Ewan Kirkland & Julie Doyle
University of Brighton
It was a pleasure to welcome delegates to the University of Brighton’s City Campus for the MeCCSA 2020 conference. Over 270 attendees joined us for this three-day event, including delegates from South Africa, China, Spain, Czech Republic, Denmark and Switzerland. Everyone who contributed, from presenters to panel chairs, from stewards to members of our technical team, deserves an enormous ‘thank you’ for their part in making this event such a resounding success.
The conference began at the Sallis Benney Theatre, Grand Parade, with a welcome from the University of Brighton’s Professor Tara Dean, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise). The opening keynote was delivered by Dr Deborah Gabriel from Bournemouth University, founder and director of Black British Academics, a global network committed to enhancing racial equity in Higher Education and society. Dr Gabriel presented a stimulating pedagogically-focused keynote on resisting racism, decolonising the curriculum, and providing students with the critical tools required to understand and dismantle white privilege. It was a timely reminder of the responsibility everyone within the academy has in combatting systemic racial inequality and exclusion. This session was followed by a range of panels, covering journalism, radio, media and mental health, activism and international television.
Despite the city being very much a summer tourist destination, we were pleased to offer delegates the best of what Brighton has to offer in terms of external events. The first day concluded with a wine reception in the opulent setting of Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. This was followed by drinks and a quiz at The Walrus, a traditional pub in the heart of Brighton’s historic Lanes.
The second day featured keynotes from Sarah Kember, Professor of New Technologies of Communication at Goldsmiths, and Trine Syvertsen, Professor in the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Oslo. Professor Kember’s keynote considered the state of contemporary scholarly publishing. The current move to make publicly funded research freely and immediately accessible to researchers and the public was explored in relation to the imposition of STEM models onto AHSS, the dominance of neoliberal and cyberlibertarian ideologies, and the exclusion of more radical alternatives and models of publishing. ‘Digital detox’ was the focus of Professor Syvertsen’s keynote which drew on user research, media policy, industry practice and media debates to explore the ambivalent individualisation of digital disconnection as a consumer lifestyle choice.
Thursday’s panels covered a wealth of areas, such as sound and music, election campaigns, black feminism, artificial intelligence and genre television. Lunch was provided by the Real Junk Food Company Brighton, a non-profit-making organisation dedicated to intercepting food waste destined for landfill and turning it into tasty nutritious meals. The organisation was chosen to reflect the conference theme of environmental awareness and sustainability. Nine network meetings were held, including the Race Network, Climate Change Network and Social Movement Network. The guest speaker at the MeCCSA AGM was Professor Matt O’Leary, director of the education research centre CSPACE at Birmingham City University, internationally recognised for his extensive body of work on the use of classroom observation in understanding and improving teaching and learning. The evening concluded with dinner at Palm Court, a fish and chip restaurant on Brighton Palace Pier.
Friday’s conference continued the wide range of papers, panels and presentations, covering such subjects as media technologies, international gender politics, film and history, gender and coding, libraries and museums, tastemakers, comedy and social media. The final keynote was delivered by Jussi Parikka, Professor in Technological Culture and Aesthetics at the Winchester School of Art, and Visiting Researcher at FAMU at the Academy of Performing Arts, Prague. Professor Parikka’s insightful talk drew inspiration from various architectural and artistic projects, in considering methodologically creative and productive ways of representing, and responding to, environmental crisis.
The conference theme of Media Interactions and Environments was diversely represented, with panels exploring environmental sustainability, ecological futures, science and environmental controversy, mediated cities, philosophies of media ecologies, environmental storytelling and digital environments. Contemporary issues and developments in media practice and academia were also reflected in panels examining digital bodies, fake news, sexual violence, participatory video, virtual reality documentaries, transmedia identities, film festival and live cinema scholarship.
Roundtable discussions on Photography and Urban Image Making, the Climate Crisis, Diversity in the Media, and Sound, Music, Space and Place reflected the interests of the School of Media’s research community, the conference theme, and the MeCCSA community. The conference made full use of the newly refurbished Edward Street building, and included stalls from Emerald Publishing, Palgrave Macmillan, Polity and The MIT Press. Thanks to the work of the Practice Network we were able to install several exhibitions in the gallery spaces, including work by Marina Wainer, Nick Cope, Richard O’Sullivan, Tim Brown and Fergus Heron.
Overall, the conference reflected a huge collective effort from staff at the University of Brighton, the MeCCSA committee, and the academic community. Special thanks are due to Irmgard Karl, Head of the School of Media; Claudia Kappenberg for all her work managing the exhibition space; Patricia Prieto Blanco for liaising with Real Junk Food; Jordan Snowden for designing the conference logo; the catering staff at Grand Parade; and Laura Williams and the South Coast Event Support team for all their work throughout the event. Without the combined efforts of all these people none of this would have been possible.