On the 18th October 2017 CMPS had a get together to mark the occasion of a new centre director, Joanne Garde-Hansen, a re-freshed identity through the incorporation into our centre name of the significant amount of media and media policy research and teaching we do, and the first of our Seminar Speakers for 2017-18.
Prof Seamus Simpson from the University of Salford engaged us all with his presentation on international civil society activism in Europe and the articulation of public interest goals in recent policy debates around possible changes to historic spectrum allocations. Simpson debated the role of European civil society actors on the potential reallocation of spectrum away from broadcasters and towards the mobile communications sector, as well as the implications of this on public service broadcasting.
PhD students discussed their latest research and colleagues from inside and outside the Centre re-connected over lunch and chatted about the year ahead.
It was also really an honour to have the past Centre Directors all in the same room together and we took the opportunity to open a bottle of champagne to celebrate all the good work of the past and usher in some new opportunities for the future.
Not least of all, of course, our new intake of postgraduate students for 2017-2018 will bring with them fresh opportunities for Centre colleagues to demonstrate the excellent teaching and research they undertake, and the students will share their experiences of media, creativity, communication and culture from their own contexts.
Last year ended where this year began – planning some experimental pedagogy using the city as creative platform. Last summer's module was funded by IATL (Warwick's Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning), and has resulted in a new module format – which will heavily influence this autumn’s Creative Project (a dimension of the core module), and will continue to evolve next summer. Summer (May and June) is a great time to teach – it’s festival season, there are visitors and tourists around, and people are out and using public space.
My original project proposal stated that "this project will activate students' creative potential across disciplinary boundaries and through interdisciplinary interaction -- in the context of the City of Coventry and current opportunities offered by its embryonic creative economy". This sounds good, but before constructing a framework for "interaction" or anything in the city, there were legal and well as ethical issues to think-through: after all, there are limits in what students are “allowed” to do off-campus -- particularly on a Tier 4 visa. The relation between "students in the city" is an historically tense one -- if one that has historically become subsumed in the question of economy. People may not have a particularly positive regard for students en mass, but the student population has become so embedded in the local economy, not to have them means less prosperity all round. The traditional "town and gown" tension is pretty much gone (as a social phenomenon, grounded in class) and has largely been supplanted by a less socially-grounded moral disdain (students are noisier, less socially conscientious, less cognisant of the value of the money, and so on). At the same time, universities have become such a huge presence in the city (in most cities) that few would question their importance. Yet, there remains a policy gap – the City Council are clear on the role of university institutions in the city, but not so clear on the role of 50,000 students when they are not inside the university (or a bar, or a rented apartment).
The initial rationale for the new module project was the conundrum of "creativity” -- the increaingly normative demands in teaching that somehow creativity will be in evidence or that creativity is a wholly positive and constructive phenomenon. Yet in my experience -- and I am sure I am not alone --- creativity can make demands that students cannot fulfill. Some students find themselves with a facility for creativity, others do not; and what kind of creativity do we expect? Amateur creativity? Professional-level creative products? Some students find creative production helpful in their learning, but others find it mystifying. Recent scholarship on the creative industries, however, now recognises that creativity is more often than not a collective endeavour, and even where individual talent and skill is involved, this is usually an individual working within a set of conditions that include the contribution of others. We all too often identify creative skills with an individual’s powers of creation – not collaborative methods, or different ways of engaging with a social space or place. Creativity as a concept is still derived from the proverbial romantic artist and inspired work of art.
Exploring models of creativity that are collaborative (and in this case, hopefully transformative of a place) means that the students needed to think about the material conditions of creativity as a form of labour -- what can we actually do, and how, and to what effect? Creativity as an urban intervention has to be more of a process, collaborative and managed in stages, and where many of the students must assume roles not normally associated with creativity.
Our summer module we call the "practice" module, as it allows the students to experiment by putting their theoretical understanding into practice. In the context of the Arts, Enterprise and Development masters -- we explore project design, management and the collective and collaborative dimension of creativity. Working in the city demands social engagement, networking, locating and using resources and understanding the policy and political contexts in which everyone is working -- in this case, the resurgence of interest in culture generated by the official bid for the UK Cit of Culture 2021 award.
The IATL funding was a ‘strategic project’ award – which gave us a range of extra resources and contributors, events and activity spaces, all normally outside the scope and budget of a regular module. An attempt to re-think the summer practice module was thus subject to a range of opportunities on a city cultural intervention, and participation in the city's Positive Images Festival -- said to be the largest festival of multiculturalism in Europe.
At the start of the project, I was considering of the role of “intermediary”, and how, in the creative industries, the intermediaries are crucial parts of a chain of events, multiple conditions and a collaborative process -- yet may not themselves be involved in the creation or the shaping of a final product. They may, rather, use skills in communications, management, enterprise, marketing and client or public engagement, all essential to the function of a project or enterprise. In other words, the intermediary is part of a value chain, and more often than not, part of a line or collective that is defined by the frameworks of creative production, such as a branded project. The intermediary may also be a catalyst, entrepreneur, provocateur or instigator; sometimes they are just agent or representative; but they are always one essential role in a much longer creative process, and they usually engage with constituencies or social groups that inhabit that industrial or cultural space.
