Another year of conference inferences! 5th anniversary post (James Burford & Emily F. Henderson)

In this post, we reflect back on another extraordinary year of blogging about conferences.

Conference Inference editors’ online conference shoes

Each December we like to press pause on the Conference Inference blog. We take a break and return to blogging with an anniversary post that takes stock of the year that was. In this post, we will share some updates that have happened for us and the blog over the past year, we’ll check in on some of the blog-related goals we set for ourselves, and we’ll dig into some blog analytics for 2021. 

Conferences and COVID-19: Reflecting back on 2021

Around this time last year, we remember sitting down to write our post reflecting back on the annual activities of the Conference Inference blog and thinking that 2020 was one for the books. Surely, we thought, in 2021 things would begin to return to some semblance of normalcy in our own lives and in the world of conferences and events. As people who like to think with queer concepts, we try to intercept our own attachments to normalcy and convention and to think in oblique ways. So, we have to admit that we have become somewhat suspicious of any confidence that there will be some return to life (or conferences) as normal. 

Rather than return to ‘normal’, conferences and events have continued to be characterised by disruption, innovation, and a profound questioning of what they are, what and who they are for, and how they might be imagined now and in the future. This is probably true for many researchers’ objects of inquiry right now, but we can confirm that 2020-2021 has certainly been an interesting time to be a researcher working in critical conferences studies.  

As is often the case, commentary on conferences appears to have been quite polarised in 2021.

For example, accounts have emerged which speculate if there has been increased conference attendance (particularly for women and scholars from underrepresented groups and Global South locations) as a result of many conferences going online. At the same time, this ‘good news’ story is revealed as more complex when accounts emerge from those managing care responsibilities (often women) which detail continuing challenges with ‘being there’ when conferences are online and there is therefore no departure from care context or routines. 

Debates about the ‘end of face-to-face conferences’ have continued to rumble on. In public posts on Twitter, countless academics have declared that they are no longer willing to conference in person (e.g. because of inaccessibility, cost, ecological and social impacts). Other scholars have made similar declarations about online conferences, perhaps after uploading an online poster or pre-recorded presentation only to find it has been watched by an audience of zero. There have been calls for both online and face-to-face conferences to be re-imagined and experimented with. Sometimes there are calls to imagine online conferences as something other than a replacement for in-person events, and perhaps to re-imagine face-to-face conferences as slower affairs more akin to retreats where people have a decent chance to get to know each other. Whichever way we look at it, questions about how academics gather are certainly on the agenda. 

This being said, many of the key questions that have occupied conference researchers endure across public commentary in pandemic times too: are conferences financially sustainable – particularly for those who are precariously employed, unwaged, or community partners? Is the ongoing prevalence of alcohol as a lubricant of conference sociality desirable? How can conference communities protect participants from sexual harassment? How can conferences address ongoing issues regarding equity of access and experience, and how are these issues gendered, racialised and shaped by profound inequalities in the global geopolitics of knowledge production, among other intersecting categories of difference?

Because conferences involve people coming together under (often stressful circumstances) there are always small and human moments that stick out too. As fairly active Twitter users who keep a mutual archive of conference tweets, we’ve chuckled our way through numerous ‘conference fail’ tweets at online conferences, where presenters turn up at the wrong time zones or finally unshare their screens to find that they haven’t been speaking to an audience at all! And we’ve swooned at the odd conference love story – yes, conference romance still blossoms at online conferences, apparently! 

Change on other fronts   

One of the things that has characterised the Conference Inference blog since its inception in 2017 is that we have both been based in different countries (for those of you who are new to the blog, you can find out a bit more about our origin story here). Conference Inference began when Jamie was working in Thailand and Emily was based in the UK; since that time Jamie has made one major international move (to Australia) and then another (to the UK, since August 2021). Not only are we now both resident in the same country (and share a timezone!) we are also now colleagues in the same department, which is the Department of Education Studies, University of Warwick. This is a wonderful luxury for us, it means we can do bloggy work like inviting guest contributors, or reading guest blog posts, or even writing posts ourselves in each other’s company. The fact that we are now in one country and department has other impacts too – it means that it is now more important than ever that we enact our commitment to sharing conference accounts from others in diverse contexts around the world. 

