Launch of the Postgraduate Network

The first conference organised by the recently formed Meccsa
Postgraduate Network was considered a great success, and one that
should be repeated annually. Forty-nine postgraduates attended the
conference at Birmingham’s Institute of Art and Design (BIAD), with
representations from Canterbury, Cardiff, Coventry, De Montfort,
Nottingham, Sheffield Hallam, Stirling, Sussex, Ulster, Warwick and
Westminster. The majority of those attending were at the early stages
of their Doctorate programme, with some Masters students also present.
The event therefore provided the opportunity (in some cases for the
first time) for postgraduates to present papers and to engage with
colleagues about past and present research in their field. The morning
session included fourteen papers, in four strands that reflected the
diversity, as well as the commonality of interests, ranging from film
and television studies to more specific subjects in media and cultural
studies.

The first strand, ‘Citizenship and media literacy’,
primarily focused on the pedagogical role of the media, by looking at
the multiple ways it can enhance (or impede) our understanding of, and
participation in, democracy and secondary education, especially as
audiences change the way they interact and engage with new media.
Stephen Cushion (Cardiff University), for example, examined news media
coverage of the 2003 anti-war protests involving young people and found
that, broadly speaking, they were discouraged from playing a role in
the political public sphere, and were dismissed for being
‘opportunistic truants’. Ching-Fen Pai (Cardiff University), more
optimistically, looked at the emerging field of cyber democracy, and
cautiously argued that there are signs, particularly among young
people, that the Internet is beginning to politically enfranchise
citizens in Taiwan. Seon-Jeong Ki (University of London), changing
tack, discussed the value of GCSE Media Studies and media education
more generally, questioning the assumptions that inform how we
conventionally view this multidisciplinary field, and how we evaluate
‘quality’ media products, produced by students. James Bennett
(University of Warwick) concluded the strand by re-examining, in light
of increasing digitalization, television studies literature. He
suggested that textual models, such as flows and segments (established
concepts in this relatively new field) might already be in a state of
flux because emerging technologies are changing the way audiences
interact with their television sets.

In the second strand, ‘Constructing gender’,
speakers looked in diverse ways at discourses of femininity in Western
media texts. Vicky Ball (Queen Margaret University College) looked at
the contemporary British television ensemble drama and argued that this
emerging sub genre had been the subject of critical neglect because it
was aligned with both the popular and with the feminine. Conversely,
Jen-Yi Chen (Cardiff University) argued that recent skin care
advertising campaigns that were aimed at women not only naturalised but
also essentialised dominant western versions of femininity. Jen-Yi Chen
concluded, rather ironically, that such campaigns promised women the
opportunity to acquire such ‘natural’ beauty through the consumption of
their products.

Presenters in the third strand, ‘Representing the nation’,
grappled with the concept of national identity in various mediated
contexts. They broadly agreed that when, consciously or not, this
notion was invoked, the effect often led to the misunderstanding of
marginalised social groups and public policy issues. Michael Skey
(University of Southampton) looked at media coverage of the golden
jubilee and the England world cup campaign, while Angela Smith
(University of Sunderland) looked at, over the course of a century,
recurrent images of war. Both found discourses of nationalism lurking
within and behind our everyday culture and that these carried, in many
ways, profound ideological consequences. Emma Hughes (Cardiff
University) found such consequences in coverage of GM food because, she
argued, crops were considered a threat to ‘the purity of the nation’,
despite the UK already growing GM crops. Finally, Inga Scharf
(Nottingham Trent University) outlined her PhD on representations of
Germanness in films between 1962 and 1989, with a view to critically
intervene in debates about the so-called New German Cinema.

Speakers in the fourth strand, ‘Repackaging the past’,
all, in some way, engaged with issues of authenticity. Andrew Boyce
(University of Ulster) argued that a memorial which incorporated a
sound element could best articulate the collective suffering of those
affected by the Omagh bombing. Ciaran Chambers (University of Ulster)
explored the differing news and newsreel images Irish audiences
received compared to the rest of Britain during World War II. Benjamin
Earl’s (Cardiff University) presentation looked at the village of
Tintagel and how it relies on Arthurian myth for its tourism. Finally
Matt Brennan’s (University of Stirling) paper returned the strand back
to the subject of sound, and how in particular the popular music press
have historically handled the tension between music as art and commerce.

After lunch, three eminent speakers gave presentations. Darren Newbury (BIAD) gave details about the ‘Research Training Initiative’
project. Professor Peter Golding (University of Loughborough) advised
postgraduates where (and where not) to publish articles and books.
Professor Sue Thornham (University of Sussex), in a lively session,
discussed approaches to teaching seminars and lectures. The final event
of the day, an interactive feedback session, was extremely positive:
delegates enjoyed the informal atmosphere and the opportunity to
network and share experiences with other postgraduates. The session on
teaching, for instance, highlighted the lack of training that is
currently provided to postgraduates who are expected to teach as part
of their postgraduate programmes. At the end of the conference it was
suggested that the themes and issues emerging from this conference
would feed into future events. This will, in some form, take shape at
the 2005 MeCCSA conference in Lincoln.
While the network’s immediate concern is to launch its own unique web
presence, we are already planning the next conference, provisionally
booked at Cardiff’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies in
May/June 2005.

Looking beyond these events,
however, the hope is this network will grow beyond our own PhD
experience into something that can reach out and make a difference to
the wider postgraduate community. We have bright, valuable and innovate
young scholars, who (too often) go unnoticed and need celebrating. This
conference, we believe, began to harness such talent and produce a road
map for future media, culture and communication students to build on
and benefit from.

Conference report by Stephen Cushion, Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies
Vicky Ball, Queen Margaret University College, Edinburgh

Posted by Salvatore Scifo