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Blog: Culture Matters

Culture Matters

On May 23rd, the Centre hosted a one-day symposium, “New Directions in Cultural and Media Research.” This symposium aimed to create a productive communal space for scholars working on the cultural and creative industries in histories, practices and products alongside critical assessment of their development, sustainability and significance for contemporary social life. The symposium also set out to reflect upon the changing climate, the ongoing debates, and the new research directions of cultural, performance and media studies. As part of the CADRE research festival, the symposium had gathered together presentations from PhD researchers at Warwick, across the Faculty of Arts and beyond, whose work draws on and develops these approaches.

NDCM

In the morning session, there were three presentations from Asep Muizudin Muhamad Darmini, Han Wen, and Alessandra Grossi. Asep, from Centre for Cultural and Media Policy Studies, presented on “Size does (not) matter: A note from the Indonesian Islamic Boarding School (Pondok Pesantran).” Asep presented his fieldwork on the use of the internet in two Islamic boarding schools - Miftahul Huda and Cipasung. The research found that despite the limitation of internet usage, students from both schools still find the learning experience enlightening and these institutions help students form their identity as young Muslims in the modern era of Indonesia.

Han, from Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, presented on “Brand research after the cultural turn: Meaning-making, complexity and reflection,” where he discussed history of brand research and its relation to the cultural turn. The aim of his presentation was to clarify the theoretical puzzles in the interdisciplinary study of brands by reflecting on three distinctive logics of interdisciplinarity - accountability, innovation, and ontology.

Alessandra, from Theatre and Performance Studies, presented on “The representation of womanhood in Victorian classical burlesque: A combination of approaches.” Using archival research as the starting point, her work seeks to understand the representation of gender in the chosen corpus of classical burlesques and whether the crossing of gender boundaries taking place on the burlesque stage could be said to have a political value. This research drew on a combination of theories, including Classical Reception, Theatre Historiography and Gender Studies.

NDCMThe afternoon session had two presentations from Tijana Blagojev and Juliana Holanda. Both researchers are participants of the Media Policy Lab, which is a project from CCMPS coordinated by Pietari Kääpä that aims to increase Media Policy awareness. The laboratory is currently developing a game to promote Media Policy among youths.

Tijana Blagojev, from the Department of Politics and International Studies, reported on her research into “Government funding of local media: Project-based financing in Serbia - Supporting local public information of fulfilling political interests?”. Tijana explained her analysis on the system of state financing of public information that was introduced in Serbia in 2014. The aim of the study is to focus on the funds received on the local level by municipalities to see how pluralism and diversity were supported in Serbia.

Juliana Holanda, from the Centre for Cultural and Media Policy Studies, discussed the results of the first year of the PhD research “From Rio 92 to Rio +20: Brazilian media coverage of sustainable development.” The investigation intends to analyse how Brazilian media has covered key aspects of sustainable development, especially as relates to the ways journalistic coverage has framed sustainability initiatives.

NDCMThe plenary discussion was the major element of the final session, by which it has the aim to engage research students to discuss the challenges and opportunities for media and cultural studies. Members of staff, Joanne Garde-Hansen, Chris Bilton and Pietari Kääpä, from the Centre highlighted some key ideas in the discussion. This includes the ‘transferability’ of the cross-cultural topics in different research contexts, the non-territorial nature as well as the ‘discipline’ of the cultural and media studies, and the challenge to clarify the ‘newness’ in cultural and media study from observing both the past and current research directions. Besides, the discussion encourages research students to focus on the publications and their personal profiles, using them as strategies to build an academic identity in a particular field of research. The plenary session has inspired speakers and participants to reflect upon their academic journeys, and it also summed up the fruitful discussions happened in this one-day symposium.

This blog-entry is jointly-authored by Juliana Holanda, Yuche Li, and Phitchakan Chuangchai.

Victoria Wood Unveiling BrochureIt felt like a real privilege to join the crowd of residents, family, fellow performers and fans to witness the unveiling of the latest addition to the list of statues of comedians, Victoria Wood, in Bury last Friday. Located right in the centre of the town on the gardens of the Unitarian Church, the life-sized bronze statue represents a prominent addition to the landscape of Bury – the significance of which was reflected in the size of the crowd that turned up to watch, the regional and national media presence and the role of local civic leaders and institutions in the co-ordination and conduct of what was a very joyful ceremony (with the actual unveiling being done by the actor and comedian Ted Robbins who, among other associations, acted as Victoria Wood’s warm-up man for her successful 80s sketch show Wood and Walters).

