Audiences, Participation & Engagement, Creative Economy & Cultures of Production, Representation

Care Manifesto

Manfredi de Bernard and Takao Terui

The Care Manifesto stresses the need for and elaborates on an alternative to the neoliberal principles that regulate both our personal and shared existence. Informed by feminist, antiracist and eco-socialist theories, the authors argue for a radical change in the current understandings of human life, individualist and productivity. They instead argue in favour of an understanding of human life that is motivated by the recognition of the crucial complex interconnectedness of the social world and the fact that we are all dependent on one another, and we should hence care for both those near and distant from us. The manifesto reflects on the irony of the glorified archetypical figure of the productive white man that can conduct an independent life thanks to the paid and unpaid care work bore by others, mostly women and often immigrants. Long before the expansion of market logic and neoliberal politics, such gendered and racialized activity and its values have been undervalued precisely due to their association with womanhood. With many overlaps with Sen and Nussbaum’s capabilities approach and activists for disabled people rights’ claims, independency heavily relies on the fulfilment of, at least, basic needs to allow for the building of human capacity and the possibility for everyone to thrive.

The book elaborates on what ‘to care‘ would mean at different scales, and so reflects on what caring politics, kinships, communities, states, economies look like, imagining a future where people’s survival and thriving are at the core of all plans. Such imaginative effort is sustained through many examples of successful experiments that occurred on several occasions in the past, and occasionally currently occur in different countries and communities.

At a household level, Afro-American “other-mothers” and LGBTQIA+ “families of choice” represent fruitful alternatives to the nuclear family in which women with care work often become overburdened. Whilst these more recent practices show the efficacy in redistributing care work to more than one person, they also demonstrate the joys and efforts of caring, and strengthening of the ties of the wider communities in which people are living in. Guided by carefulness, communities should develop networks of mutual support, scale down social welfare with a grassroots perspective, enhance and prioritise public spaces, share commodities and experiment with innovative means of inclusion and democratic participation. Communities are then part of wider caring states, in which the Keynesian welfare state is integrated with grassroots, co-operative mutual support initiatives. The care rationale requires, in fact, a structural reconsideration of modalities of delivery of the state’s very core aim. It also encourages the fight against gross inequalities and market-delivered solution whilst orienting towards democratically controlled and collectively resourced public services. More broadly, the whole free-market economy is argued to require a radical re-discussion within a capacious perspective, in light of its tendency toward dehumanization and unequal wealth distribution. This universal care is a notion that is inspired by indigenous culture – in particular Native Americans’ – and their kinship-like relation with the environment. Lastly, the concept draws on the current development of world-sized caring relationships which can overcome differences and national borders. This stresses the importance of inter- and supra-national bodies and organisations that aim at facilitating the flourishing of such long-distanced sense of belonging with the distant and the different.

About the authors

To articulate a vision for an alternative, Care Manifesto involves authors with diverse backgrounds including Professor Andreas Chatzidakis (economist, Royal Holloway University of London), Dr Jamie Hakim (media study scholar, University of East Anglia), Professor Jo Littler (cultural study scholar, City University of London), Dr Catherine Rottenberg (literature scholar, University of Nottingham) and Professor Lynne Segal (gender study scholar, Birkbeck, University of London). While they share the same goals and critical perspectives on the ongoing neoliberal discourse on caring, the diversity of authors’ disciplines enrich the discussion on the manifesto. For instance, in the seminar, Professor Chatzidakis illustrated how the concept of the free market and economic mindsets reinforce and reproduce the exploitive condition surrounding care workers. 

You can order the book here.

Creativity & Cultural Labour, Cultures of Creativity, Representation

A PhD Overview in Three Acts: Cauldrons, Super Bowls and Export-grade Joy

Dr Camilo Solinti Soler Caicedo

On January 11th, 2020, on a final wrap-up fieldwork visit, I was approached by a hip-hop dancer, who had seemingly heard of my research on salsa:

Brayan: They told me you are doing a research to find out why the best dancers always come from the ghetto
Camilo: You could say… that’s exactly what I do
Brayan: Why is it then?”

In a few words, Brayan “Dancer LP” sent me back to the initial motivation of my doctoral research: why is that the most skilled and popular dancers of popular rhythms come from the most deprived or marginal environments and, furthermore, how can their embodied knowledge and skills be used to overcome such marginality?

The first part of the question, as explained to Brayan, could be presented by three factors: precarity, cross-fertilisation, and simmered learning. By examining my two case studies, namely the south of Bogota and the boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth in London, I was able to identify that by the time salsa dancing became an established practice in the decades of the 70s and 80s, these areas were largely inhabited by populations of immigrants: African-descendants in the case of Bogota and Latin-Americans in the case of London.  These populations often counted on a very limited economic or social capital; hence their only option of investment was on forms of embodied capital, of which salsa dancing was one of them. However, in addition to their disposition to embodied practice, there was also the possibility of sharing and transmitting knowledge within these marginal, yet extremely diverse, communities of immigrants in both Bogota and London. Sharing knowledge, and an overall sense of community, in social events involving dance was crucial for the cross-fertilisation of salsa dance as capital in these areas, which I denominated cauldrons. Finally, the shared, collective and informal conditions that fostered this transmission of embodied knowledge allowed many people, who could not afford large investments of money or time, to develop their skill in a slow and community based mannered, to which I refer to as simmered learning.  Ultimately, this modality of diversified and simmered learning in precarious environments is what allowed the creation of an embodied capital that would become increasingly valuable with the expansion of the global market of salsa.

Precisely, the second part of the question that motivated my doctoral research explores the possibility of integrating that local knowledge to global markets to foster economic and social development. Less than a month after my chat with Brayan, on the 2nd of February, I celebrated my birthday by writing the conclusions of my thesis. Simultaneously, the Latin-pop singer Shakira celebrated her own birthday by performing – next to the other big Latina, Jennifer Lopez – at the Super Bowl half-time show in Miami, which reportedly reached 103 million live viewers on TV and has over 175 million views on Youtube. Interestingly enough, these two singers had commissioned dancers that I personally know from both the salsa scene in Colombia and the commercial dance scene in London, in both cases coming from the marginal cauldrons of these cities. The reasons for dancers of popular rhythms from marginal areas performing next to Shakira and JLo can be many, particularly considering that the performance makes strong statements on Latin identity, immigration, and women empowerment vis-à-vis the political climate in the US. However, from my research, I am able to propose that beyond the mesmerizingly fast footwork and impressive acrobatics of Colombian salsa, there are common elements between the local/embodied knowledge and the global markets that are linked to the colonial and post-colonial history of Afro-diasporic dances. First, it is not gratuitous that most of the dances used in this performance (from the extremely local champeta to the hyper-transnational commercial), as well as most popular dances around the world (from hip-hop to kizomba), are the product of the development of dances of African heritage in different parts of the world, predominantly the Americas. This particularly due to the marketisation of, but also empowerment through, human bodies and their movement that has been taking place since the slave trade and plantation systems in the Americas, which in turn has led to complex processes of transmission and identity of embodied knowledge (e.g salsa has been seen as either Afro-Antillean, the Caribbean, Nuyorican, New Yorker, Cuban or Latin at different times and places and by different communities).  To understand these complex processes of negotiation, I developed the crucial concept of alegropolitics in tandem with Professor Ananya Jahanara Kabir. This refers to the efficaciousness of these dances to communicate and transmit an affect related to joy, but specific to Latin dance, hence its Hispano/lusophone etymology. This alegria operates as a pleasant and positive affect that often attracts transnational audiences into many of the currently popular dances, thus granting them – and their original practitioners – a place in global markets. What is interesting of this specific type of joy – and which I believe contributes to the understanding of its use by Jlo and Shakira to perform immigration, gender equality and racial politics – is that it does not operate as a denial of suffering, discrimination or any other painful affect, but it is a rather powerful social instrument to reconcile pain and joy, and to process post-colonial traumas beyond barriers of intersectional class, gender and race identities.

Fast-forwarding another month to my Viva, on the 17th of March, I was delighted to see that both examiners were enthralled by this nuanced, multidirectional and intersectional approach to what I ultimately called the export of the embodied capital of Colombian salsa, and that it was decided I would receive a pass without corrections. Similarly, I am happy that my conceptual tools have helped other scholars in the development of their own analysis of social dance. Lockdown took place in many cities (including Bogota and London) within a few days, which has made the popular dance scene more precarious, yet even more resilient. This has made my analysis increasingly more relevant and, therefore, I am currently looking forward to further utilise the conceptual tools of my PhD in developing specific interventions in the dance industry to foster economic, social and emotional development.