Regular readers of the blog might have noticed that in 2021 we slowed down a bit. We foreshadowed our plan to do this in our anniversary post last year: 

Given that in 2021 we will also be writing a book together, we want to keep ourselves feeling excited to play in the blog space rather than feeling burdened with the amount of work it generates. As such, we’ve decided that we’ll aim to move to a monthly publishing schedule, potentially moving to fortnightly if we receive a flurry of submissions. We won’t say no to excellent posts that come in, but we might send out a few less invitations in 2021.

This did, in fact, turn out to be an accurate prediction! We sent out fewer invitations and as a result, published fewer posts in 2021. 

We also did write a book on conferences! But more on that later in the year. 

Conference Inference in 2021: By the numbers 

WordPress (the web host of the blog) allows us to access lots of information about how people engage with Conference Inference. We can track levels of engagement with posts and pages, the countries our audience are clicking from, which search terms people use to find the blog, and which links people click through to. 

Here are some facts about the blog… 

  • Since 2017, Conference Inference has published 126 posts, most of which have been written by our fantastic guest contributors. 
  • Once again, Thursdays have continued to be our most popular day of the week for people to read a post. While last year our most popular time for engagement was 7PM GMT, this has now shifted to 3PM GMT. 
  • During 2021, we published 18 new posts, which amounted to a total of 27,115 words (an average of 1,506 words per post – which is pretty consistent with previous years). 
  • As with the year before, most people found the blog through search engines, followed by Twitter, Facebook and institutional websites. For 2021, the top 10 countries where our audience is based were (in order of highest number of views): USA, UK, Australia, India, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, Netherlands, Finland, and South Africa.  

Over the past four years, the post with the highest annual views has been: Sex and the Academic Conference by Jamie (access here). However, in 2021, this post was knocked off its perch by another post titled Capturing the abstract: what ARE conference abstracts and what are they FOR? (access here) by Jamie and Emily. 

Our other top posts for the year were:

10. Chairing is caring (Johan Edelheim)

9. Conference tables: Reorienting Sara Ahmed’s ‘Queer Phenomenology’ towards embodied knowledge production (Emily F. Henderson

8. Life after the online conference: Where do we go from here? (Geoff Lewis)

7. Saying ‘no’ to conference opportunities (James Burford)

6. Missing objects and silenced voices: Power relations in online conferences (Bing Lu)

5. Discussing the Discussant – a Queer-ish Role? (James Burford and Emily F. Henderson)

4. Why feminist frameworks matter when moving conferences online (Kristy Kelly)

3. The Conference as Village: Oceanic Sociality in Academic Spaces (Kabini Sanga & Martyn Reynolds)

2. Sex and the Academic Conference (James Burford

See the list of top 10 posts here.

New year’s resolutions from Conference Inference editors for 2022

Once again this year, we are hoping to stick with our monthly schedule, depending on the flow of new posts coming in. Already this year we have sent out invitations to country contexts that haven’t been represented on Conference Inference before. We continue to see the diversity of authors and varied contexts they are writing from as a significant strength. Themes we would like to further develop this year include inclusivity, sustainability and the future of conferences in the post(?)-pandemic times. We would also like to engage more with both celebrating and analysing the conference industry as it tries to recover, rejuvenate and reshape after these challenging two years. 


We would like to extend a big thank you to the following authors who wrote posts for Conference Inference in 2021: 

Catherine Vanner, Emily W. Anderson, Christine Min Wotipka & Kristy Kelly; Lee Smith; Geoff Lewis; Namrata Gupta; Susanne Koch; Caroline Agboola, Helen Linonge-Fontebo, Sahmicit Kumswa; Kabini Sanga & Martyn Reynolds; Antony Hoyte-West; Bing Lu; Carolina Viera & Maite Taboada; Jyothsna Latha Belliappa; Erica Delsandro, Jennifer Mitchell, Laurel Harris, & Lauren Rosenblum; Stijn van Ewijk; Johan Edelheim; and Nidhi S. Sabharwal. 

We would also like to thank ourselves and each other! Because keeping a blog ticking over amid a pandemic, a new job, a move in hemispheres is something we are grateful to each other for.

And finally, a big thank you to all the readers of the blog who have engaged with the conferences conversation. Thank you for encouraging us to keep going with this projectJames Burford (@jiaburford) and Emily F. Henderson (@EmilyFrascatore) are co-editors of Conference Inference.

Author: CI_Jamie

Academic at the University of Warwick. Interests: higher education, sexuality, gender, equity. PhD in Doctoral Education from Auckland University.

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