There is lots of interest in this latest example for the project on this (which I’ve blogged about here and here). It is another addition to the Northern (and North-Western) list of such statues, indicating their interesting geography and the powerful role of figures such as these in regional identities. The accompanying exhibition dedicated to Wood in the Bury Art Museum narrates her birth and early life in the town, as well as the journey to the bright lights of study in Birmingham and then London to find fame. More than this, though, speeches from the Council Leader Cllr Rishi Shori, Victoria's brother Chris Foote-Wood, and Reverend Kate McKenna from the Unitarian Church, all indicated the extent to which her brand of observational comedy drew heavily on the characters and turns of phrase she knew and overheard while growing up. The everyday culture of Northern life was, in other words, a fundamental source of inspiration and there was a keen sense that, as well as being Bury’s ‘most famous daughter’, the town could proudly claim her as one of 'their own' (in keeping with the concerns of campaigns like Mary on the Green and inVisibleabout the uneven gender spread of public monuments, Wood joins a short list of statues to women comedians. Another, to ‘Our Gracie’, Gracie Fields, is nearby in Rochdale).

BrochureNorth

This piece is a further contribution to the pantheon of such statues from the artist Graham Ibbeson, who is responsible for the Eric Morecambe statue which arguably ‘kicked-off’ the most recent phase of commemoration of figures from 20th century popular culture in 1999, as well as statues of Les Dawson in Lytham St Annes and Laurel and Hardy in Ulverston. Ibbeson is clearly a key figure in this story and his work on these monuments (and on others dedicated to iconic sporting heroes and Britain’s industrial heritage) strongly celebrates Northern working class culture. He has also been vocal in recognising the role that such monuments can play in democratising public art. Responding to earlier criticism of the trend for monuments to celebrities as a ‘vile pollutant’ of the contemporary landcape, for example, Ibbeson is sceptical of ‘some of the so-called intellectuals, the arts professionals who consider accessibility a crime against their minority’ (Threlkeld and Ibbeson, 2011: 152).

The addition of much-loved comedians, entertainers and athletes to the category of the ‘memorialisable’ does seem to be an opening up of that category, at least in comparison with the civic, military or political leaders which seemed to fill it in the past. While those statues might have been imposed on local populations without much consultation, contemporary monuments seem more likely to need to emerge from a prolonged and complex negotiation with various courts of public and aesthetic opinion. The creation of this particular statue seems to reveal the risks of this ‘democratisation’. On the plus side, money was raised through a crowd-funding campaign from local residents and fans instigated by Victoria’s brother and biographer, Chris Foote-Wood and finally co-ordinated and managed by Bury Council and her estate. More contentiously, an initial public vote on the design of the statue came down in favour of a depiction of Wood as the character of Bren from the sitcom dinnerladies, which proved controversial. When the eventual design – actually depicting Wood in a more iconic ‘stand-up’ mode - emerged, it was also subject to extensive scrutiny and critique, including through social media. It was notable that the speeches in the ceremony on Friday did not shy away from this controversy, with Wood’s brother being firm in his assertion that the family approved of the depiction and with Cllr Rishi Shori giving a thoughtful defence of the skill and craft of the sculptor, as well as a reflection on the difficulty of capturing a universally appreciated essence of a person who everyone feels they know through decades-long appearances on their front room TV screens. This is a theme I’d be keen to explore further as it points up some interesting tensions between an assumed limit of ‘popular taste’, linked to an apparent preference for ‘real’ depictions and the potential of monuments and public art in general to re-imagine and re-interpret its subjects and representations. The familiarity of fans and audiences, through TV or film, make this a challenge that contemporary sculptors of subjects from the ‘broadcast-era' might face that their predecessors did not.

It remains to be seen the extent to which this new statue is adopted and lived with by Bury residents – and it would be interesting to follow up on that in the project. Judging by the warmth of the response on Friday, though, I’d be optimistic that it will become as well loved as its subject.

In October 2017, CMPS undertook a values exercise with students and staff all together in the same room. Please be reminded of the outcomes of that exercise here. We brainstormed, we discussed and we agreed on a core set of Values for the Centre for Cultural & Media Policy Studies. In part, this was because, as the new Centre Director I wanted to get a sense of what students felt about being with us, what they expected of each other and of staff, and what we as colleagues hoped our students valued most. We said then that values, valuing and evaluation are not only becoming more important but that they are tricky to articulate, measure and appreciate unless spoken about and remembered on a daily basis. It was also because we all felt that such an exercise was not only long overdue at the Centre, but at all universities.