Audiences, Participation & Engagement, Creativity & Cultural Labour, Cultures of Creativity, Representation

The Asian Cultural Policy Research Seminar Series

Takao Teuri

Dr Hye-Kyung Lee (CMCI), Karin Chau (CMCI), and I (Takao Terui, CMCI) launched a new seminar series titled Asian Cultural Policy Research Seminar Series (ACPRSS). This series aims to broaden our understandings about the cultural and creative industries /cultural policy and to contribute to de-Westernising this field and de-colonising our curriculum, by sharing voices of cultural practitioners and researchers from Asia. As a first season of the series, we welcomed two early-career researchers who specialise in Asian cultural policy.

The first seminar took place online on Thu, 25 June 2020 and was titled ‘The Creative City: a sugar-coated policy in the South East Asian second-tier cities? During this first session, Dr Phitchan Chuangchai from Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand presented her findings of creative city discourse in South East Asia. Her lecture highlighted the adoption of the creative city projects in ASEAN and critically investigated its discourse and reality by elaborating case study of Chang Mai City.

In the second seminar titled ‘Cultural Policy and the Performing Arts in Taiwan’, Dr Meng-Yu Lai from Birkbeck, University of London, UK presented findings from his doctoral thesis that examined the long-term trend of theatre performance and cultural policy in Taiwan. He explained the evolution of Taiwanese identity and government policy with a particular focus on the works of the National Theatre and Concert Hall.

Abstract of presentation: Taiwan has a vibrant cultural life in which the performing arts play a significant role. Central to that role is the National Performing Arts Centre which today consists of three government-supported venues across the country: the National Theatre and Concert Hall in Taipei, the National Taichung Theatre and the Kaohsiung Centre for the Arts. Over the last 70 years, there have been striking developments in the performing arts in Taiwan. After the Nationalist government arrived on the island, there was an exclusive focus on traditional Chinese art forms, but since democracy in 1987 many other influences have been encouraged. Both local and international ideas and artists have been welcomed by successive governments whose policies have supported the performing arts at arm’s-length. Taiwan now has its own distinctive cultural identity which has Chinese origins but embraces much else besides. This talk will look at the evolution of Taiwanese identity and government policy between 1949 and 2017 with a special focus on the work of the National Theatre and Concert Hall from its opening in 1987 to 2017 to explore changes reflected in the Centre’s programmes.

Dr Phitchan Chuangchai and Dr Meng-Yu Lai’s presentations illuminated and illustrated significant but relatively overlooked cases in Asian regions. Remarkably, the online events attracted more than 100 audiences from diverse regions including Australia, China, South Korea, Japan, Bangladesh, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Africa and the UK. We had vibrant discussions covering several topics including cultural democracy, cultural identity, minority and marginalised communities, the roles of academics, cultural regeneration, and social inclusion through the CCI policy.

Following the success of these events, we are planning to organise further seminars and conferences as well as develop networks of students, researchers and practitioners interested in cultural policy in Asia. With this seminar series, we are keen to reconsider the (in)visibility of Asia in the research and teaching in cultural policy, and explore ways to make creative interventions into them from Asian perspectives.

Mediated Memory, Memory & Heritage, Representation

Emotionally Demanding Research in Lockdown

Lauren Cantillon

One definition of ‘emotionally demanding research’ is ‘research that demands a tremendous amount of mental, emotional, or physical energy and potentially affects or depletes the researcher’s health or well-being’ (Kumar and Cavallaro, 2017, p.648). There is an ever-growing literature on how to protect the mental wellbeing of a researcher or research team when working on emotionally demanding projects, but how may we take this knowledge and apply it in the lockdown conditions that many of us now find ourselves in? From speaking to colleagues, the isolation and general disruption of recent months has added a fresh layer of difficulty to already tough projects. By being upfront and honest about my own experiences I hope to encourage more public conversation(s) about how to work through what can sometimes be debilitating emotions and feelings. I also want to highlight a seemingly common gap in Arts & Humanities graduate/researcher training that no amount of resilience workshops can hope to fill.

After over a year of reading and listening to women remember sexual violence during the Holocaust, by March 2020 I thought I had figured out (on the whole) how to manage my own emotions in relation to my material. Then a global pandemic happened, and you know the rest. I write this from a privileged position; neither myself, my partner, or any family members have (knowingly) had the virus. The one friend who did catch it early on has fully recovered and is back at work. While I am facing a level of financial precarity in the long-term, many of my part-time jobs were already done remotely. I have no dependents (human or animal), but I do have access to a shared garden – as a Zone 3 Londoner in a one-bed flat I have never appreciated this outdoor space more.

The blurring of my home and my research project has always been something I worked hard to avoid; I worked from spaces on campus or treated myself to a few hours in a coffee shop. Now – my desk in the living room, no door to shut it behind – my project has spilled into domestic space, on many occasions dominating the home I share with my partner. Previously, keeping some form of separation enabled me to switch-off from thinking about research, but the lockdown has made it inescapable, relentless even in the space that is supposed to be where I rest.

With the closure of campus buildings also came the removal of the day-to-day support of my fellow CMCI PGR cohort. While we have somewhat migrated onto digital platforms (WhatsApp voice notes, Zoom/Skype/Teams video chats, and department efforts like CMC-Hi) it is not the same. It sounds ungrateful, but digital media does not, for me, allow for the spontaneity or intimacy of an in-person conversation. Recently I undertook some oral history training, during which the instructor discussed the importance of being able to pass on what you have heard after listening to traumatic memories (the idea being that the pain associated with the original story should be lessened with sharing). Coffees, meeting for lunch, agreeing to write in the company for a few hours have always been a vital outlet for talking about my research and listening to colleagues’ work in return. Without these opportunities at present, this has put pressure on my partner who, while never-endingly patient, supportive and a kind human being, is not equipped to take on what would normally be several peoples’ worth of offloading.

Lockdown was established at an unfortunate time for my project, colliding with my realisation that about 40% of the women who form my data were sexually assaulted underage. I (naively) did not anticipate this aspect to my project when setting out and am finding the literature relating to child sex abuse the most draining and upsetting thing to work through while isolated away from my normal support systems. With one newly arrived book, I can only manage 3-4 pages at a time, and in the days that follow I have experienced disturbed sleep, loss of focus, and a lack of motivation to re-engage with the material, which ultimately makes me feel like I am not being productive enough.

Luckily, I am supported by a supervisory team who fully appreciate the emotionally demanding nature of my research project and that the current pandemic conditions have only added to this. Maintaining a healthy mental wellbeing specific to working with memories of sexual violence and associated themes has been a priority from the earliest days of my project, but as I have noted above, these unforeseen conditions of lockdown have brought new challenges. Writing this blog has been an opportunity to re-examine the literature around safeguarding the emotional wellbeing of the researcher during emotionally demanding research. Not all the advice translates in our current world, but I was heartened to see parallels with my own organic attempts at self-care.

I try to avoid programmes that depict sexual violence (Williamson et al., 2020), a lesson learnt from watching three episodes of Mindhunter and becoming a sobbing wreck on the sofa. One day I will watch Unbelievable but now is not that time. Fresh air and exercise (Kumar and Cavallaro, 2017; Rager, 2005; Sikic Micanovic et al., 2020; Williamson et al., 2020), as well as spacing interviews apart to avoid an intense working period (Coddington, 2017; Sikic Micanovic et al., 2020), are also common coping strategies. With encouragement from my supervisors, I am trying to harness my emotions to power my research and analysis work. I am not always successful (I find anger and frustration much more galvanising than fear) but it is an interesting way to navigate the personal emotions heightened by the lockdown. Kumar (2017) describes something similar, in that her advisor encouraged her to value her emotional responses as part of the research process.

At an institutional level there is little (at KCL) specific to emotionally demanding research in lockdown, however generic guidance on ‘looking after yourself’, procrastination, and worry, rumination and insomnia may provide some support. The Doctoral College have put together an online mental health ‘toolkit’ available via KEATS, but it too is a generic offer for PGRs across the college. As there was a gap for training around emotionally demanding research for Arts & Humanities Faculty PGRs prior to lockdown it is little surprise that a gap remains today. Fellow CMCI PhD researcher Linda Clayworth and I have designed a workshop series to try and begin the conversation at KCL. Other groups at Sheffield, Edinburgh and Exeter are also working to raise awareness around the need for more training and support.

Navigating emotionally demanding research in lockdown is not easy, but it is less difficult if faced with others. I am not the first to say (write) this, but from my own experiences of feeling isolated and from talking to other people in similar positions I think it needs repeating – louder and louder until we are heard by our institutions, the friends and family who want to support and help us, and each other, researcher to researcher.