Creative teamwork is difficult enough, let alone undertaken in a city of unpredictability; a foreign city; a socially unsettled city; a city that doesn't actually know who or what it is -- at least, these were the students’ initial observations. Moreover, one of the aims of our module was "inclusivity" -- constructing an urban space through pedagogy, where others (non-enrolled, or non-students) could participate in learning processes (perhaps the undergraduate, city youth, creative workers, refugees).
In the first few weeks city artists and activists taught the students how to navigate the city, and how to peel back the laters of history and meaning of which so many remain unaware. While it became apparent very quickly that "student" as a social category is tied to consumption -- outside their learned institutions, student have only one role in the city and that is transient consumers. They buy courses, food and drinks, entertainments, short term accommodation contracts, and if they are fortunate, clothes and luxury goods (though the latter probably in Leamington Spa and not Coventry). Yet, it began to emerge just how many students there are in the city, and with the organised labour of culture just how much students could potentially play a role in the city's cultural economy -- not just the economy of retail and consumption. Moreover, important research questions about the city began to emerge: Why is the city so indifferent to the potential of students – particularly after graduation? Why are students so indifferent to Coventry, and are unlikely to choose it as the place to begin their career? Why do students have a postive regard for Leicester and Nottingham, stay, and expand those city’s cultural economies? And are these questions based merely on anecdotal evidence – does anyone really know? What kind of data or evidence do we need, and what would we do with it? In fact, what is Coventry's creative economy -- and does it have one?
Our project conctructed a framework where the need of students for recognition, empowerment and employment was brought together with the needs of the city in expanding its urban creative economy. This was discussed at our three public events: 'The Right to the City' (at Artspace, Eaton House, on 14th June); 'Students, the City, the Creative and Cultural Industries' (at Fargo Village, June 28th) and 'Coventry Culture Forum' at the Belgrade Theatre (Patrick Suite, July 21st).
Altogether the project featured the contribution of nine creative practitioners and three academics; it had three stakeholder meetings, nine student seminars, an exhibition, and a public performance in the oldest pub in the city, the Golden Cross. Four blog postings on the progress of the project were requested by the Warwick public engagement office. Their blog (relating to the University's contribution to the Coventry City of Culture Bid 2021), can be found here: https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/about/cityofculture/research/support/jonathan_vickery/
CMPS: Our Values
Philip Blond, Director of ResPublica think tank and an English Political Philosopher has had a lot to say recently about ‘values’. The author of Red Tory (2010) is often in the media explaining the culture wars in the USA (Trump voters versus ‘the rigged system’) and the follow on culture wars in the UK (Brexit voters versus ‘the status quo’), and he has argued that cultural and social values of place, family and identity need to be returned to by politicians. In a recent Radio 4 interview he said:
If you do the values based research that I do now …. you see the beginnings of the culture wars taking place in the UK right now [. . .] producing people with radically different world views’ (BBC Radio 4 2/10/17)
Our own university has also made a clear statement about values, stressing cosmopolitanism and diverse community. We find ourselves then, as a research community, in a space between competing notions of values. Some of us have strong views on place, family, religion and identity in which values of heritage, identity and rootedness are fundamental. Others are exploring disruptions to those values and champion technology, commerce, mobility, plurality and transformation in their thinking and research.
Our Centre lives and breathes these tensions every day. We have courses and students and research projects that grapple with these different and sometimes conflicting epistemologies.
We recently worked through some of this at our 2017/2018 Postgraduate Research Day in which staff and PhD students came together for the beginning of a new academic year, to share new research, issues, anxieties, challenges and opportunities. This year we had three PhD students deliver papers, Jufang Wang on Online Content Platforms in China, Deema Sonbol on Female Entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia and Hanzhi Ruan on Chinese National Identity. Colleagues at the Centre could offer valuable feedback and there was a general air of fun, generosity and humour as well as intellectual rigour in the discussions and debates that followed the papers. We all learned from one another, we shared our value systems and we negotiated between competing ideas.
We had a broader discussion about how PhD students can contribute to the research environment of the Centre for Cultural & Media Policy Studies through inviting speakers, organising conferences, reading groups and generally socialising and sharing ideas. This is not always possible if we feel disconnected from one another but we have now created a space at the heart of CMPS in Millburn House for our PhD students where they can feel at home, recognising that a sense of place is just as important as a sense of purpose or project. This led to some discussions about senses of place and identity and we undertook a self-evaluation of our networks, connections, people and projects that keep us busy and active as academic staff and as students. Such networks offer many directions for the future but they also create a sphere within which we operate, and it is the connectedness of those spheres that is key to development.
We also discussed research leadership, what it means to be a leader, how do we like to be led, and how PhD students can consider themselves research leaders: navigating, guiding, making decisions, organising, building consensus and taking control of their research, as well as encouraging those around them.
