I, Robot

Many of you will have seen the Big Bang Theory episode where the character, Sheldon, decides he will only appear as a virtual presence in the world – as a robot.

When a serious knee injury grounded me from international travel for the foreseeable future, this robot-Sheldon came to mind.

I’d been invited to be a keynote speaker at the inaugural Positioning Theory Research Symposium in Belgium. Flying was out of the question but I was determined to be there. In the academic world giving a keynote address is seen as a ‘big deal’.

I found some interesting websites about travelling by sea in a cargo freighter. No freighter could get me there in time. So move over Sheldon – ‘Mel-don’ was born.


Melanie in Bruges Positioning Theory Symposium




The University of Newcastle’s Information Technology department acquired for my use a “Double Telepresence Robot”. I was going to the symposium in Belgium in a virtual capacity.

We sent the robot to the United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies in Bruges, Belgium.

I am happy to report that over the last few days I have participated in the symposium. I delivered my keynote speech, interacted with symposium participants following their presentations and was even able to mingle at break times.

Sitting at various times in my offices on the Callaghan campus and at my home in Newcastle, I operated “Mel-don”. I could adjust my height and my position in the room. I could hear what was going on and respond, just as if I was there.

I work in an emerging field of multi-disciplinary study that applies Positioning Theory to various disciplines. Professor Rom Harré and Professor Luk van Langenhove developed this theory, both of whom were also keynote speakers at the symposium.


Luk, Mel Rom small

Professor Luk van Langenhove, Dr Melanie James (aka Meldon) and Professor Rom Harré in Belgium.



Instead of missing the opportunity to listen and interact with these eminent scholars, and others such as Dr Christine Redman, the “Double Telepresence Robot” enabled me to “be there”.


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Screen shot from Newcastle.


I had the joy of being present when a Danish researcher, Associate Professor Susanne Kjærbeck, reported positive outcomes of implementing my positioning model for communication in an infection control context in a hospital ward. Already the insights I garnered from these exchanges are informing my research and my supervision of research students.


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Melanie James in Newcastle watches the slides of Associate Professor Susanne Kjærbeck from Roskilde University, Denmark. “Strategic Positioning in and around a Hospital Ward: Communication on Hygiene”


This experience has been amazing. To be so supported in my research by the University of Newcastle is very affirming – so thanks to all involved.

Thank you also to my wonderful colleague, PhD student and positioning theorist, Deborah Wise, for making the Belgium end work so smoothly.


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Deborah Wise, University of Newcastle, presenting her paper on the Positioning of PR in political speeches.


I’m not sure whether “Mel-don” will ever re-emerge but this technology is now available at the University of Newcastle. Who knows where or how it will be used next? Last year Edward Snowden delivered his TED talk about surveillance and Internet freedom via a telepresence robot. From what some see as sublime through to madcap capers of Sheldon, new possibilities await.

An inaugural “Positioning Theory” Symposium

I was recently confirmed as being on the scientific committee responsible for organising the inaugural cross-disciplinary Positioning Theory Symposium that will be held 6-8th July, 2015 in Bruges, Belgium.

This was a great thrill for me as other members of the committee are two of the leading academics in fields that are applying Positioning Theory to research, Professor Prof. Dr. Luk van Langenhøve (United Nations University – CRIS) and Dr. Christine Redman, (University of Melbourne, MGSE).

I first came across Positioning Theory, as developed by Professor Rom Harré and others, in 2009. I’d been looking for a way to theorise public relations positioning as part of my PhD research. PR positioning is not like marketing positioning and Positioning Theory, with its focus on the moral right to position in one way or another and the use of discourse in positioning efforts was a great fit with my work. You can read more about Positioning Theory here.

The Symposium is being held on the premises of United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies (UNU-CRIS). UNI-CRIS is a research and training institute of the United Nations University (UNU).

The key purpose of the research symposium is to develop a high quality, interactive event that contributes to the development and growth of Positioning Theory research communities globally.

The theme is: “Positioning Theory: state of play across disciplines. What have we learnt?”

The symposium is open to contributions from all disciplines and research areas, including for instance education, teaching methods, communication studies, health, nursing, psychology, management studies, international relations or conflict analysis as well as to contributions from social theory or philosophy of science. You can read the call for academic papers here.

This symposium is designed to:

  • present a sample of some of the leading positioning theoretical research in the world; and,
  • to facilitate a series of creative and critical dialogues about research, research development, and research challenges related to Positioning Theory.

The expectation is that these dialogues will be original, participatory, creative and collegial. The Positioning Theory Symposium is intended for active researchers and those with interests in connecting with research related to Positioning Theory.

The inaugural Positioning Theory Research Symposium has been designed to attract early-career to senior academics, higher degree students, community researchers, and practitioners who are interested in research, from across the world. For more information, including how to submit a paper or panel proposal, visit the Symposium website here.

It’s wonderful to be part of a wide-ranging global group of scholars exploring a new theoretical perspective in our individual disciplines. I am excited to be able to be  counted amongst the “positioning theorists”.

Image of Venue: United Nations University-CRIS, Bruges, Belgium

Venue: United Nations University-CRIS, Bruges, Belgium

The material or views expressed on this Blog are those of the author and do not represent those of the University.  Please report any offensive or improper use of this Blog to RPS@newcastle.edu.au.
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