Audiences, Participation & Engagement, Digital Culture, Representation

Facebook as Focus Group Tool

Katrin Schindel

Faced with the impossibility of conducting research in person due to the current pandemic, many researchers find themselves looking for alternative online methods. This often poses new practical and ethical considerations, with some academics trying out online research they might not have encountered yet. Since my PhD project has been designed as an online study, I believe it might be helpful for fellow researchers to share some of my insights.

In my doctoral project, I examine articulations of “intersectionality” in digital feminist activism in Germany. In addition to a discourse analysis of the websites/blogs and social media of two activist case studies and online interviews with self-identified feminists/activists, I also plan to conduct online focus groups with my interview participants. Designing the latter has posed the biggest practical and ethical challenges and is hence what I will focus on in the following discussion.

Online focus groups offer a series of advantages: they make it possible to reach participants not only in other locations, but simultaneously in different geographical areas, which has the benefit of eliminating travel time and costs. Considering that my participants will be located in Germany, this would make these concerns obsolete. Moreover, online focus groups can be conducted both as synchronous (all participants are online the same time) and asynchronous (participants contribute in their own time; potentially over a longer period of time) practices. They can also be conducted via video group chat (e.g. Skype), simulating a face-to-face focus group, or in written form, like in a chat or forum. Written online focus groups also have the benefit that they automatically produce a transcript. Some may worry though that written focus groups won’t produce similar rich data compared to in-person focus groups, but as Underhill and Olmsted (2003) have shown, the quality of computer-meditated focus groups and groups conducted in person does not vary significantly. While the latter may have produced more words in total, both generated about the same amount of new ideas.

Another worry might be that using online focus groups requires a lot of technical know-how and funding for software. While this may be true in some cases, researchers should ask themselves if these platforms are really the best choice for the project in question. In my doctoral research, I am looking at online discourses on three different social media platforms. It is therefore sensible to conduct my focus group research using one of the examined platforms. Facebook, with the option to set up private discussion groups, appears to be a great fit.

Of course, there’s a number of ethical issues in using Facebook for data generating purposes. For instance, Facebook’s data policy means that the platform will save all data conducted throughout the research. However, since participants have already signed up to Facebook, they should be familiar with this policy. Another issue is that Facebook is a commercial platform that operates for profit. According to Fuchs (2014), the more time a user spends on Facebook, the more data, and thus economic value, they generate. Consequently, asking my focus group participants to spend more time on the platform by taking part in a discussion group would mean asking them to generate more data, producing an economic gain for Facebook, and essentially asking my participants to perform free labour. While this dilemma must not be underestimated, I also recognise that – as with most ethical questions – there is no perfect solution.

Ultimately, the benefits of using Facebook in my study outweigh the disadvantages. Ease of use is one of the benefits of using the platform. As mentioned above, since participants have already signed up to Facebook, I won’t have to ask them to sign up and can be sure they are aware of how Facebook works (Dinhopl 2017). Facebook also allows users to express their opinions, thoughts, and feelings by implementing emojis, gifs, pictures, or videos. Similarly, the focus group moderator can use videos or newspaper articles as well as polls to alternate between discussion topics. Furthermore, the layout of Facebook groups can both work as a forum and chat at the same time, giving participants more flexibility in when and how they are going to engage with the discussion topic. The reply function (@username) allows participants as well as the moderator to respond to individual messages.

However, there is still one potential problem in using online focus groups that I haven’t discussed yet – conducting focus groups online means both participants or third parties (besides Facebook itself) could make copies of the discussions. To minimise the risk of confidentiality breaches by participants, I have designed the following measurements: first, by signing the consent sheet, participants agree to keep everything posted in the Facebook group confidential. Second, since I will set the privacy settings of the groups to “closed” and “hidden”, the groups will not come up in any searches (neither Facebook nor Google or other search engines) and participants will only be able to enter by invitation. Moreover, when joining the group, participants have to read the rules/code of conduct and they have to select that they agree to them. By clicking on the ‘about’ section, group members can find the rules and re-read them at any time. In addition, the groups are kept relatively small with only 4 to 5 participants per group. Participants will, therefore, become familiar with their fellow group members quickly, which will make it less likely for them to break confidentiality. Finally, participants will be given the opportunity to set up an anonymous Facebook account solely for the purpose of the study, in case they are not comfortable using their private account. That said, full confidentiality can still not be guaranteed, however, this is never the case, whether the focus group is conducted on- or offline.

Surprisingly, culture and media researchers have not been at the forefront of online focus group research – a field pioneered by social health and medical scientists. And despite a growing number of online focus group research, I have only come across a small number of studies using Facebook as group discussion tool (Lijadi & van Schalkwyk 2015; MacLeod et al. 2016; Buelo et al. 2020). Hopefully, the current situation will lead to more culture and media scholars catching up on digital methods and online focus groups in particular.

Audiences, Participation & Engagement, Cultures of Creativity, Digital Culture, Mediated Memory, Representation

Lockdown Fashion: An exploration of dressing at home in 2020

Yana Reynolds

As a fashion sociologist, I have always been fascinated by everyday sartorial behaviours as a mechanism that allows to ‘articulate the relationship between a particular body and its lived milieu, the space occupied by bodies and constituted by bodily actions’, as fashion theorist Jennifer Craik put it. But what happens to dress in a world where the ‘lived milieu’ is drastically altered and where ‘bodily actions’ are no longer the familiar, repetitive rituals they had always been? In other words, what happens to our sartorial practices during quarantine? And what can it tell us about emerging forms of sociality in an era of social distancing; about how we negotiate the boundaries between private and public when they are no longer explicitly configured in space? To find out, my friend Lorraine (Lori) Smith and I started a project called Lockdown Fashion (which is probably a misnomer – more on it below) where we ask people to reflect on how the quarantine has affected the way they dress.

The project has only been running for two weeks. We did not intend for it to be an academic study for now, so I haven’t really been analysing the data. However, even without ‘proper’ coding, I cannot help spotting patterns and fascinating clusters of topics emerge from the responses we have received so far.

It seems that a lot of people (unlike myself!) have not stopped thinking of what they wear. Quite the contrary, clothes have suddenly become more important. As one of our respondents, costume designer Clodagh Deegan put it, ‘Sometimes I will be dressed, as in wearing clothes, but mostly I am dressed. Dressing up in lockdown makes clothes acquire new gravitas.

As our, usually expansive, life-spaces have contracted to the perimeters of our homes (and, if we are lucky, gardens), clothes, it would appear, have been taking up their roles and becoming life-spaces themselves. They separate work time from leisure time and delineate the public from the private: leaving home to go to the office, leaving work to go to a bar with friends, and leaving the bar now happen through changes of outfits. ‘I have to be dressed with a coffee to begin my day’; ‘Putting on make-up… helps keep the mental separation between work and home time’; ‘I make a point to dress in my work outfits for work hours even if nobody else sees them (most of the calls with colleagues are with cameras off)’ were common reflections. This, along with a proximity to the wardrobe that is never more than a couple of rooms away, prompts some of our respondents to change multiple times a day: one participant, Hannah, cited changing her outfits three times during one Zoom call with friends!

Another theme that emerges from responses is the agentic quality of dress. Clothes, our participants appear to suggest, can do things to us, altering our ways of being in the world.

‘If I were to wear more relaxed clothing, my feeling (worry) is that I might, over time, become less inclined to focus’, confessed Benjamin from Manchester Metropolitan University who wears smart outfits around the house. Other people cited clothes giving them ‘a sense of carry on’, a feeling of being ‘put together’, and a comforting ‘structure and neatness’.

Clothes can mold us, and they can also remind us who we are. Our interviews suggest that one of the most important roles clothing plays in quarantine is what CMCI’s Dr Paul Sweetman has called, in his eponymous article, ‘anchoring the self’; articulating personal narratives and enabling a certain ontological security. As Rosie from London College of Fashion put it poignantly, ‘[one day] I put on my pearl ring and a silver bangle I always wear (both gifts from people I love) and I suddenly realised I felt like myself, like the clothes located me and returned me to myself somehow. It was simple and immediate and restorative’.