As part of an on-going renewal of the Centre’s strategy, I invited our PhD students to contribute to our strategy by discussing and agreeing upon the VALUES of the Centre for Cultural & Media Policy Studies. Some had been Masters students with us and so could draw upon a longer period of experience, one had coached Masters students after she completed her own course. Both the academic team and the PhD students agreed on three value statements that we all felt best described the teaching and research in the Centre, as well as all the other activities undertaken:
1) FRIENDSHIP & TOLERANCE – the opportunity to simply ‘hang out’ as well as the feeling of integration and the people-oriented nature of the Centre were highlighted
2) DIALOGUE & SELF-EXPRESSION – the opportunity for Eastern and Western ideas to engage with one another, for Global South and Global North to be in discussion, and the possibility that however idiosyncratic there is space for self-expression
3) INTEGRITY & RESPONSIBILITY – the opportunity to give feedback honestly to one another and for it be acted upon diligently
These represent not only good principles for all scholarly work, and a solid basis for a productive research year ahead for students and supervisors, but they also represent a need to have a wider acknowledgement of the need to bring different value-systems together and agree upon some shared values.
Last month I was lucky enough to receive a small grant from the Humanities Research Fund here at Warwick to develop a larger funding application for a project entitled ‘Monumentalising Popular Culture’. I made a start this week, by visiting Stephens Gardens in Finchley North London – to look at the statue of the late writer and comedian Spike Milligan. The statue, made by the artist John Somerville, was unveiled in 2014 by the Finchley Society of which Spike was the president.
The idea for the project emerged from a chapter from my book on Understanding Cultural Taste in which I discussed the role of cultural policy in making cultural hierarchies. We often think of distinctions between high and low, legitimate or popular culture as abstract things, perhaps especially in the contemporary period where hierarchies are almost always either viewed with suspicion or at least conceived as being in flux. Such a view belies the extent to which there are identifiable processes through which things are legitimatized by people in various positions of authority, making decisions. Examples might include the selection of items to study on educational curricula, or the selection and curation of items deemed suitable for public exhibition and display in museums. In the book, though, I became particularly intrigued by the idea of monuments to cultural figures as providing a material evidence for the kinds of culture that are valued. In this I was following the insights of Priscilla Parkhurst Clarke about the centrality of monuments to writers and their strategic positioning in symbolically significant places in the ‘making’ of France as a literary nation. Taking this idea as a starting point, my initial focus will be on statues of comedians. This is something of an arbitrary choice – but hopefully one that is also revealing.
It is certainly an interesting summer to start a project on statues. Events in Charlottesville, and other, earlier or less heralded controversies from the UK and beyond have served to put concerns about why some figures from the past are selected to be given these kinds of monument into sharp relief. They have also reminded me that, in an apparently ephemeral and fast-moving age, that material culture still matters. The media theorist Harold Innis recognized this in his distinction between space-binding and time-binding media forms. Space-binding forms might be fluid and easily transferable across huge distances – Innis imagines this in relation to broadcasting but we might also see digitally enabled networks as exemplifying such forms in the present day. Time-binding forms might have less of a geographical reach but they have a power to communicate across time in a more immediate, forceful way. These forms last across generations. Statues exemplify this in communicating both a kind of solid permanence but also in communicating a consecrated version of a past which can – as in the case of Robert E. Lee – become unstable and unsuitable for the present.
Such issues might be less pressing in the case of statues of comedians as they are in the case of civil war generals or the figures of our colonial history, but there are some similar questions about how what was valued in the recent past is selected to be given an apparently permanent place in the present. What does it mean for Spike Milligan (and the other, so far fourteen statues of comedians that I have identified in the UK) to be remembered in this way? And given that the significant majority of these statues have been unveiled since the turn of the century why commemorate these figures now? Answers to both questions seem to implicate these statues in a process of making certain types of popular culture ‘official’ in some way – bestowing on them a kind of legitimacy. At the same time it also seems to be a feature of such statues that they emerge from local campaigns amongst fans or enthusiasts –so they might also be decidedly ‘unofficial’ or at least an attempt to re-define what is worthy of this kind of treatment. I’m interested, in the project, to find out a bit more about how these kinds of decisions are made, to explore what is at stake in this kind of process, to examine how these kinds of statues are approved and sited, as well as how they are lived with, interpreted and valued by the people around them. I’ll keep the blog updated as I go along – and I’d be glad to hear of other statues of comedians or other figures from popular culture, in the UK or beyond either in the comments below, or e-mail in the meantime.