So, I take this opportunity in the light of the Vice Chancellor's and the University of Warwick's recent statement expressing deeper commitment to values of equality, dignity and respect, to remind you of the Centre's values, articulated in 2017, that we stand by today and into the future:

1) FRIENDSHIP & TOLERANCE

2) DIALOGUE & SELF-EXPRESSION

3) INTEGRITY & RESPONSIBILITY

We know there are disagreements, particularly in group work and friendship groups, across cultures and national identities. We know that national and global political dramas can drag us into what seem like all-encompassing soap opera narratives where we are expected to be a fan of one show and not of the other show. We know that historical and well-remembered ideas about national identity, race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, religion and age continue to quietly shape thoughts and feelings, even when we work hard to challenge their impacts. We also know from experience how many of these ideas have been challenged by the person in front of us, who escapes all of these ideas, and is a person. A person who cares and is cared for. It is the capacity to care, to care about and to be cared for that connects us.

Outside of your personal tutor, your module tutor, the senior tutor and the Centre Director, there are the following Warwick services that support our values in practice and care about people. These are:

Dignity at Warwick: https://warwick.ac.uk/services/equalops/dignityatwarwick

The Residential Life Team: https://warwick.ac.uk/services/residentiallife/rlt/

Warwick Wellbeing Support: https://warwick.ac.uk/services/studentsupport

Independent Sexual Violence Adviser:https://warwick.ac.uk/services/supportservices/preventionandsupport/sexualviolence/supportforsurvivors/isva/

Warwick Students’ Union: https://www.warwicksu.com/

The 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions was one of the fastest conventions ever to have passed the UN General Assembly, and the only major international legal instrument on culture and creative industries. I held a seminar on the Convention here in the Centre four years ago, when Justin O’Connor was a Warwick Institute of Advanced Study International Fellow. Here he is now leading a major international research project with participants from the USA, South Africa and Hong Kong, and taking a global view on UNESCO’s main programs supporting the Convention. These include case analyses in Asia and Africa, looking specifically at the Expert Facility, the International Fund for Cultural Diversity and the Creative Cities Network. This seminar, however, was more focused and gathered experts on the Convention, including the Convention management team at the UNESCO HQ.

UNESCO Expert Seminar

The discussion aimed to frame the projected longitudinal assessment around culture, economy and development – themes some of the group had been discussing since we met as the Global Cultural Economy Network in Shanghai in 2012. UNESCO has a deep and long intellectual history, easily forgotten. And the Convention, despite an ongoing intergovernmental collaboration facility and extensive civil society involvement, is not overly visible within the spectrum of member state national cultural policy commitments. The Convention, however, is not just a legal agreement, but a growing project – of sponsoring research, expert technical intervention, training and evaluation, funded projects and a range of other promotional activities. It has four key goals: cultural governance, cultural flows and mobility, sustainable development through culture, and Human Rights. For me, these are the four globally significant subjects of cultural policy today. The seminar broached each of them, and helped define the scope and criteria for the above project and for the rest of us (me specifically) help define an evolving project on the role of global cultural policy and development discourse in post-Brexit UK cultural policy.

There are 11 UNESCO Chairs (recognized academic leaders) in cultural policy in the world, one of which will be an IAS International Fellow – based here in the Centre, hosted by me -- this coming June: Serhan Ada from Istanbul, UNESCO Chair in Cultural Diplomacy. We will be doing various activities, soon to be advertised.

UNESCO HQ

For me, and don't ask me why, the most memorable event at a conference is the conference dinner. This one was at a converted aircraft hanger (now the Seaplane Harbour Museum) and was very enjoyable indeed. Colleagues Chris, Clive, and David, could attest to that. Here’s one view (as we were being serenaded by an Estonian youth choir). See below and http://iccpr2018.tlu.ee/

Conference Dinner

I organized a “roundtable” with Daniel Gad of Hildesheim University – entitled “Arts Rights Justice: policy, activist and legal approaches”, and held on the morning of Friday 24th August. The four participants in the roundtable were myself, Milena Dragićević Šešić (UNESCO Chair Belgrade), Marcin Górski (a legal specialist) and Daniel. We did not present papers, but rather perspectives that invited immediate responses from an audience, aiming to position Rights and Justice as principle subjects of cultural policy research.

