Three-D Issue 26: MeCCSA 2016: ‘Communities’

agnes-570Àgnes Gulyàs
Canterbury Christ Church University

The MeCCSA Annual Conference 2016 was hosted by Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, 6-8th January 2016. We would like to thank everyone for their contribution and for attending! Special thanks to those who were involved in presenting, chairing panels, and reviewing abstracts. We have recorded and uploaded all plenary sessions to MeCCSA’s new youtube channel, where you can relive the experience or if you did not make to the event you can catch up on what our great speakers said. You find the videos here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDsXEQ2O-VUn0xm09_pa-IQ/videos

Further highlights can be found at the conference website (http://www.meccsa2016.co.uk/) as well as on MeCCSA’s Twitter feed (@MeCCSA2017).

Many members of the hosting School helped organising the conference, but the core organising committee included Dr Andrew Butler, Dr Agnes Gulyas, Sarah O’Hara, Dr Ruth Sanz Sabido, Dr Craig Smith, Julia Bennett, Dr Tim Long.

16Over 200 hundred delegates attended the conference. During the three days there were 140 presentations in the parallel sessions, one end of project workshop, 2 screenings and one poster presentation. The breakdown for the three days were: 39 presentations on the Wednesday, 62 on Thursday, and 39 on the Friday. We had 14 student helpers who were essential for the smooth running of the conference. There were two social events, on the first night we had a reception and a quiz night (the quiz was reportedly rather challenging). On the second night we held the conference dinner at the Cathedral Lodge on the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral.

Plenary sessions

Originally five plenaries had been planned but a sixth was added relatively late in the planning cycle on the Future of the BBC because of the importance and currency of the topic. Plenary 6 only had one speaker on the day as Mark Deuze withdrew in the last minute. Because the external speaker, David Walker could only do Friday we moved the AGM from its traditional Thursday afternoon slot. Apart from the traditional three speakers’ plenary we also had three roundtable plenaries with four speakers each of whom had ten minutes to present followed by a discussion. We feel this variety of the plenaries worked well and we had some positive feedback from delegates who appreciated the longer discussions.

  • PLENARY 1: Communities and activism
    Hilary Wainwright, Prof Jeremy Gilbert, Phil Cohen
  • PLENARY 2: Roundtable: Local and community media
    Adam Cantwell-Corn, Dr Peter Lewis, Ian Carter, Dr Andy Williams
  • PLENARY 3: Communities on the margins
    Dr Leah Bassel, Dr Helen Thornham, Prof Claire Wallace
  • PLENARY 4: Roundtable: Communities, academic research and impact
    Prof George McKay, Prof Claire Wallace, Dr Leah Bassel, Kathryn Geels
  • PLENARY 5: Roundtable: Waiting for the BBC White Paper – What’s missing?
    Prof Patrick Barwise, Sophie Chalk, Bill Thompson, Prof Des Freedman
  • AGM with David Walker, Head of Policy, Academy of Social Sciences,
  • PLENARY 6: Communities in the digital age
    Prof Helena Sousa

IMG_0049PLENARY ONE: COMMUNITIES AND ACTIVISM WITH JEREMY SEABROOK, HILARY WAINWRIGHT AND JEREMY GILBERT

The plenary explored examples of communities that have arisen from social activism agendas.

Phil Cohen 

The ‘labourhood’, a phrase coined by Phil Cohen, has, he proposed, its roots in a very English form of socialism, and it is characterised by urban and rural communities that embrace the spirit of self-governance. This has given way to new practices of democracy through forms of dispersed sociality that have emerged in and against the deregulated city. Communities of lifestyle, livelihood and leisure that have associated online presences. Phil proposed that an order of sorts is emerging through variety, and is not being imposed from powers above. This ‘order of sorts’ can be identified in the community initiatives Phil detailed: urban explorers reclaiming unused urban zones, guerrilla gardeners, skateboarders reclaiming the city, and groups mapping subterranean London. A gay community initiative in East London has used both physical and virtual mappings of popular cruising grounds, and this characterises the hybrid qualities and extended reach of self-initiated communities that are established through a common need. Each of these current communities in their own ways, Phil suggested, are indebted to Situationist precedents that also sought to discover new ways of articulating the experience of urban life and urban communities. These mappings of the environment for the purpose of identifying and bringing together disparate individuals to form new communities is an agenda developed by the activities of Common Ground. These practices can point the way to optimistic new possible communities that in turn communicate with other similar communities creating common ground that maps the ways that otherwise uncharted and unrecorded live and labours are recorded and understood.

Jeremy Gilbert

Jeremy Gilbert’s discussion proposed that a neoliberalist agenda works against potent collectivity by situating economic factors within the private sector. The activist communities however operate because of, and despite, these overarching agendas. Jeremy identified the ‘Momentum’ movement that led to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership selection to head the labour party as an example of collective action. The process that led to Corbyn’s leadership illuminated the distinction between movement and a campaign, and although these terms overlap, Jeremy suggested the terms merited further reflection. Corbynism was facilitated by social media, Jeremy argued. By reinforcing shared views, reverberating in their own social media caves as in an ‘echo chamber’, online discussion is possibly limited to like-minded people confirming their own views to each other. Jeremy proposed that an ‘activist imaginary’ can create a sense of collective coherence, where by working together, both formally and informally, new communities can operate effectively outside the neoliberalist agenda.

