Three-D Issue 28: MeCCSA Conference 2017: Culture, Media, Equality and Freedom

We were delighted to welcome delegates to the University of Leeds for the MeCCSA 2017 conference (11-13 January 2017) would like to thank everyone for contributing to three special days of events.

Delegates were welcomed on 11 January by Dr Katy Parry (convenor), Dr Lee Edwards (Acting Head of School) and Professor Jay G Blumler (Emeritus Professor). Dr Lee Edwards touched upon the conference theme of ‘Culture, Media, Equality and Freedom’ in her address, with some poignant reflections on today’s political and social climate, and the freedoms that are under threat; freedoms that we as media and communication scholars have an important role in actively defending.

The conference attracted scholars from as far away as USA, South Africa, China and Australia, with over 230 attendees in all. As summarised by Professor Blumler, the papers covered 17 different countries and topics included:

‘creative and arts production, music and the popular arts, citizenship, politics and political activism, media economics including advertising, the environment and climate change, representations of women, ethnic minorities, young people and the disabled, documentaries, soap operas, ideologies such as neo-liberalism and populism, humour and professional wrestling!’

We felt that a particular strength of the conference was the passionate and socially committed keynote addresses, all of which pushed us to think beyond our disciplinary boundaries and to consider the ethical and political dimensions of how we as academics communicate our ideas and research.

roundtableonOfcom_and_collaborationProfessor Andrew Ross (NYU) started the conference exploring the limitations of artistic rights for a variety of people working in ‘creative labour’, including the tensions between global universities and academic freedom of expression. Dr Shakuntala Banaji’s (LSE) keynote on ‘Techno-emancipation and the youthful poor’ asked academics to think further about their own stories about digital empowerment, progress and use of ICTs. For example, how do we engage with some of the powerful common sense assumptions about digital empowerment and the ‘rising’ middle class in India?

As PhD researcher Jen Carlberg summarised in her report for the MeCCSA 2017 live blog, in his keynote Professor Paul Gilroy exhorted listeners to refocus their attentions upon the ways in which neoliberal capitalism has impacted upon struggles of race and gender, for instance by transforming politics into types of commoditised expertise, labelled as ‘diversity management’. But we think it’s also important to take heart from Professor Gilroy’s later remark: ‘I think our job is to imagine a better set of possibilities in this world’.

One profession which appears to be facing a serious dilemma in the way it imagines the world is journalism, and our final keynote from Professor Barbie Zelizer (University of Pennsylvania) considered how to ‘reset’ journalism in the aftermath of Brexit and Trump’s victory. Professor Zelizer argued that not only had UK and US journalists failed to serve the public, but there was an urgent need to find critical and ‘evolving answers to what journalism is for’.

These challenging and provocative deliberations also continued within our many panels and roundtables, not to mention at the social events, with local beers helping to keep the conversation flowing at the beer festival and pub quiz.

MeCCSA Chair Professor Natalie Fenton (Goldsmiths) expressed her heartfelt gratitude for a conference that was ‘engaging, rigorous, politically attuned and lots of fun to boot!’ whilst MeCCSA Executive member Professor John Downey (Loughborough) commented that we had ‘raised the bar for MeCCSA conferences’. Indeed, there were delegates at the conference who remarked that they had not attended a MeCCSA conference before but now planned to make it a regular part of their conferencing calendar. It has been a real pleasure to play a part in showcasing the excellent and challenging scholarship undertaken in our field, and we look forward to our School continuing to contribute to such dialogue and debates.

You can re-live highlights from the conference via the ‘live blog’ archive: We are very grateful to Ian Bucknell and two Broadcast Journalism students, Harvey McMillan and Kathryn Underwood, for curating the blog; and to Jen Carlberg and Charlotte Elliott for providing reports on the keynotes. Many staff helped in organising the event but special thanks go to Anna Zoellner’s excellent proposal and planning as the original convenor, and to committee members Chris Birchall, Lee Edwards, Julie Firmstone, Sarah-Joy Ford, David Hesmondhalgh, Steve Lax, Ian MacDonald and Kate Oakley. The conference committee would also like to thank all the postgraduate helpers for their professionalism, hard work and enthusiasm, welcoming delegates with a smile despite the bitterly cold weather, and led by the exceptional James Mason.


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