Roundtable

There is a sense in which rights and justice were always implicit in European cultural policy as a public policy, but arguably they are currently not explicit in a way that effectively engages with issues in legal or activist spheres, particularly in relation to increasing urgent issues of the cultural freedom of, say, refugees in Europe, artists under censorship or religious repression both in Europe and beyond. In Bangladesh right now, photographer and activist Shahidul Alam (whom I have met a few times), is currently under arrest for simply making a political statement. This arrest is not, de facto, a form of censorship of art itself (his photography is not at issue), but indicative of a more complex relation between artistic identity and political agency. Moreover, Shahidul is a muslim, with a particular view on Islam, so that this might play a role in the motivation for his detention; contemporary religion is a neglected area of cultural research and cultural policy, and like art itself, religious discourse is highly context-dependent in terms of our understanding its intelligibility, meaning and reception.

The roundtable members were diverse and insightful into their own experience of arts, rights and justice Professor Milena spoke on Rights, diversity and cultural policies in Europe and her experience as UNESCO technical advisor in Cambodia. Daniel Gad spoke from his role as director of the new Arts Rights Justice Academy at the UNESCO Chair in Cultural Policy for the Arts in Development at the Department of Cultural Policy, University of Hildesheim; it is primarily concerned with artistic freedom and protecting artists at risk. Lawyer Marcin Górski is writing a book in international legal perspectives on artistic freedom from censorship. And I am currently interested in the legal discourse on the relation between culture and human rights. Running a masters in arts and development, and have become increasingly interested in human rights approaches, the UN’s so-called “rights-based approach” to everything. More immediately as visiting professor at Hildesheim last year, I taught a short course on Cultural Rights.

Further, I edited a special issue on cultural rights in the Journal of Law, Social Justice and Global Development, available here http://www.lgdjournal.org/[Daniel and Marcin contributed]. And Professor Milena and myself edited the research papers of the next Istanbul Cultural Policy Yearbook (2017-18) – entitled Cultural Policy and Populism – where rights issues and the subject of freedom echoes throughout the issue. I will be launching the Yearbook at the inauguration of the UNESCO Chair in Cultural Diplomacy (Prof Serhan Ada) in Istanbul on the 23rd September.

The phrase “Arts Rights Justice” was probably already familiar from The Arts Rights Justice EU Working Group (under Culture Action Europe within and the EU’s civil society dialogue platform “Access to Culture”). Its importance is that it co-joins the older debates and discourse on censorship and the repression of artists and writers with the UN-level human rights discourse of cultural rights. My policy approach started with the critical observation that cultural organisations in Europe – particularly the UK – are very good at using the rhetoric of rights and justice (particularly access and participation – enforced by law, in the UK with the Equalities Act 2010, Human Rights Act 1998 and previous iterations of both these areas of law and policy), but they are arguably not so effective at understanding or challenging the political and legal powers that issue such legislation…(the role of that rhetoric in ideology and formations of political discourse). Governments can use Rights as a form of patronage and a discursive means of promoting ideology.

By extention, Rights (as an individualisation of political behaviour and self-assertion) is instrumentally important to the global neoliberal order – which has coopted democracy and liberty (for example, an appeal to the supremacy of civil society, “access” and participation as condition of free markets, the individual’s right to choose fundamental to consumerism, and so on..). In the UK, the incorporation of policy directives for (minorities in mainstream cultural life and institutions, the elimination of discrimination, the recognition of interest groups and so on) is conducted by political fiat of national, local government and funding bodies, and not public deliberation. Consequently, arts and cultural organisations are not routinelly involved in deliberative thinking or research on rights – or indeed act as, in the UN’s terms, Human Rights Defenders in the cultural sphere. What would it mean then -- the roundtable briefly discussed -- for arts and cultural organisations to be activist or official Human Rights Defenders in culture? Why do cultural organisations (even eminent or well-endowed cultural institutions) reject potential political agency in this area?

Indeed, the growing discourse of human rights is huge and complex. On the one hand, cultural rights has an increasing profile (with a second UNHRC Special Rapporteur), but on the other hand (and despite its official recognition in the 1966 ICESCR, UNESCO’s own human rights complaints facility and its appeal to the 1948 UDHR for all its seven conventions), cultural rights remain a matter of few deliberations or cases. This is true of UNHRC or anyone else (except perhaps the Council of Europe). This presents some academic opportunities for research, which roundtable members will be exploring in the forthcoming months.

During the conference, we had a range of organised trips: this picture is the creative city development at Telliskivi, north east of the old town (and not easily captured in a single photo).
creative city