What is particularly interesting about responses is that they rarely frame clothing as a tool for ‘presentation of the self’, in sociologist Erving Goffman’s terms; instead, what is foregrounded is wearers’ affective ties with their garments. Although the lockdown ‘is like a prolonged period of being “backstage”’, as per Alanna’s reflections, clothes carry a great deal of significance even when no one can see the wearer except perhaps their cat. And for some of our interviewees, lowered visibility during lockdown offers a chance to try out items that they would not wear in everyday life because they are too revealing, too small, too ‘loud’ or too uncomfortable, such as high heels, tight-fitting dresses or clothes that no longer fit; in other words, items that give them pleasure but are at odds with their desired public selves.

Ultimately, these strengthened affective ties with clothing might, hopefully, promote a more meaningful and slower consumption pattern once the quarantine is over, enhancing the emotional durability of our relationships with clothes. ‘It has made me appreciate the “worth” of garments more, in terms of them being of good quality and well-made’, noted  Benjamin, while Elizabeth from Central Saint Martins cites a newly found focus on re-wear and re-use of garments she already owns and loves, ‘rather than casting a flighty gaze on new curiosities’, and Jenna from Regent’s University pointed out that ‘the significance of making and taking care of clothes has been heightened’ for her in lockdown.

So far, our selection of respondents has been heavily skewed towards academics studying fashion, simply because these were the people in our immediate networks who were willing to respond. We are, however, looking for more participants from all walks of life as we want to capture a whole range of experiences and clothing behaviours. The title of our project, on reflection, is not entirely successful: what we are interested in is dress, not fashion. Whether you are dressing up or down, we want to know: all clothes stories are good stories. Anyone can take part, under their own name or anonymously; please select five questions from the list, and email us your answers along with a brief bio if you want us to include one, or anonymously if you don’t.

Audiences, Participation & Engagement, Representation

East Asian Popular Culture as a Disruptor 2020 Symposium Report

Liang Ge

The East Asian Popular Culture as a Disruptor Symposium was successfully held at King’s College London on 6th March 2020 attended by 15 PhD students and early career researchers across the UK. As the initiator and organiser of this symposium, I would like to, first of all, express my sincere thanks to all of the attendees, and the support from CMCI and Queer@King’s. Recently, it has been a hard time for nations and countries in our world following the COVID-2019 virus outbreak. At the same time, East Asians and South-East Asians are also facing the danger of racism as the virus has been weaponised as an excuse for hate crimes. Consequently, I hope this symposium can also serve to fight against the vicious racist virus and the accompanying hidden colonial discourse. 

Rationale: Disrupting the matrix of Colonial Power
The symposium was framed as a response to the work of Rey Chow’s “Where Have All the Natives Gone” (1994) and Gayatri Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak” (1988), approaching studies in East Asian popular culture as the disruptor of the matrix of colonial power, and as a reflexive voice from the Global South.

Chow’s work has encouraged me to reflect on my positionality on the topic, and think about how and to what extent the natives, the subaltern, the marginalised communities question colonial discourse, challenge social norms, and dismantle the master’s houses while not using the master’s tool. Chow (1994, 145) wrote that “where the coloniser undresses her, the native’s nakedness stares back at him both as the defiled image of his creation and as the indifferent gaze that says, there was nothing—no secret—to be unveiled underneath my clothes. That secret is your fantasm.”  The agency of the native is found not in resistance to the image, but rather in the act of bearing witness to the image’s demolition: a gaze. However, despite the native’s gaze back, the third world woman, the marginalised communities in the Global South remain unspoken (in silence). This symposium, therefore, was designed to provide a voice for the native from East Asia especially given there are more and more East Asian PhD students and researchers, and increasing scholars are paying attention to the East Asia’s context. As such, I believed it was the right time and of considerable significance to organise such a research event in which ideas could be shared and intensive discussion could be simulated.

Highlights of The Day
This symposium took the typical form of an academic conference with speakers sharing their research projects and discussants offering feedback as well as engaging in wider conversations and reflections on each of our own research projects.

In the first panel Theorising from East Asia: Dilemmas, centring on the memory, nation and transnationality, Andong Li (CMCI PhD student) interrogated the intricate methodological nationalism. Later, Li and Carolin Becke (University of Sheffield PhD students) further discussed how to critically draw on Western theories when doing research in East Asia and the difficulty of developing theories from East Asia.

Following this, Dr Chenjia Xu (Anthropology Department, SOAS Fellow) spoke about her ethnography on a fancy Bagel shop in Beijing. She highlighted firstly, how transnational food and food-ways flow in multivariate directions and take various forms, and secondly, how they are mobilised and crafted into myriad ‘technologies of the self’ to fulfil personal aspirations, to take care of one’s own body and mind, and to form distinctive subjectivities. In the subsequent discussion, Dr Xu and Amira Rahmat (University of Edinburgh) talked about how the dispersal of transnational flows away from the west-China axis, and forms multidirectional identities in the transnational food scene in Beijing.

The third panel, Gender, Sexuality and Identity in Popular Media, spurred a lively discussion on visual desire, body and embodiment, and the changing connotations of masculinities and femininities. Qi Li (KCL PhD student) explored the fetish of visuality existing in the Web 2.0 sexual culture, arguing that visual culture, structured by the camera and mediated by the visual sexuality, might have potential to lead contemporary sexual cultures to be structured around lookism: a form of discrimination based on appearance. Fang Wan (SOAS PhD student) then introduced her research on women’s writing in the Chinese internet literature, where a group of Chinese female writers work to form a reverse female gaze and establish a matriarchal world.

The negotiation between the mainstream and popular culture in East Asia was the final topic of the symposium. Veronica Wang (University of Cambridge) presented a case study on the Chinese folk-rock singer Li Zhi and elaborated on how the party-state has been renegotiating its cultural legitimacy through co-opting grassroots art and absorbing potentially subversive cultural elements into its own political ‘spectacle’. Valentina Peluso (University of Jean Moulin Lyon III), through the lens of Mikhail Bakhtin’s polyphony and a trans-textual perspective, examined the narrative devices in the Chinese Tibetan writer Alai’s novel. This lead to a discussion on the dynamics between the mainstream and marginalised culture.

Overall, this symposium sought to offer a situated and reflexive response to the challenge of the colonial matrix and stimulated insights relevant not only for researchers from East Asia or those conducting research on East Asia, but also for anyone who is part of the ongoing decolonisation project.

Creative Economy & Cultures of Production, Cultures of Creativity, Representation

Practising Hope in the Netherlands

Dr Jonathan Gross

Just three days after the UK left the European Union I travelled to Nijmegen in the eastern Netherlands. I was there to visit the HAN University of Applied Sciences, which holds an annual International Week. This is the opportunity for students to attend workshops offered by academics from across Europe and beyond. I had been asked to provide a session that would appeal particularly to students preparing for a career in social work. This may seem a strange request given that I am based within a department of Culture, Media & Creative Industries, and my work addresses questions of cultural policy, politics and participation.

The invitation came from Erik Jansen, an academic based at HAN, whose interests include both social work and art. Erik and I got to know each other via the Human Development and Capability Association (HDCA), including the major conference I helped organise in London in September 2019 – the first time the HDCA has met in the UK.

Creator: Eric Scholten. Copyright: Concept in Beeld

The capability approach is a set of ideas developed by Indian economist Amartya Sen. It began as an intervention within development economics, but the approach has subsequently become influential across a wide range of disciplines. Offering a framework with which to understand ‘prosperity’ beyond GDP, it challenges the assumptions of mainstream economics, asking: what are the lives that people can actually live? These ideas have proven attractive and useful to a wide range of researchers, policymakers and practitioners.

One of the things that makes the HDCA so exciting – and sometimes challenging – is the interdisciplinarity its conferences make possible. People working in areas including economics, philosophy, political theory, human rights, indigenous rights, international development, urbanism, childhood studies and disability studies, to name a few, gather around these ideas.

One strand of my recent research has been to apply the capability approach to cultural policy, to develop new ways of conceptualising what governments are ultimately seeking to achieve when they get involved in culture. Building on these ideas, at the London conference I presented a paper I had shared in various stages of development over the previous year. It addressed the politics of hope, and it was this research that Erik was keen for me to share with his students in Nijmegen.

The starting point for the piece is to ask: what is the role of cultural policy at a time of climate emergency and right-wing populism? The paper argues that – notwithstanding its historically junior role within government – cultural policy may have a specific and important part to play during our troubled times. Namely: to create conditions conducive to people narrating their place in the world (individually and collectively), and knowing that their actions matter. In other words, to deliberately promote conditions for hope.

The paper has now been published in the International Journal of Cultural Policy as ‘Practices of hope: care, narrative and cultural democracy’. It includes discussion of a wide range of literature on the nature of hope, and links these ideas to the challenges of responding to our populist moment.