Cultures of Water
My visit to Brazil last month was, then, full of meetings and presentations at the Institute of Advanced Study, University of São Paulo (USP), and at São Paulo State University. Where I discussed the RCUK DRY Project currently underway and explored the ‘anecdotes, stories and narratives’ of drought that have had such an impact on British collective memory and mediated representations of hot weather, current dry spells and discussions of drought among differently invested stakeholders and publics. A significant part of the DRY Project is not only public engagement but co-production of knowledge about drought through memories, storytelling and imagining future scenarios. In Science in Public: Communication, Culture and Credibility, Gregory and Miller state that ‘lay people mobilise a broad array of tools to solve problems through science, culture, emotion, ethics, morality, trust relationships, and customs. These may be small tools…but they cut through the tangle of contemporary existence and produce solutions that sit more easily with people’s lives and consciences’ [1998, p. 65].
As the UK press publishesmore stories of water shortage, after a dry winter 2016-2017 and low rainfall in April
2017, citizen scientists through blogsand discussion postings are creating their own platforms for debate, mobilising social media tools at local and meaningful levels. While the press addresses the issue quickly through shorthand templates of hosepipe bans, balmy weather, blazing headlines and reference to 1976, we do need to address the complexity of understanding drought in terms of an absence of culture as much as an absence of water, or at least make the case that if water is absent then it is not only due to something much larger and global that we may feel we cannot do anything about such as climate change. If water and culture and memory are so intimately connected, then drought is some kind of forgetting, drought is forgotten where the mediatization of flood provides spectacular copy.
I have had many discussions in Brazil over the last ten days about how drought is framed in news. My colleagues, there, are of course surprised by the lack of 'politics' to the UK framing of drought in terms of discussion of WHO is exactly using the water, and that hot weather is often welcomed in a way thatmisses the point about how water is or should be managed even in a country that is associated with wetness and flood. Brazilians have an interesting phrase I often heard at various meetings. 'It is not that we don't have water, we do have water, lots of it, it is just missing.' There is also a famous Brazilian geographer who said ‘seca’ (drought) is not the problem but ‘cercas’ (fences), the point being to emphasise ownership of land and the management of resources as far more important to the debate than endless surprise that it's a dry spell. Any shame and blame often directed at domestic users in media stories must be thoroughly and critically understood through the ‘moralities of drought’ framework, especially if the majority of water is being used elsewhere. So we need to return to water, we need to turn the benches alongside the river around so they face the water, and remember its cultural value; and in the meantime we have in November 2017 in Brazil, a social action for connecting to global water movements through the work of Waterlutionwho are planning a water festival for young people.
It is also worth reading two British books on drought often forgotten (the first more so than the second): The Great Drought(1976) by Evelyn Cox tells the 'true' story of 1976 from the persepective of a young mother and farmer: ‘The drought divided us into two nations – those whose lives were deeply, at times dangerously disrupted, and those to whom the drought was at most an over-publicized inconvenience. The drought provided, for those caught up in it, a common, shared experience unlike any other in Britain since the Blitz. I hope it will be useful to have an immediate record of what the drought was like, before we begin to forget it or before – which is more probably – we begin to embroider our memories into myths’ (p. 9). There is also The Drought(1965) by JG Ballard. ‘The drought at the heart of The Drought is cultural. Culture is withering. In the guise of rainfall, old social and political meanings run down to the sea and are decreasingly renewed. Where the land seemed fertile, its inhabitant can now admit that it is exhausted.’ John Harrison’s introduction to The Drought (2009). Both, in different ways, conjoin water with culture and memory, as the key female character of Ballard's novel notes: ‘Catherine gazed out at the exposed lake-bed. “It’s almost dry. Don’t you feel, doctor, that everything is being drained away, all the memories and stale sentiments?’”
I mentioned in my last blog posting (about the Centre name change) that the quotation from Bell and Oakley’s Cultural Policy (2015, 157-158), has been important to my own thinking about the direction of cultural and media policy research. So that those economic resources (energy, water, food, transport, housing, environment etc) should be seen in cultural and social terms. To cultural geographers, this is a no-brainer who have been working to understand what trees, rivers and landscapes mean to people, or how buildings, architecture and hard engineering become symbolic markers of social life to be mediated and experienced.
For myself, I kind of fell into water research! Or, perhaps was led to water research, and took a drink, while there was an inundation of water, but not much research from an arts and humanities perspective. At the time (after the 2007 Summer Floods in the UK), it was not clear to our research team of geographers, media theorists, historians and hydrologists what was the connection between media, culture, water, rivers, flooding and drought. To the participants in our research, those who lived with, loved and feared the river, the connections were clear. Managing water and water governance, is also to manage cultural activities, cultural memories and media representations. Therefore, to find the Centre for Cultural and Media Policy Studies very open to stretching and defining what counts as ‘cultural policy’ opened up new ways of thinking about what has recently been termed ‘hydro-citizenship’ by the AHRC funded project running from Bath-Spa University, led by co-author Prof Owain Jones. (His work on ‘tree-cultures’ for example influenced the research I did in the Forest of Dean on Dennis Potter’s TV fans, extras and audiences in the forest).
But, I digress. The last two years have found me exploring not simply why water culture matters in the UK (where institutionalisation of both cultural and water industries may obscure access to a clear understanding of the importance of rivers, flooding and drought to the nation, to regions, to those living with too much or without water) but to the trans-national and trans-cultural connectivity of water stories.