Hilary Wainwright 

Hilary Wainwright discussed how different understanding of knowledge implicit in communities related to purposeful identification of outcomes that can be acted on. How do Communities relate to power? What is the relation of community to agency? Hilary distinguished two types of power, [centralised] power over and [community] power as a transformative capacity. Hilary argued there are tensions between a tribe or family type closed community or a truly communal base for changing society. Hilary discussed the ways in which the women’s movement set up nurseries that influenced the power of the state. Another example of community initiative identifying local ambitions to act upon is the Exodus collective in Luton established in the early 1990s who won funding for a new deal for communities are an example of a DIY community initiating social housing projects and free community events. Picking up on Jeremy’s paper, Hilary argued that Momentum and the labour party membership’s potential to become agents for change outside of the parliamentary system were welcome developments. The conception of community can create a platform and base for transformative power through which initiative can lead to a wider movement, that is open putting ordinary people’s lives on the map.

PLENARY TWO: ROUNDTABLE: FUTURE OF LOCAL AND COMMUNITY MEDIA WITH ADAM CANTWELL-CORN, PETER LEWIS, IAN CARTER, DR ANDY WILLIAMS

Adam Cantwell-Corn 

CYDZkWKWwAASOOhAdam is the co-founder of ‘Bristol Cable’, which has a mission statement that clearly sets out to distinguish their offering from traditional or mainstream media organisations. “Bristol Cable is redefining local media through challenging multimedia, community action, cooperative ownership, online, in print and on the street.” Adam argued that there has been a retreat in the number of local news media in terms of its general availability and perhaps more crucially in terms of overall quality. Bristol Cable are trying to redefine the model for local media on a community basis, and to reassert that media can have a political nature. Their multi-level proposition includes an emphasis on the following:

  • Genuine engagement
  • Social business model
  • Quality, relevance, diversity and accessible journalism
  • Interesting content
  • Trustworthy

Bristol Cable provides workshops and practical skills to their 540 paying members and their social business model includes an ethical advertising charter.

Ian Carter 

Ian, editor of the KM Group, provided an overview of the KM media group; an independent, family-owned publisher with a long history in the Kent area and includes the Kentish Gazette (founded in 1717). While he acknowledged the differences between the KM media group and the Bristol Cable, Ian argued that his organization also valued their readers, the importance of the brand and relationship with the readers. Ian highlighted the 1998 launch of KentOnline “The UK’s fastest-growing regional news network”, and the subsequent period of change and digital disruption that ensued. The growth of their online viewing figures has nevertheless been tempered by numerous online competitors and services like ‘Rightmove’ (housing), and ‘Monster’ (job searches), that have damaged traditional newspaper revenue streams.

The KM media group will look at diversification and partnerships, whilst building upon the traditional strengths. Ian argued that people rely on journalists more than ever to report in an honest and trustworthy fashion, in order to counter some of the more dubious material that often appears on social media. Although the digital era has proved challenging to the KM media group, they believe that their readers are loyal to them and that 100,000 people still spend up to £1.20 per week on the printed newspapers.

Peter Lewis 

Peter Lewis provided a rich history of local community radio and suggested that “British community radio never had the type of explosive origins that we saw in the European mainland.” He also identified the Thatcher years, whereby a short-term business philosophy pervaded community radio projects and short-term licences prevailed. In 2004 the community radio sector was authorised and launched. It took its place within the voluntary charitable sector although it’s administered by the DCMS. Peter also argued that under this government, the sector is at the sharp end of a combination of outsourcing policy and cuts in local government spending. The ongoing policy of austerity was also roundly criticised. Peter raised the awareness of community radio with the audience by asking them “who listens to community radio” and “who if any included it in an academic module or course”.

Andy Williams 

Andy Williams was part of an AHRC funded team that examined the Hyperlocal sector. The research project included an online survey of 180 UK journalists, that asked about their working practices, revenues, and business models. Research revealed that the sector is now reasonably well established (73% of survey respondents have been doing it for more than 3 years). Most (70%) see what they do as a form of active participation in community life, with 57% describing what they do as “local journalism”, and 55% as “active citizenship”. Almost half of participants have some form of journalistic training/experience, which suggests an even split between amateurs and pros (or semi-pros). News tended to be geographically focused, community-oriented form of local news, local clubs, societies, leisure time activities covered regularly. Lots of coverage of local politics – which is declining in mainstream press (mentioned in 27% of posts). 42% of survey respondents have “started a campaign where the site has sought to change things locally in the last 2 years”. Andy’s research culminates in a call for support for the hyperlocal community news sector, arguing that the various groups of hyperlocal news journalists produce public interest news, but that there is a tough market out there that is dominated by established publishers in local advertising monopolies.