The paper is concerned with practices of hope across several scales – from the micro to the macro – beginning with a case study of one organisation in west London that works with young people on the periphery of the education system. Drawing on this example, I suggest that practices of ‘care’ are crucial to hope. It is when we experience care that we can trust our environments – and it is trust in our environments that enables us to know that our actions matter.

It was a challenge and a pleasure to take these ideas to Nijmegen and design a workshop for students who I had been told would be primarily interested in practical applications. My colleague Nick Wilson has written about creativity as a ‘boundary phenomenon’ – taking place particularly at locations where different identities, disciplines and ways of doing things meet. Being invited to speak with social work students felt like a creative process of that kind: the opportunity to extend my thinking by bringing it into relation with a new set of practices and concerns.

Alongside the workshops, Erik organised a symposium on the theme of hope. This also provided the opportunity for exchanging ideas across disciplinary boundaries. At a time at which borders and boundaries are being ever more strongly enforced, it may seem trite to draw attention to the value of boundary-crossing. Nonetheless, perhaps insights of this kind can bear being repeated a little too often.

Hope is about how we relate to the future and imaginatively project ourselves into it. But in its concern with the future, hope mediates between what’s been and what’s to come. In June 2019 Jessica Rapson and I organised a symposium at CMCI on these themes, Politics of Doom, Politics of Hope, during which we heard contributions from disciplines including cultural studies, psychosocial studies, memory studies and utopian studies. One of the aims of that event was, precisely, to start a conversation on these ideas that is both interdisciplinary and connects with activities beyond academia. As I write further on the politics of hope in the coming months, I would be very pleased to hear from others interested in these themes.

During the week in which the UK formerly broke away from the European Union, my trip to Nijmegen confirmed for me – as if I needed the reminder – the role that border-crossing can play in generating new possibilities. In telling new stories of ourselves during uncertain times, opening new futures, the first step may often be to create the conditions of trust in which to safely bridge some boundaries together.

Digital Culture, Memory & Heritage, Representation

Understanding contemporary Chinese national identity formation through Taiwan

Andong Li

Scholarship of nationalism studies has been trying hard to respond to the paradox that nationalist sentiment sharply surges in many countries while the world is becoming more digitalised and globalised. It seems to be increasingly obvious that the cosmopolitan promise of globalisation and digitisation has failed, and cross-Strait (Chinese mainland-Taiwan) relations might be a ‘great’ case to exemplify this argument. However, an abstract definition of the ‘Chinese nationalism’ as top-down, arbitrary brainwash would be nothing but an oversimplified moral judgement that prevents observers from nuancedly understanding people’s everyday experience of the Chinese nation. Therefore, my PhD research takes the perspective of national identity formation on the individual level to investigate how individuals nationalise themselves in socio-cultural contexts. From this point of view, there is no singular ‘Chinese nationalism’ but heterogenous ‘Chinese nationalisms’ dependent upon the national identity-making of individuals.

The Chinese mainland and Taiwan have long been separated after World War II, with barely any channel for people-to-people exchanges until recent years. The internet, especially social media, provides platforms for people from both sides to directly communicate with each other. Social media also give voice to individuals, enabling them to make public their own narrative about Taiwan. The growing amount of user-generated content may indicate a ‘decentralization of history’ which challenges the official historical narrative. On the other hand, China and Taiwan agreed on group travel permits to Taiwan in 2008 and individual travel permits in 2011. Although the number declined from 2016 when the independence-leaning politician Tsai Ing-wen became the president, the Chinese mainland has always been the top source of tourists to Taiwan since 2010. Unprecedently since 1949, permission to travel to Taiwan brings sharply increasing opportunities for Chinese people to set foot on Taiwanese soil, providing them with embodied experiences of the island that one could rarely have in the past.

Considering these increasing opportunities, my research sets out to investigate how university students in the Chinese mainland make sense of their national identity by remembering and imagining Taiwan through two interrelated foci: everyday uses of social media (as mediated memory) and travel to Taiwan (as embodied memory). As mentioned above, these two aspects become salient ways of encountering Taiwan in the global-digital age.

In July 2019, I conducted my pilot research in Beijing where I did eight in-depth interviews and two focus groups with eight university students (four are undergraduate, the other graduate). Four of them have been to Taiwan. The pilot research looks at how they remember and imagine Taiwan through social media and tours, what is the relationship between these two forms of encounter, and how they make sense of their national identity by remembering and imagining these encounters. Interview questions are regarding the ways they get to know Taiwan, their memories relevant to Taiwan, their impressions on Taiwan and Taiwanese people, and their opinions on cross-Strait relations. Preliminary findings of the pilot research may be helpful to explain the paradox I described at the beginning – the tension between globalisation, digitisation, and the rise of nationalism.

Whereas social media and transnational tourism do provide mainland Chinese university students with more possibilities to interact with Taiwan, frequent interactions do not necessarily lead to mutual understanding. Instead, these interactions could also be chances to discover conflicts and reproduce nationalist sentiment. In terms of social media, more university students tend to critique highly militant and nationalist comments online while they also stand for unification between the mainland and Taiwan. All the informants find the discussions on social media about Taiwan quite political and aggressive. Seven of them express negative feelings to the ‘little pinks’ (nationalist young people who defend the government and actively engage in online communities of popular culture) on social media, but they also think that Taiwanese people and government have been increasingly unfriendly than before.

In terms of travel, more university students are inclined to remember their tours to Taiwan politically, regardless of whether their experiences are politicised or not. This reveals that experiencing and remembering the experienced are two separate steps. The latter is not time travel to the exact past but the reconstruction of the past at present. For example, most informants in group discussions claimed that Taiwanese people were ‘too easy to be satisfied with little happiness (小确幸)’ and lacked ‘entrepreneurial spirit’. These critiques are framed into a hierarchy that celebrates and reconfirms ‘the modern Mainland’, as one of the informants put it, ‘after going to Taiwan, I feel like Taiwanese people are really nice, but Taiwan is under-developed and inconvenient, not as modern as my expectation… the pace of life there is so slow. It is not suitable for young people to live in such an atmosphere. In the mainland, things are much better.’

Globalisation and digitisation should be understood not as cosmopolitan forces against nationalism, but as socio-cultural contexts that cultivate a certain kind of nationalism. These contexts influence individuals’ national identity formation along with other non-negligible contexts in China, which I am not able to demonstrate further in just one article. For instance, the party-state-leading patriotic education launched in 1994, the introduction and generational re-interpretations of the western concept ‘nation’ in the modern history of China, and more recently the trade war between China and the United States – all of them are significant elements in the shaping of Chinese national identities.

Drawing on Taiwan as a lens for examining contemporary Chinese nationalism, I provisionally propose a term ‘empathetic nationalists’ to conceptualise the paradoxical mindset of nationalised individuals in global-digital China. Being open-minded thanks to globalisation and digitisation, some well-educated, middle-class young people now have more chances to encounter Taiwan and the world – either digitally or bodily – but are still nationalist. Those ‘empathetic nationalists’ adopt a comparatively mild version of nationalism, sticking to ‘One China principle’ (the principle insists that the People’s Republic of China is the only sovereign state under the name of China, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China) while empathising but not accepting Taiwanese people’s national identification.

Representation

The ‘Migration Crisis’ in Italy: a Crisis of Identity?

Maria Paola Pofi

My PhD research project aims at investigating the phenomena of human mobility (migration) and mediated mobility (mediation) across national borders through a study of migrant transnational lives in Italy. In particular, placing the research within the context of the ‘migration crisis’ – and the conflicts over cultural diversity it triggered – has led me to deepen the reasons, nature, and consequences of labelling a social phenomenon as an emergency. In this short contribution, I’m going to propose a reading of the ‘migration crisis’ in Italy as a crisis of identity.

Italy has had a key role in the so-called Crisis in the Mediterranean due to the centrality acquired by the Sicilian island of Lampedusa and the south-Italian coasts as points of landing of flows from North Africa. The first symptoms of the crisis emerged in 2011 when, as a consequence of the Arab Spring and the Libyan Civil war, it was registered a sharp rise in departures towards Europe. Since the beginning of the crisis, political and media discourses have been overall dominated by narratives that constructed the new arrivals as a threat to Italian culture, a security menace, and an economic burden. Disembarkations, framed as an invasion, of African or Arab migrants, with different social values and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, have destabilised the cohesion of the country. Specific foreign communities have been politically categorised as the main reason behind all the country’s ills, creating fertile ground for xenophobic populist reactions. The political and social response demonstrates how the crisis was not so much linked to the number of arrivals but conversely to their origin, and therefore it is within broader conflicts around ethno-cultural differences that it needs to be analysed. Indeed, even though after the peak registered in 2016 sea arrivals progressively decreased, immigration still represents a predominant theme in Italian political, media and public debates.