Water culture really matters to the Brazilian colleagues and social actors I have met in São Paulo State and in the State of Minas Gerais. As part of the Narratives of Water project, I have been working with Dr Danilo Rothberg of Unesp, to find connections and disconnections between how water is managed as an economic and cultural resource and how the management of water is represented and communicated through media and cultural activities. Developing hydro-citizenship in the Brazilian context is very much participatory in those ‘water councils’ that conjoin the social, cultural and economic. The Manuelzao Project (Worldwide Movement for Rivers) on the das Velhas River (Belo Horizonte) is a good example of this. Abers and Keck (2013, 187) in Practical Authority: Agency and Institutional Change in Brazilian Water Politics, note the connection between social movements, activism, political popularity and media mobilisation at a local water basin scale for river revitalisation. To move from armchair to policy and action meant ‘creating organizations with the capacity to implement projects, to mobilize complex, diverse networks of actors, and to communicate with a broader public’ and all this requires gaining access to media, occupying spaces where decisions are made, and insisting that water is not only understood through a hydrological, hydraulic and economic perspective.
In fact, I am reminded by my Brazilian colleague Prof Gilson Schwartz from USP that Jean-Jacques Rousseau made this point quite some time ago, concerning how water creates community because it requires co-operation, communication, social interaction and dialogue if its use, quality and availability are to be sustained as an emotional as much as an economic benefit:
‘There the first ties between families formed; there were the first rendezvous of the sexes. Young women came to fetch water for the household, young men came to water their herds. Their eyes accustomed to the same objects since childhood began to have softer ones. The heart was moved by these new objects, an unknown attraction made it less savage, it felt the pleasure of not being alone. Water became imperceptibly more necessary, the livestock were thirsty more often; one arrived hurriedly and left regretfully. There were held the first fêtes, feet leapt with joy, the impressed gesture no longer sufficed, the voice accompanied it with impassioned accents, pleasure and desire mixed together made themselves felt at the same time. There was finally the true cradle of civilizations, and from the pure crystal of the fountains rose the first fires of love’ (Essai sur l'origine des langues où il est parlé de la mélodie et de l'imitation musicale, translated and cited in ‘Diverting Water in Rousseau: Technology, the Sublime, and the Quotidian’ by Julia Simon, 2012, p. 87)
Why we are now the Centre for Cultural and Media Policy Studies
In the last decade studies of media have simultaneously expanded and collapsed. Expanded because the development of social media, smart communications, digital film, radio, TV and journalism, and the rise of the games and animation industries have generated new courses, new research and fresh ways of thinking about how news, entertainment and politics are produced and consumed. Collapsed because the traditional ways of teaching and researching media have come under increasing pressure to adapt to the creation of new kinds of media work and creativity, increasingly layered distribution infrastructures, exploitation of natural resources and environments, and the globality of new value chains, media commodities and connected publics.
If media can go anywhere, should research be somewhere?
In the past, media policy studies have tended to focus on political economy questions of ownership, distribution, the state, governance, commodification and technological growth (Golding and Murdock 1991, McQuail and Siune 1998), questions of the public sphere, democracy, citizenship and freedom of speech (Habermas 1989, McQuail 1994, Miller 1996, Murdock, 1992), or the audience, viewer and consumer (Hartley 1988, Livingstone 1996, Alasuutari 1998, Wicks 2000). Yet, since the turn of the century scholarship has begun to realise the limits of its reach into influencing policy (Friedman 2008, Simpson et al. 2015). What is the social demand we need to research and how should it be done? How much entertainment is needed before a critical mass of finite resources is exhausted? What is the impact of media production, distribution and consumption upon spaces, places, natural resources and environments? How can ‘natural’ environments and events communicate their non-human experience through media, data and new kinds of sensing and ambient technologies? What are our media needs (really), are they being met and if so by whom, and if not, why not? What new kinds of global citizenship grow out of media creativity, activism, popular cultural heritage, social networks and environmental politics? If media are both structuring and agentic then new ways of mapping, tracking, mining, modelling, working through and across media histories, practices, technologies and industries are needed alongside considerations of representation, textuality, discourse and communication. This means inter-disciplinary working scaled up, across, between as well as working down into the vernacular.
It may be time to re-tool
Quite some time ago, Raboy et al (2001, 101) argued that to make a policy intervention in this area then we cannot simply ‘be injected into policy work’ for ‘the trajectory from living room couch to policy chambers requires that the question of how the relationship between audience and text is negotiated be restated in rather different terms’. There are media and cultural infrastructures built into our communication systems that have been ignored and are now being overlaid with new layers of hard engineering and soft politics every day, occupying old and new territories, traversing and consolidating national state containers. There are also those entrepreneurial individuals who may put the question of the relationship of the audience to the text to one side to create a media world of their own choosing, carrying it around with them, and calling upon a much wider range of powerful organisations and networks to mediatize every aspect of their civic life, from finance to football, food-water-energy to film, from journalism to activism and so on. Are cultures still delivered to audiences, like water, electricity and food?