PLENARY THREE: COMMUNITIES ON THE MARGINS WITH LEAH BASSEL, HELEN THORNHAM, CLAIRE WALLACE

CYG7JH-WMAAZVj7Leah Bassel (University of Leicester), Helen Thornham (University of Leeds) and Claire Wallace (University of Aberdeen) delivered the plenary ‘Communities on the margins’. The keynote speakers discussed the intersections between peripheral communities, activism, public service provision, enterprising cultures and the availability of digital tools for community empowerment. More specifically, Leah focused on minority women’s activism under austerity in England, Scotland and France. Speaking about her co-authored work with Akwugo Emejulu (University of Edinburgh), Leah highlighted the different layers of inequality that can be observed not only in the marginalization of certain communities but also in the contestation of that marginalization in the context of the current economic ‘crisis’. From a different perspective, Helen pointed out that having a smart phone is not the same as having access to the online tools and services that people need, particularly when they are already marginalized for a variety of reasons (economic, disability, and so on). This leads to the conflation of digital and social issues that come together to immobilize or discriminate these individuals further. Finally, Claire offered an insight into processes of marginalization of rural communities, which are affected by their remoteness and their lack of broadband access. Based on her research, Claire concluded that there are five common factors that determine the success of broadband initiatives in these remote areas, including human, technological, social, identity and financial aspects.

PLENARY FOUR: COMMUNITIES, ACADEMIC RESEARCH AND IMPACT WITH GEORGE MCKAY, CLAIRE WALLACE, LEAH BASSEL, KATHRYN GEELS

On Thursday afternoon, we had a roundtable plenary session on communities, academic research and impact, that was led by George McKay (University of East Anglia), Claire Wallace (Aberdeen), Kathryn Geels (Nesta) and Leah Bassel (Leicester). George, as Arts and Humanities Research Council Leadership Fellow for its Connected Communities Programme (2012-18), pointed out that in order to have a successful bid the community partner must be at the centre of the project. Claire also spoke about the importance of working with community partners from the very beginning of the process, as she reflected on regeneration areas and communities in Aberdeen. Kathryn provided an insight into the projects with which Nesta is currently working, focusing particularly on ‘hyperlocal’ media. To round off the discussion, Leah highlighted that the impact agenda poses an important democratic challenge, as we need to consider who is defining the problem. Listening becomes crucial in impactful research, and Leah pointed out that, as academics, we need to talk less in order to listen properly, and we need to talk with – and not in the place of – people.

PLENARY 6: COMMUNITIES IN THE DIGITAL AGE WITH HELENA SOUSA 

CYMqztFWMAEkfgQ.jpg-largeHelena provided a detailed account of the world’s Lusophone community. There is a formal structure called the Lusophone community set up in 1996 due to common political will and interests. Helena argued that it is unequivocally a post-colonial reconstruct but Portugal was/is not the leading actor . The various Lusophone countries are located in four continents. Brazil is arguably the most important Lusophone country, with a population of over 200 million. Angola is also considered to be an important Lusophone community.

A map of the World with the Lusophone areas has been used in Portuguese schools to suggest that “Portugal is not a small country”. The authors of this map place Angola and Mozambique on top of an existing map of Western Europe to seemingly promote the importance of the geographical catchment area of the Lusophone community. There is more sceptical literature on the Lusophone construct. Authors such as Eduardo Lourenço believe that Lusophony fulfils an imaginary space of imperial nostalgia so ‘we can feel less isolated and more visible in the world, given that the imperial cycle is definitely over’. Helena referred to Lourenço as a ‘critical’ or ‘skeptical’ author.

Helena argued that Portugal is not the centre of the Lusophone community. For economic reasons, Brazil has over 200 million citizens and is an emerging economy. She stated that Brazil is one example of ‘cultural reverse dependency’. Helena also argued that the Lusophone political community per se does not explain the proliferation of Lusophone micro-communities. But it is through language that a shared discursive patrimony (both divergent and convergent) is developed.

EARLY CAREER PERSPECTIVES: PANEL SESSION

We organised a special session titled ‘Early Career Perspectives’, in which Shane Blackman, Asya Draganova, Jane Milton and Chris Pallant discussed academic careers based on their own experiences: Blackman encouraged attendees not only to publish in academic journals but to become involved in the publishing process too. Draganova shared her views on accessing academia as a PhD candidate, while Milton reflected on her experience of joining academia having worked in industry. Pallant offered useful tips for Early Career researchers to develop their careers strategically.

The MeCCSA Postgraduate Network is close to our hearts, so we were proud to offer two Best Paper awards for postgraduate students. The winners were Bethan Michael and Nikita Hayden (MeCCSA 2016 Best Student Paper, for their article on Young People’s Sense of Community in Bedford) and Roger Hallam (MeCCSA 2016 Best Student Paper on Communities, for his research on empowerment of radical campaign groups).

Posted by Einar Thorsen