What we are witnessing – in Italy and elsewhere – is a return of the politics of fear, mainly promoted by nationalist fair-right parties that base their strengths on the exclusion of the Other to redefine an imaginary definition of the nation as a homogeneous cultural community. While resurgent forms of ethno-nationalism may be seen as a reactionary response to phenomena of globalisation, dislocation, and fragmentation; in Italy, it can also be related to the history of nation-making and the complex process of national identity construction.

Italy has always struggled with conflicting visions of its identity due to regional particularities. Since its unification (1861), the country had to deal with the need to homogenise all the areas and populations that were aggregated from an administrative point of view, despite historical, geographical, and cultural differences. The fragmented structure of the country, and the deep rift between the north and the south in particular, represented the major obstacle to the formation of an Italian collective identity. The famous expression of the nationalist Massimo D’Azeglioin the aftermath of the unification “We have made Italy, now we must make Italians” well represents the constructed ideal of Italian-ness. Beyond failed attempts to nationalise Italians through the erasure of minority languages and cultures (i.e. Fascism), the Northern League is the political party founded in 1991 in a specific attempt to shape an imagined community of northern Italy – Padania – as an alternative to the south. For more than twenty years, the party promoted the northern regions’ secession through discriminatory campaigns against the south and its populations. Only the national and international developments that marked the beginning of the new millennium have gradually modified the Northern League’s ideology and opened up a new way to pursue the national unity taking advantage of the ‘migration crisis’.

Within the development of the crisis, indeed, the new League far-right party, and its leader Matteo Salvini, has gained a key role in defining the terms of the debate under populist slogans such as Italians First, Stop Invasion, Closed Harbours etc. By identifying an external enemy – migration – and no longer an internal one – the south – the League has been able to stand as defender of Italy and Italians and, in so doing, achieve resounding consensus among the electorate. The presence of newcomers in the Italian landscape has therefore represented a significant development for the contemporary imaginary (Bouchard, 2010). The xenophobic discourses and practices that nowadays rekindled the mythology of Italian-ness have been used to redefine the boundaries between the inside and the outside, the native and the foreign, contributing to strengthening the previously weak ideal of national cohesion and pride.

What is missing, within the current debate and future perspective, is that the movement of people and the cultural heterogeneity of the country have historically been, and increasingly are, integral features of the Italian social structure. The concept of “Italian-ness”, as Gramsci reminds us, cannot be separated from phenomena of colonisation, internal and transnational migration that marked the history of the country and its formation (Gramsci, The Southern Question 1966). It seems, however, that national and transnational contexts, connections, and references – and the memory of the Italian diaspora in particular – have not been elaborated by the collective culture. This could help to explain why Italy is considered as a mono-cultural and mono-religious (Caucasian and Catholic) country and why a model of cultural pluralism has not yet been developed. It is only by recognising the past and looking at the future that Italy could find its identity in its transnational character.

Audiences, Participation & Engagement, Museum Curation, Representation

Chile: Doing research in times of social change

Catalina Urtubia Figueroa

Just two months ago, Chilean president Sebastian Piñera stated in a televised interview that Chile was “an oasis in Latin America”, referring to its stable democracy and growing economy. On October 18th, it became evident that Chile was more likely to be a mirage when mass protests kicked off in Santiago due to a rise in the subway ticket fare. This rapidly escalated and led to an ongoing social movement and mass protests in the whole country, including a historical demonstration with over 1.2 million participants on October 25th. The Chilean protests now demand social justice in a broader sense, questioning the severe inequality in the country. These protests have been followed by brutal police repression, resulting in over 700 allegations of human rights violations since mid-October. This piece of writing is a reflection about how this situation has challenged and influenced my research, as a Chilean PhD student at King’s; but also, and more importantly, it thinks over the social responsibilities of academic research.

The Santiago Times

                                                                                                          

The Chilean protests found me at the end of my first year as a PhD student in the CMCI department. Throughout this year, I’ve been researching about cultural diversity representation in Chilean art museums, especially in the area of collections. That said, one of the key elements in my research was to explore the responsibility of cultural institutions in promoting cultural democracy, especially in the post-dictatorship period (onwards 1990). Cultural participation in Chile has been historically low, and this was one of my core arguments to highlight the social role of museums in promoting spaces for citizens’ participation.

Then, suddenly, Chile woke up. Protests in Chile increasingly adopted a participative approach, questioning the political elite and claiming for the need of more democratized institutions. An example of this is a widespread demand for a change of constitution (as the current one was created during the dictatorship) through a constitutive process that allows citizens to vote for direct representatives, whose only purpose would be drafting a new constitution. As a result of these protests, a referendum has been approved to take place in April 2020, for Chileans to vote if they want a new constitution and what mechanism will be used for that purpose. At the same time, different sectors and neighbourhoods have been organizing Citizen Open Forums (called Cabildos) to discuss the situation in the country and developing proposals for a new Chile.

Like every other public institution in the country, cultural institutions have been directly challenged by social protests. Outside the National Library, protesters hanged a canvas that reads as “Poetry is in the street”, and in the front of the Fine Arts Museum there are several graffiti questioning elitism in cultural institutions. Facing this situation, many cultural workers have organized different spaces for social action. The most successful so far has been the Citizens’ Cultural Open Forum (Cabildo Cultural Cuidadano), organized by workers from various cultural institutions. This event, which was summoned through social media, ended up with over 2000 attendees, which surprised not only the organizers but the sector as a whole.

All that I’ve mentioned above has had different impacts on my research. Not only because it has challenged presumptions that were deeply embedded in my approach, but also because of the distress it causes me on a personal level. This has kept me thinking of ways I can make my research meaningful for the situation the country is facing now; while dealing with the contradictions of sitting in my desk in London, funded by the same government that now is being accomplice of over 20 deaths, hundreds of severe eye injuries and several allegations of sexual violence by agents of the state.

While I’ve found frustrating to realize that I just can’t address all these issues in my research, I’ve been thinking of ways to connect it with the contingency. Firstly, the way the protests have directly challenged cultural institutions in Chile has given me a strong argument to highlight the urgency of reforming museums in the country. At the same time, this has supported the idea that the democratization of the museums’ spaces should be crucial in my discussion. Based on this, while my former approach was strongly focused on institutional perspectives and professional practice, now I consider fundamental to look at museums’ communities and their demands with more attention.

This also demand changes in my methodology, which originally focused on interviews with museums’ professionals and analysis of museums’ permanent collections. My current methodology aims to include testimonies related to the cultural open forums, through participant observation of these events and posterior interviews with the forums’ attendees and organizers. This has meant to develop modifications in my ethics clearance (in terms of sampling of participants), which was first granted before the social protests in Chile started. Besides this, I’ve also included questions regarding the current Chilean scenario and the role of discussion spaces –such as the open forums– as part of the interviews I’ll be conducting with museums’ professionals.

Lastly, I consider this rethinking of my research in relation to the political contingency as one of the most meaningful learnings of my first year as a PhD student. This has pushed me to address what I think is the social responsibility of academic research. This has meant to change plans and understand research as an organic process that must acknowledge current and ongoing events. It has also placed me not as an observer, but as an active participant of social change, what has made me reflect more strictly on the resources and tools I have on hand to take action. The protests in Chile have become a wake-up call for me as a researcher. I’m sure the Chilean social movement will keep on challenging my research in the upcoming years, and for that, I’m deeply grateful.

Cultures of Creativity, Digital Culture, Museum Curation, News, Representation, Uncategorised

#KuñaJesareko: Instagram as a place for the female gaze

Jazmín Ruiz Díaz

I have recently had the opportunity of presenting my book chapter The Female Gaze in Times of Selfies as a member of the Feminist & Gender Research Reading Group at King’s/Queen Mary (Liss DTP). This chapter — part of the book Amalgama: Women, Identity & Diaspora— represents the culmination of what started as an arts-based research (ABR) project for my master’s dissertation. Having the chance of discussing my work with other feminist researchers and colleagues from the CMCI Department was a wonderful way of closing my first year of PhD. Moreover, the reading was just an excuse to start an exciting dialogue with all the members of the group around a diversity of topics such as female gaze, digital culture and the possibilities for feminist arts-based research. In the hope of moving forward this debate, I want to share some of the main ideas developed in the book chapter and in the project behind it: Kuña Jesareko.