Daylighting our media research and teaching
These are some of the questions the Centre for Cultural and Media Policy Studies is committed to researching and teaching. In daylighting what we have been doing for a while, we see the inclusion of the word ‘media’ in our Centre name as a significant development that addresses how we have been working in areas of media, culture and communications research and scholarship, how media policy is not to be collapsed into cultural policy and has distinctive features that need attention. CCMPS, through its Masters courses, PhD supervision and research culture, attends to key issues often forgotten in the field of media research and teaching more generally, and asks critical questions for those producing entertainment media for industries. In practice, we have been teaching media for some time but within a cultural policy context, and the new name is not so much an indication of a change of emphasis or direction as an acknowledgement of how our practice continually mirrors and aligns with contemporary practice as well as cultural and behavioural shifts.
We seek to push media research further into pragmatic policy debates and discussions across a range of disciplines and sectors by understanding what people ‘do’ with media and culture, rather than only what is done to them, and what media do to people, places, and practices, including how media develop out of materials, environments and resources. For example, our work aims to explore the ways pre-mediatic materialities (Parikka 2014,) and the afterlives of media (Gabrys 2011, Miller and Maxwell 2012, Starosielski and Walker 2015, Cubitt 2017) feed into media policy and practice. We will be looking, in particular, to consolidate the following media themes as part of our teaching and research programmes:
- media and cultural infra-structures, labour, resource-risk and resilience
- cultural and political economies of media and cultural entertainment
- eco-criticism and media-environmental studies
- entrepreneurship and media management
- creative media and non-commercial media practices
- storytelling, media narratives, and performance
- mnemonics, archives and media heritage
In Bell and Oakley’s Cultural Policy(2015, 157-158) book, they signal a need for cultural policy to move into new directions such that culture is not seen only as the context in which policy acts but that culture acts on policy (and, we would say, increasingly through uses of media):
Rather than seeing culture as a resource to be used economically, as the creative economy of cultural industries traditions generally do, the argument would be to see “economic” resources from water to housing to green spaces in cultural terms, to help understand what they mean to people and hence how they can be valued in terms other than the economic – or through a radical rewriting of the definition of the economic.
CCMPS is exploring how we can re-write what is valuable about media, not simply in terms of economics, politics and entertainment, but in terms of heritage, wellbeing, affect, materiality, or sense of place, environment, and connected-ness to landscape, natural resources and new forms of identity and rights.
The 9th International Conference on Cultural Policy Research was held last week at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea. I was there, along with several CCPS colleagues, PhD students and graduates for what was a very stimulating few days. Seoul, the first Asian venue for this conference, was a setting which was timely and appropriate. Korea has been the home, in recent years, to a vibrant re-imagining of state-led initiatives in culture in relation to city regeneration, cultural diplomacy and the cultural economy, culminating in the hugely regionally and globally successful Hallyu wave of music, film and TV. These achievements, now retrospectively re-branded into a strategic vision for Creative Korea, provided the backdrop to the event as researchers and policymakers gathered to learn from, reflect on and contextualise them in the longer history of the project of cultural policy.
Personally the week started on a rather sombre note, having escaped an especially damp UK summer, dampened a bit more by the deepening gloom of the post-Brexit political crisis and arriving in a Seoul that was being brushed by the edge tropical storm to welcome conference go-ers with a thorough drenching. This, and jet-lag, might have accounted for the rather downbeat tone in the opening session on the Changing Role of Cultural Policy in the 21st century – and certainly all the speakers in various ways identified the Brexit vote as reflecting a significant change to the global context in which research in the field could operate. For me it was hard to get away from the sense that if, among the already proliferating interpretations of the meaning of the result, Brexit was a vote against a vision of a tolerant, outward looking UK, then British cultural policy itself, and its attendant research community, had also somehow failed. The catharsis of discussion, though, and the reminder that other places in the world (including the Mexico of Gonzalo Enrique-Soltero’s contribution) faced challenges in the social and cultural landscape which were even more immediate than those in the UK, helped me to re-focus on the on-going contributions that research in this field should still aspire to make. This re-awakening was helped by an opening ceremony in which performances of traditional Korean dance and music were accompanied by some slick video introductions to Seoul and to Korea and by some words of introduction from eminent local dignitaries and the organising committee. I’m often struck by how international conferences are so much better at this kind of thing than we are in Britain and, while the cynic in me might reflect that there’s nothing academics like better than being told how important we are, the warmth and sincerity of these greetings made for a very welcome start to the week’s activities.
