Hola! How could a 65-hour weekend in Madrid be worth 40+ hours of travel time? Well, gather some of the most influential academic minds in the behavioral sciences, place them in the charm and persuasion of a tiny Spanish village, then give me the ironic inconvenience of a ‘free’ night in London, and it totally comes out well worth the experience.
The last weekend in September of 2007, about 80 scholars from around the world gathered at La Cristalera Conference Center of the University of Madrid at Miraflores de la Sierra for the first International Conference on Interdisciplinary Analyses of Aggression and Terrorism. The conference was co-sponsored by the Coloquios Internationales Sobre Conflicto Y Agresion (CICA) and the Society for Terrorism Research (STR). Madrid conference particulars and proceedings may be found here. This conference was a fantastic opportunity to learn what approach other scholars are taking on the subject of terrorism, and provided an excellent chance to get valuable feedback on my own research in the field.
While most of the interest shown in my analyses of media and terrorism has been in the social sciences, I can say that I was somewhat intrigued yet intimidated to have behavioral scientists show a serious interest. I can thank my colleague Amanda Booher (see the Scholars Gone Wild post further down the page) for alerting me to the conference call for papers, which rewarded me handsomely with this unique opportunity. The seminars and workshops at the conference were diverse, holding true to the call for interdisciplinary analyses on the scheduled topic. While most participants were psychologists and psychiatrists, there was a healthy assortment of participants from allied fields, from private and academic sectors, from as far away as Australia and Iran.
Sessions that I attended included a symposium on Terror Management Theory and Terrorism, a session on Terrorism in Different Nations and Cultures, and a session on the Psychology of Terrorism, among others. My presentation was entitled, “Iraqonics: Positing Media Iconics and Semiotics as Weapons on Western Consciousness,” and was the last presentation on Saturday as part of the Politics and Terrorism Session. This presentation was derived from a paper by the same title that is part of a series of academics works where I look at the role of media and iconic media in history and terrorism. I am especially interested in that role as it applies to electronic and digital societies. At the heart of my work are scholarly theses by Marshall McLuhan, Erwin Panofsky, and Joseph Tuman. For the next stage of my dissertation research, I hope to be doing research at Princeton on Panofsky, who taught there.
The conference was set in a curious facility on the outskirts of Miraflores de la Sierra, about 45 kilometers north of Madrid. I say curious because the conference center is maze-like, and at times peculiar with lowered ceilings and hidden hallways. Cozy bedrooms, heavily-tiled baths, and plenty of glass walls to the outside made this an eclectic adventure on the slightly rustic side, seeing that we were entrenched in the countryside against a majestic golden mountain backdrop.
A highlight of this time in Spain though was to be found in the town of Miraflores. A gorgeous little community with winding streets and a plethora of cafes, it shuts down for siesta from 2 to 6 in the afternoon, and then comes back to life with its many shops and restaurants, and, of course, my favorite find, a patisserie. I asked about rental costs in the area and one local senorita who spoke English said that a small two-bedroom unit goes for around 600 euros. She explained that Miraflores has a reputation as one of the most desirable communities in the country.
I greatly enjoyed Miraflores and the conference, made several good friends in the process, and have hopes of collaborating down the road on related projects with those who showed interest in my research, and those whose research intrigued me as well. But I also made friends of a different kind when my plane from London to DC flew out on a Sunday afternoon only to dump its fuel and return to London after being in the air for only an hour and a half. On our return to Heathrow, we were told that our plane would be fixed first. Then we were told we would be moved to another plane but were not.
Finally, United decided that the hundreds of passengers on my flight would be put up at a nearby Radisson, where we spent the night. I didn’t mind that we were staying in London since it has been 12 years since my time in White City when I did an attachment with the BBC through the University of Manchester. However, back then I had the privilege of going out on the town and kicking around SOHO extensively. This time I was tired and limited in what I could do or where I could go because of our early morning departure.
Even so, it was nice to break up the weekend-in-Spain academic escapade with a fun night in a London hotel. After showering off the ordeal, I enjoyed the complimentary dinner which included curried chicken and broiled salmon, and spent the rest of the night talking to another stranded passenger in the hotel’s lounge, a Persian filmmaker whose family moved from Iran to Sweden when he was 10 years old. He is now 29, and was headed to Los Angeles and then Vegas to party with a close, male friend.
Madrid made for a myriad of memories. Feedback on my research presentation, and personal growth from attending the seminars and workshops will be invaluable as I work to ensure that my dissertation research is relevant and timely. It has been a really special, rewarding year in the Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design program here at Clemson, and the generosity of the program has been a critical determinant in being able to attend these types of events. The opportunity to participate scholastically at this level of academic achievement is a welcome treat, and I could not have done it without the overall support of the RCID program, which allows me the autonomy to design, develop, and pursue my research interests, and then provides financial incentive to allow for international study and conference participation. I am fortunate that when opportunities like this one arise, I am highly encouraged to participate, and it isn’t just fluffy words but real action that helps make it all really happen. This was my fifth conference acceptance this year, and while I could not attend them all, the RCID program was still supportive of each and every attendance.
I have only been back home for a few days, but am ready to return to Europe and once again participate in the academic community there. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
~ Steven John Thompson