It all started with an Instagram challenge

As a social network, Instagram is a digital space for communication, but, at the same time, it is a place for representation. The project Kuña Jesarekobegan with the intention of using this platform in its two extensions -participatory and representational-, establishing through it a discussion around the concept of the female gaze.

Kuña Jesarekomeans ‘female gaze’ in Guarani, one of the two official languages in Paraguay, along with the Spanish. As the title may suggest, it aims to create a narrative about the Paraguayan female gaze, recognising the artistic value of the images shared by women from this country on social media. Understanding that the relations of looking are relations of power, the project was born as an attempt to empower Paraguayan women as creators of images. Then, relations of power are subverted by making them ‘not only the bearers of meaning but its makers too’, as Laura Mulvey (1989) said. And when they become the main topic, they inscribe diverse femininities, with different bodies, lifestyles, ages.

A central influence behind the original idea of the project was Paraguayan artist Regina Rivas. Her work on illustration reflects a fresh perspective of the female gaze, which found on Instagram the perfect platform to connect with a young audience craving this type of content. Scenes of sex, women in diverse roles and the female body itself are some of the themes that are continuously depicted by this illustrator.

After a discussion with Rivas about the best way to find creative work in Paraguay that fitted into the notion of the female gaze, we agreed that Instagram was the best space to establish a discussion around the subject with other practitioners. Then, we decided to launch a challenge for the 8thof March, the International Women’s Day (IWD), in 2018. To this purpose, we created a hashtag that summarised the intention of the project. The feedback was beyond our expectations: we found more than one hundred posts following #KuñaJesareko after the 8thof March. But this did not stop there, the project being an ongoing process: as I wrote these lines, the number of posts has reached three hundred.

The second part of the project involved gathering the pictures -or ´reposting’ them- on an Instagram account specially created: @kunajesareko. The third and final part was launch in the form of a blog (www.kunajesareko.org), with an online exhibition, and a series of essays about the female gaze. They examined what it means, how can be constructed, how it does challenge notions of femininity linked with national identity, and what is the role of self-representation and other ways of expression within the framework of digital culture.

For this purpose, I chose — as the curator of the exhibition — twenty-five images displayed in five thematic sections: ‘Through the looking glass’, about self-representation in a digital context; ´Kaleidoscopic identities’, regarding topics such as belonging, national identity and race; ‘The body as a manifesto’, gathering images that depict the body in a political sense; ‘Materialising female desire’, which is dedicated to images erotically charged; and finally, ‘Women looking at women’, where women’s portrays as the main topic were displayed.

The afterlife of Kuña Jesareko

Almost two years after the first challenge was posted, a lot of things have happened. While the Instagram account became a digital community — still active — for gathering and promoting the work of Paraguayan artists, the project itself reached other spaces. In April, the slow fashion Paraguayan store Oh! Sí reunited Kuña Jesareko’s artwork for the one-night event Mujeres Mirando Mujeres(Women looking at women). In June, I could present the project in the University of Oxford, as part of the first Latin American Art and Cultural Research Symposium in the UK: Art + Identity. While in August was the launch of the book Amalgama: Women, Identity and Diaspora.

However, there are still numerous gaps to fill with further research. First of all, in terms of ABR as an innovative approach for contributing to academic knowledge while having a social impact. Secondly, Instagram, as a key modern site for the exhibition/discussion/contestation of images of femininity and the body, is an excellent medium to explore ideas through ABRP. I am excited to see how this dialogue between female gaze, digital platforms and ABR continues.

Creativity & Cultural Labour, Representation

Intersemiotic Journeys between Practice and Theory

Dr Ricarda Vidal  

Can we translate between poetry and dance, between painting and music, between scent and performance in the same way as we translate between French and English in literary translation? How would such a translation differ from response, adaptation or illustration? And what might we find out about communication if we tried to answer these questions?

A collage of photographs taken during the first Translation Games exhibition in the Old Anatomy Museum at King’s College.

In 2013, I set up the practice-based project Translation Games, together with Jenny Chamarette from Queen Mary University of London and with funding from Culture at King’s. We commissioned a single source text, a flash fiction story by American writer Colleen Becker, and worked with student translators from King’s College and Queen Mary and with five professional artists and three textile designers. Using chain translation, multiple translation and intersemiotic translation, we produced 25 versions of the source text, which were drawn together in an exhibition in the Old Anatomy Museum: it was translated into nine languages, textile and fashion design, dance, installation, performance, film, sound art and silk painting.

Since then, I have worked with a variety of practitioners, with poets, artists and translators, putting on different events in art galleries, schools, libraries and other public venues.

The book cover for Translating across Linguistic and Sensory Borders showing an image by Danish artist Madis Katz

In 2016, I joined Madeleine Campbell as co-leader of the Special Interest Group on Intersemiotic Translation, which she had founded within the framework of the Cultural Literacy in Europe forum. We launched the group with a symposium at King’s in July 2016 and began work on an edited collection for which we pulled together the research and experience of translators, artists and scholars who had employed intersemiotic translation in their practice. Translating across Sensory and Linguistic Borders: Intersemiotic Journeys between Media (Palgrave) was published earlier this year. For me, the book offered a way to analyse and explain what had been happening in Translation Games, to compare my own experience with that of others and to find ways of theorising, abstracting, and thus universalising the insights gained from practice.

In our book we argue that what makes intersemiotic translation translation is not so much the end result but the process. This entails an explicit focus on the translator’s gaze, whereby the translator makes her/himself visible to the reader in the target artefact. Gaze here refers to the intense looking and the full immersion in the text, with eyes, ears, skin, nose, limbs and heart. After all, even in literary translation, the translator must always employ more than just the visual sense: a poem can be read, spoken, heard, performed as well as acted out, smelled (by association) or felt. And, of course, the same goes for a painting, a film or dance, etc.

While in literary translation the translator needs “to convey the sense of the source artefact, intersemiotic translation involves a creative step in which the translator (artist or performer) offers its embodiment in a different medium.” (Campbell & Vidal, 2019, p.xxvi ). Intersemiotic translation is then not so much focused on the translation of sense or meaning, but rather on the experience of the text or artefact. The translator, we propose, then slips into “the role of mediator in an experiential process that allows the recipients (viewer, listener, reader or participant) to re-create the sense of the source artefact for themselves.” (Ibid.)

A film still from The Lost Places (2017), Kate McMillan’s translation of Deryn Rees-Jones’ poem ‘Home’ into an art video.

Hence, intersemiotic translation opens up multiple opportunities for facilitating intercultural communication across language barriers. As such, it became a central element of another project I initiated in 2016: Talking Transformations: Home on the Move, which I co-lead with translation activist Manuela Perteghella, investigates the effect of migration on notions of home in Europe via workshops, exhibitions and events which employ literary and intersemiotic translation.

In 2017, we commissioned British poet Deryn Rees-Jones and Polish poet Rafał Gawin to lead creative writing workshops with communities in Britain and Poland on the theme of home and to subsequently compose a poem. Deryn’s poem “Home” was then translated into French and Spanish and back into English and Rafał’s “Dom. Konstrukcja w procesie sądowym” into Romanian and English and back into Polish. At each stage of their translational journey the poems were also translated into video art (see Fig. 3). In summer 2018, the literary and filmic translations were shown in an Arts-Council-funded travelling exhibition with stops at the Whitstable Biennale, the Ledbury Poetry Festival and the National Poetry Library in London. The exhibition was accompanied by translation workshops during which we invited participants to access the poems through the art videos as well as through voice recordings of the poets and translators and to then produce their own translations. Intersemiotic translation enabled participants not only to access the poems through languages they did not know but it also enriched their reading of the languages they were familiar with, alerting them to layers of meaning and possibilities of interpretation they may not have been aware of previously.

The invitation to become translators themselves encouraged the deeply personal engagement of close reading inherent to translation and, at the same time, allowed participants to discuss the intimate topic of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ with the distance required by working with an original created by somebody else. A selection of poems composed by workshop participants will be published alongside the original poems and translations in our anthology Home on the Move: Two Poems Go on a Journey (Parthian Books: October 2019).

Together with Madeleine Campbell I am are now preparing a second symposium on intersemiotic translation for 2020. Further research will build on the insights from our edited volume. Here, we are particularly interested in how intersemiotic translation can be employed in formal education as well as in community settings with a view towards learning, conviviality and social cohesion.