The rest of the programme was packed with papers and themes. Amongst many potential highlights I’ll pick out three memories from the sessions I saw. First were from the sessions and papers which were addressing the theme of cultural work. Some years ago an influential paper asked where work was in creative industries policy. On the evidence of these sessions (including about ‘Inequality, Meritocracy and Wellbeing in the Cultural Industries’ and ‘Artistic Survival and Public Policy’), it is still being looked for and found in diverse places as researchers attempt to identify and to explore the realities or delusions of work in the creative sector. I’m writing a new module on this topic, and the papers and discussions I saw here will be of great use in shaping these issues on behalf of our students. Second I was really struck by a paper from Takashi Ishigaki on the use of film-showings as a mechanism for re-building community bonds in Tsumani-struck Japan. The author had worked as a volunteer on the program and displayed images of films screened on the side of buildings in village squares or in community centres, for children and adults, all provided free by local distributors. It offered a nice reminder of the important work that apparently simple forms of cultural participation can do in re-establishing ‘normal life’ in a traumatised region.
Finally the closing plenary, featuring an address on 'Cultural Strategies of Urban Regeneration in the Instagram Age' from Sharon Zukin, author of the influential Loft Living, with a discussion from an associated panel, was genuinely memorable. This was not least a result of its location in the spectacular setting of Seoul’s Dongdaemun Design Plaza, itself perhaps exemplifying the kind of ‘McGuggenisation’ that the panel and others introduced and critiqued. Alongside the celebration of the potential of the nomination of cities as ‘creative’ Professor Zukin also reminded us of the ambiguities and tensions in this process. For all the celebration of such initiatives, they might also be complicit in the re-shaping of the city as a façade for the aesthetic delight of the elites of global finance, or for extracting value from tourists rather than the cultural enrichment of its citizenships – a point made forcefully by a local discussant, Professor Dong-Yeun Lee of the Korea National University of Arts. It was a telling discussion that highlighted the inherent tensions between visions of culture (and the city) for policymakers as, on the one hand a thing to be produced and consumed and, on the other, a space to be lived in and shared.
It was especially nice to experience all this with colleagues from the UK cultural policy research community, as well as several of our PhD students – some of whom were presenting and responding to papers themselves, and some of whom, as Seoul natives, were able to act as valuable restaurant guides too. That, and the return of the sun by the end of the week, made for an inspiring and energising conference. My sincere congratulations and thanks to the organisers for their hard work in putting it together.
We’ve now completed the first run through of our new module The Mediated Self Project. This was an IATL-funded Strategic Project to develop a module for our Master’s programmes to critically engage students with the processes and consequences of personal and professional forms of self-mediation as enabled by media and digital technologies. You can see our previous entries about this here.
In developing the module we were interested to enhance skills needed to mediate the self, to give students the space to practice and play with these skills and to reflect on why they might be necessary in contemporary life and work, how they can be resisted, played with and adapted. Having set, assessed and fed-back on our students' work, and collected their evaluations, we’re in a position to consider what we’ve learned in the process.
Lesson 1: A Different Approach to Delivery
First, this was a module that tried to take a different approach to delivery and assessment. We avoided a simple seminar-topic-reading-assessment based model and instead constructed a framework, based around ‘themes’ and ‘skills’ and mixed up teaching to include two symposia, technical sessions on video, photography and writing for the web (delivered by Rob Batterbee from the Careers and Skills Academic Technology team) a documentary film and a discussion around a novel The Circle by Dave Eggers. It may have been that some students felt there was a lack of more formal ‘lecture’ delivery styles and a clear narrative through-line for the module but generally this made for a dynamic, riskier and potentially richer teaching and learning experience. We especially felt this at the very start of the module where we’d asked students to come to the first session having made, with very little instruction, a video introducing themselves. Walking into a teaching room with not much more, in terms of material to ‘deliver’, than the hope that students will do what you’ve asked over a vacation was a bit nerve-wracking. The time, effort and skill that had gone into the student videos reassured us that students had bought into what we were trying to do – even if they didn’t wholly understand why we wanted them to do it this way! Subsequent sessions similarly rewarded this trust in students.
Lesson 2: A Different Approach to Assessment
Second, the forms of assessment that we used – an online mediated portfolio based on a curated self-media product – and a critical reflection on the process of producing it – allowed us to push the boundaries between theory and practice in a way which is well worth refining. One of the original impetus’s for the module was an identified lack in the curriculum of a means to test and develop many of the skills that students already possess and are being pushed to take up in media and creative industries (as well as other areas of work and life) – which we might crudely define as reflecting forms of digital and social media literacy – and which aren’t easily translatable into ‘conventional’ modes of assessment, such as exams or written assignments. These conventional forms still have their value but are arguably constitutive of print forms of literacy and, for some students, feel useless or even irrelevant for their future lives.
Lesson 3: Nothing more Practical than a Good Theory
This module was practical and applied in its nature but it was also critically informed practice, and we wanted to change the way students think about media, online life and the ubiquity of digital technologies. The skills that we want our students to develop - of research, critical reflection or of weighing evidence in the construction of narrative arguments – might indeed be wedded to conventional assessment strategies more for the convenience of assessors than assessed, but we also want them to use this in the workplace and in daily life. There is certainly value in exploring new ways in which they can be captured. The quality of the work produced this year – which you can see examples of here – and the experience of working with students to produce it, should enable us to provide both excellent examples and clearer guidance to future students in approaching these tasks.
