The London Conference in Critical Thought (LCCT) began as many ideas do – in conversation with friends. In this case it was with new friends made at another conference where we all felt that the most interesting panels and papers always seemed to appear at the margins of the event and the margins of disciplinary boundaries more generally. From this we were inspired to find a means of developing and sustaining the sense of community we found on these margins. Central to this vision was an interdisciplinary, non-hierarchical, and accessible event which made a particular effort to embrace emergent thought and the participation of emergent academics. For these reasons we decided against the common practice of including keynote speakers. It was also agreed that the conference must be free to attend.
While the original call for papers in the first year was developed by a small group of committed volunteers, the organising collective soon grew with an enthusiastic response from those who proposed thematic streams and panels. In this way, both the organising collective and the subjects discussed at the conference emerge in an organic process as academics identified with an event oriented toward a broad interpretation of critical thought.
The conference moves between institutions in London. Our first conference was held in 2012, at Birkbeck hosted by the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities with additional support from the School of Law. Royal Holloway’s Department of Politics and International Relations hosted the 2013 conference. Both conferences included about 145 papers, with many more attendees.
Conversations at the Margins
Although there is no set theme for the conference as a whole we seek to select stream and paper proposals where they appear to enter ‘into conversation’ with one another. Part of the ethos of the conference is to bring people together whose works speak to one another where they might otherwise tend to be segregated by discipline, department, or even academic position. We felt this was particularly important for emerging academics who may not already have an established network of those who share common interests.
The emphasis of bringing people and ideas into conversation plays a key role in the paper selection process where we work collaboratively across the conference organisation to identify papers that work well together. We also organise the timings and structure of the conference to provide longer than average amounts of time for discussion and for social interaction in between panels at the end of the day.
If there is a coalescing theme it is that the conference engages in ‘critical thought’ which we interpret very broadly allowing for the themes, questions, and topics to emerge organically through the call for streams and the call for papers.
Non-Hierarchical and Accessible
Unlike many conferences of its size, there are no plenaries, no specially invited guests, and the conference is free for all to attend.
Keeping the conference free is one of the primary ways in which we seek to keep the conference accessible, particularly for those who wish to participate but do not have institutional support to do so. We work to keep the costs of the conference to a minimum so that the conference itself remains sustainable in its running, can move between institutions with greater ease, and most importantly, remain free. There are no paid staff associated with the conference administration (it is run by volunteers), no flights to pay for star academics, nor fancy dinners. After securing that we have rooms for the panels we prioritise funds for coffee and a well-stocked wine reception – the latter of which we feel is an essential part of continuing the academic conversations begun during the panel discussions, and also in facilitating a sense of community among the conference participants.
We also do not prioritise any particular emergent ‘conversation’ of the conference above others – which is part of the reason for why we have chosen not to have plenary speakers or panels. Similarly, panels are not generally ‘pre-formed’ but emerge as the result of what comes in from the call for papers – allowing for a more open opportunity for potential participants to engage in a particular conversation.
The primary organising body of the conference, the LCCT Collective, is inter-institutional, includes many early career academics and seeks to encourage those who have an interest in the conference to get involved. We also work to keep the decision making processes that occur within the collective non-hierarchical and cooperative.