Digital Culture, Media Industries, Representation

A Window into South Africa through Reality TV and Social Media

Addiel Dzinoreva

In 1994 South Africa finally ended apartheid and a new country led by Nelson Mandela was born, carrying the hopes and dreams of previously disenfranchised black people. For black people in the media and creative industries, and hopeful storytellers like myself, there was great excitement about the opportunities the new dispensation provided for our voices and stories to be told, heard and shared. However, the reality was that most media companies the early 90s were not ready and had no immediate motivation to (meaningfully) cater for the more populous black audience merely because they were not as wealthy and lucrative as minority white audiences. Fast forward to 2019, thanks to more inclusive economic policies, there has been an emergence of a black middle class that is ’empowered’ technologically, politically and economically. However, its development also means some are left behind for various economic and social reasons, creating division and tension between this black middle class and the greater black working class. These tensions are manifesting in television content being produced in South Africa, particularly in the popular and highly-rated reality television shows. The reality shows include local versions of international formats such as The Bachelor, Survivor, The Real Housewives of Johannesburg and Idols. My research, however, is focused on local formats such as Date My Family and Our Perfect Wedding that drive extensive social media debates and discussions about the post-apartheid black South African narrative.

South African television companies are taking advantage of the growing black middle class by creating products and content aimed specifically at this population group. For example the recently launched pay television channel Moja Love on MultiChoice’s DStv satellite pay-tv service which television critic Thinus Ferreira described as a channel ‘with daring, boundary-pushing reality shows about topics previously discussed in “hushed tones”’.  At the 2019 Content Showcase event Moja Love’s Head of Unscripted Content, Bokani Moyo, stated that “Our mission is to create content that is authentic, the lived experience of our communities. We want our viewers to see themselves in experiences-in-the-real.’

This claim of representation, authenticity and realism of the post-apartheid South African black experience through reality television needs to be interrogated through academic research. Indeed, there has been a growing outcry on social media platforms with some viewers accusing the producers of these shows of merely capitalising on negative stereotypes of black people for the sake of entertainment. For example, Moja Love’s reality show, Uyajola 9/9, which exposes infidelity, has been accused in the press and social media of using ‘black pain for ratings’. Unlike during apartheid when black people were not represented in media production, now, you have executives, commissioning editors, producers and participants who are black telling their stories. These stories are based on the premise of depicting and representing the real lives, stories and cultures of black people – designed to appeal to this emerging black middle-class market.

At the same time, South African societal transformation is being accelerated by increased access to the Internet and social media platforms, with an inherent promise to erode encrusted social barriers by affording audiences more agency and participation. My current research is about how the growth of social media and reality television in post-apartheid South Africa has created spaces in which television audiences can participate in the creation of meaning and how South African audiences interrogate or support how television content, and its ideologies, represent their classed reality. Theoretically, both platforms, reality television and social media, afford participants and viewers the opportunities for representation and participation.  However, these ‘new spaces’ are not neutral; they have contested spaces where television producers, are looking for entertaining, high rating, profit-making shows and also looking to influence viewers on social media – platforms that give audiences the agency to participate in how reality is re-presented.

The theoretical concepts I’m interested in are participatory culture and media representation and use of class. Why class? In South Africa, recent political and economic policies have seen segments of previously marginalised black people become part of the middle class. Therefore, you have previously working-class people now in powerful positions as television producers and executives, creating highly-rated content based on ‘where they are from’ and ‘keeping it real’. The question is, are they ‘keeping it real’ or exploiting class ideologies and stereotypes for eyeballs?  In what ways are viewers pushing back against how they are being portrayed using social media?  Or are they? The South African class structure gives us insight into factors that govern the power relations between television and its audience as both adapt to new participatory media. Thus, it allows for a better understanding of this ‘new’ society and emerging social relations.

Audiences, Participation & Engagement, Digital Culture, Media Industries, Representation

Researching Media, Gender, and Sexuality in East Asia

Dr Eva Cheuk-Yin Li

Broadly speaking, my academic and teaching interests focus on two inter-related areas. Firstly, East Asian media and culture. Secondly, gender and sexuality through the lens of the multi-directional flows of transnational and regional popular culture, audience participation (or non-participation), and everyday practices. I am interested in understanding the interplay between media texts, creative industries, and the process of consumption and appropriation. My research aims to investigate the ways in which power operates in everyday social interactions and through structural inequality by examining both on-screen representations and lived experiences. In spite of the increasingly diverse gender and sexual representations in East Asia, I am keen to study the ways in which these visual representations have (or have not) influenced or transformed gender and sexual practices at the individual and institutional levels. My methods are qualitative, ethnographic, and empirical.

The first strand of my research concerns fandom, participatory culture, and identities. For example, in a paper that I co-authored with Alistair Fraser (University of Glasgow), we explored the mediated cultural memories of Kowloon Walled City in colonial Hong Kong, often known as one of history’s greatest anomalies (Fraser and Li, 2017). In addition to examining a range of materials, such as government documents, media texts, interviews, video games, and Internet forum discussions, we interviewed fans who cosplayed characters in a local manga, which was a fictional story inspired by the history of the walled city. In this way, we traced the multi-directional cultural flows within Asia (such as Hong Kong and Japan) and beyond (such as the Anglophone cyberspace/gaming culture) and its relationship with the formation of local identity among Hong Kong young people who grew up in the postcolonial era. We concluded that the transmedia circulation and remediation of Kowloon Walled City has given rise to a second life for this historical site in which bodies, memories, meanings, objects, and identities are constantly dis-embedded and re-embedded.

BigLove Alliance’s ‘ALL4LOVE’ poster featuring Hong Kong Singer-songwriter Denise Ho aka HOCC (Left) and mainland Chinese actress Zhou Xun (right). Photo by Wing Shya. Courtesy of Wing Shya.

The second strand of my research, which is often intertwined with the first, focuses on gender and sexuality and engages with the growing scholarship of queer Asian studies through an empirical lens of media and culture. For example, in order to understand the tantalising interplay between popular culture and gender and sexual cultures in Hong Kong, between 2009 and 2014, I conducted participant observation and 33 interviews with the fans of Denise Ho (a.k.a. HOCC), the first publicly out lesbian singer in the Chinese-speaking entertainment industry (Li, 2017). My analysis explores the shifting notion of ‘normal’ among her fans as they negotiated HOCC’s stardom before and after her coming out, as well as their own gender and identities, by drawing parallels with the illiberal political system, the resurgence of evangelical fundamentalism, and the development of the local tongzhi (literally ‘common will’ or ‘comrade’, shorthand for LGBTQ+ in the Sinophone world) movement.

Over the last year, I have greatly benefited from inspiring conversations with both students and faculty members at the department while further developing my academic and pedagogic interests. The vibrant, supportive, and interdisciplinary research environment is vital to the ongoing academic and social debates on the role that transnational/transcultural media and culture play in shaping identities and fostering social equality.

Currently, I am working on several papers on the inter-Asia circulation of queer media and social movements, the representation of queer families, and the affective construction of authenticity in androgynous Chinese celebrity bodies, in addition to completing a monograph on the everyday practice of ‘middle gender/neutral gender’ (zhongxing) among women in Hong Kong and urban China (see also Li and Halstead, 2018).

Representation

The  Feminist Research Reading Group  

Katrin  Schindel

The  Feminist Research Reading Group  has emerged out of the LISS-facilitated “Feminist Methods” seminar that took place at King’s College in the summer of 2018. The group is run by three PhD students, Sarah Louise Marks (Business School, Queen Mary), Sally King (Global Health & Social Medicine, King’s), and Katrin  Schindel  (CMCI, King’s).

Our aim is to continue discussing the issues raised in the “Feminist Methods” seminar, especially in regards to our own research, as well as to connect feminist researchers among departments and universities in London. We are mostly PhD students from King’s College and Queen Mary University, but open to interested MA students and staff as well. At past meetings, we also had attendees from other universities as well as outside of academia.

We meet once a month on a Tuesday during lunchtime (lunch will be provided!) for a discussion of pre-circulated readings. Each session is usually led by a volunteer who has picked the session’s reading. We always welcome new volunteers -   this is a great way to either discuss a feminist issue that relates to your dissertation or explore a new topic in more detail.

At our last meeting, we were able to welcome our first guest speaker. Dr Catherine Rottenberg from the University of Nottingham who spoke to us about her latest book, The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism, which explores the gendered discourses around work-life balance. The talk was followed by a vibrant discussion of feminist issues regarding working in academia. Due to the success of this meeting, we are planning to have more guest speakers in the future. For our next meeting September, we have invited CMCI’s own Dr Christina Scharff, who will speak to us about feminist methodology, in particular interviewing techniques –  thus returning to the origins of this group.

If you are interested in attending the next meeting (time and place tbc), then please email:  katrin.schindel@kcl.ac.uk or join us on Facebook