Lesson 4: We're all in this together (aren't we?)
Finally it has been interesting and gratifying to see the interest that the project has generated amongst colleagues in the Centre, in the University and beyond. We feel very fortunate to have had the luxury to develop a module in this way, thanks to IATL, our original team of student stakeholders and the various kinds of expertise, within and beyond the University, on which we’ve been able to draw. You can read our interim and final project reports here and we’ll be presenting on the first year of the module at a Window on Teaching session in the Autumn Term. Thanks most of all to the students for their hard work. They really did step up to be co-researchers in the development of the curriculum for the next cohort and then delivering insightful and unique windows on their mediated lives.
Our IATL supported Mediated Self Project module, that we’ve blogged about before here and here has begun in earnest this term, and Saturdaysaw the first of our symposia. One rationale for the module is to provide a place to explore and reflect on the place of self-mediation in professional life, either in transforming how we work, especially in the cultural, creative and media industries, or producing new forms of work entirely. With this in mind we invited four people whose working lives we thought might exemplify these changes to reflect on their experiences with our students.
Our speakers were Callum Goodwilliam, a facilitator at Squared Onlineand Warwick graduate, Marie Haycocks of Certanovo, life-coach and image consultant, Jon Bounds a writer and Pete Ashton an artist. We asked students to prepare for the day by researching our speakers through their online presences, and asked speakers to respond to our themes in explaining their own career trajectories. We followed this with a roundtable discussion at which students were able to ask questions, both practical and general, in relation to their own work on producing a Mediated Self portfolio.
A number of interesting themes emerged from the day for me – but I thought I’d highlight three. Firstly the discussion confirmed, gladly given our premise, that working on or managing the self is an important component of contemporary working life. The very existence of a market for Marie’s services, and indeed the accompanying forms of accreditation and qualification which underpin her practice are a strong indication of this. Online and offline forms of self-management and representation, though, also reveal some interesting tensions, especially in relation to the development of the technologies of mediation. More than one of our speakers referred to their own changing perspectives on and experiences of self-mediation as their appreciation of the implications of the online context grew. Callum bravely shared early Facebook photos, and early attempts at blogging, both of which he suggested he might prefer to be no longer accessible. Jon by contrast, and in opposition to the story of an internet that never forgets, had some early published work – pioneering work in relation to the short history of blogging - that was no longer visible. Both stories were perhaps a timely reminder that these forms of self-mediation are often achieved on terms over which we have little control. It was a theme re-iterated by Pete’s rules of self-mediation, which included knowing what the platforms we use are getting from us as we use them. Awareness of this perhaps helps rebalance the power dynamics between our abilities to mediate ourselves through technology and the possibility of being mediated by that technology. We might assume that these skills are tacit, especially amongst young people, and as the infrastructure of the internet and social media become more embedded into everyday life we might think less about them, but they can and perhaps should be learned.
A second theme related to the notion of being ‘authentic’ or ‘true’ to oneself. While ‘being oneself’ is the assumed path to various forms of success in contemporary life, it seemed easier to say than do. Marie, whose progression to her current role was strongly informed by her family and personal history wrestled with having different selves in personal and professional contexts, at least inasmuch as these were represented in talking about her business. Her ‘brand values’ and her ‘personal values’ became blurred, in a context in which reflections on her own experiences fed directly into the service she provided. Jon, by contrast, described using a variety of online selves in his various professional roles –some personal, some political and some reflecting the playful subversive potentials of digital cultures. He was careful and disciplined in policing the boundaries between them, but this also led to some difficult decisions about the appropriate forum for some outputs of his creative work. The possibility of a diffuse and diverse identity emcompassing the complexity of human experience was one of the utopian ideals of the early internet cultures. The political ambiguities of the more contemporary drive towards a single, coherent self, exemplified by Mark Zuckerberg’s assertions about integrity and identity, perhaps puts even more importance on the decisions we make about how we represent ourselves online and through what platforms we choose to do that work.
Finally, Pete described the importance of being driven by our own interests and enthusiasms in making a distinctive mediated self, and also described his own trajectory towards a situation of ‘not caring’ what people thought of his work, beyond an aspiration that they thought it interesting and worthwhile in the chaotic world of the web and its reputation economy . His imperative for us to 'create our own metrics' for success, rather than be driven by ‘likes’ or ‘views’ or ‘shares’ might well become a motto for our module. All the speakers seem to espouse the need to 'be the/your message' in a way that moves us from McLuhan's the 'media is the message' to 'self mediation is the message'. We will be exploring these ideas with our students for the rest of the module and we hope to have challenged them into thinking about the mediated self as NOT simply self-branding or personal PR or self-marketing. It is far more than that and touches on a variety of value systems. Like the rest of day, it should, provide some food for thought and inspiration for our students as they explore their own forms of mediation.
Many thanks to the speakers and students for their contributions – and to the staff at the Teaching Grid for allowing us to use their space on a Saturday.