informal ways. Over the course of the week, I enjoyed having the opportunity to meet other economic geographers from around the world and to learn about their work and their experiences. Over dinners at faculty members’ houses, lunch breaks, and trips to the pub, the participants built relationships that, and by the end of the week, we came to feel like a cohort of colleagues and friends. In my experience, it is rare to forge such bonds in a conference setting, and for this, I think that the Summer Institute is a really unique and wonderful space.

My own highlight from the week was a field trip to Darby Dan Farms, a thoroughbred racehorse farm and breeding operation. Lexington is a global epicenter for horse racing, so horse farms are a distinctive part of the local landscape. On the trip, we met a stallion named Shackleford, who has been retired from racing and now works exclusively as a stud for breeding. Shackleford is an incredibly valuable animal—when we arrived, we were told that he was worth $15 million—and the many employees that we met who are tasked with caring for him, cleaning him, and overseeing his breeding process serves as a testament to this value.

Prior to the field trip, I would have never expected to enjoy hearing about the strange intricacies of “live cover,” as it is called in the industry. A thoroughbred can only be called a thoroughbred if it is conceived without the use of artificial insemination. This means that the breeding of racehorses, or thoroughbreds, requires horses to be in the same place. As an environmental economic geographer, I was fascinated by the particular ways that the temporalities and geographies of accumulation were constrained and shaped by the biology of the animals and their reproductive timelines and processes. Each time that Shackleford is bred, the owner of the mare pays $20,000. Given the large amounts of capital invested, the stakes are high, and a huge amount of human labor goes into managing the reproductive encounter between two very large, powerful animals, whose value is predicated upon their health and their undamaged bodies. In addition to the managing of animal bodies and reproductive schedules, the horse trainers also detailed some fascinating links with global logistics. In horse breeding, the expectation is that the mare is transported to the stallion—an interesting gendered aspect of horse reproductive work. This means in practice that mares are often transported very large distances, usually on cargo planes. One story that we heard involved a female horse flying from Australia and having six different layovers at major international airports before finally reaching Lexington. Given the extremely valuable nature of these animals, the trainers often come along, sitting in a cramped and dark cargo plane for the duration of the journey, providing them with a firsthand understanding of the logistics networks and processes that move goods and commodities around the world.