Thursday, 28 February 2013

Queer Futures: reconsidering ethics, activism and the political

The Queer Studies Research Group, who form part of the Centre, are hosting a lunchtime research seminar on Friday March 8, 1.00-2.00pm in GE215 on the Clifton Campus. Dr. Elahe Haschemi Yekani (University of Innsbruck, Austria) and Dr. Beatrice Michaelis (Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany) will deliver a paper on 'Queer Futures: Reconsidering Ethics, Activism and the Political'.  Everyone is welcome but for further information and enquiries, please contact Dr. Hongwei Bao.
The speakers describe their paper as follows:
In our short input we will introduce two recent publications we co-edited: Queer Futures: Reconsidering Ethics, Activism and the Political (Ashgate 2013) and the special Isssue “The Queerness of Things Not Queer” of the German Journal Feministische Studien (2/2012).
We want to discuss in how far the turn to negativity and the more recent embrace of speculative philosophies in queer theory might be reconciled with the political impetus of queer activism and theorizing. How do affects and materialities shape queer thinking as a political pursuit, and how can these theoretical boundary crossings of time and space be reconciled with the geopolitical challenges of a global queer theory (and its ongoing US-American predominance).
About the speakers:
Elahe Haschemi Yekani is University Assistant (Postdoc) at the Department of English at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. . In 2012, she acted as the substitute for the Junior Professorship British Cultural Studies at the University of Potsdam, Germany and in 2011 she was a Guest Professor of Modern English Literature at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany. She won the Britcult Award for The Privilege of Crisis. Narratives of Masculinities in Colonial and Postcolonial Literature, Photography and Film (Campus, 2011). Other publications include: Netzwerk Körper, ed. What Can a Body Do? Praktiken und Figurationen des Körpers in den Kulturwissenschaften (Campus, 2012).

Beatrice Michaelis is a post-doctoral researcher in German Medieval Studies and Head of Research Coordination at the International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture, Justus Liebig University Giessen, where she also teaches medieval German literature. She is the author of (Dis-)Artikulationen
von Begehren – Schweigeeffekte in wissenschaftlichen und literarischen Texten (De Gruyter, 2011) as well as the co-editor of the volumes Geschlecht als Tabu – Orte, Dynamiken und Funktionen (transcript, 2008), and Quer durch die Geisteswissenschaften. Perspektiven der Queer Theory (Querverlag, 2005).

Together with Gabriele Dietze, they published the article: “‘Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.’ Queer Interdependencies as Corrective Methodologies.” In: Theorizing Intersectionality and Sexuality. Eds. Yvette Taylor, Sally Hines and Mark E. Casey. Basingstoke/New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. 78-98.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Report on Media & Cultural Studies @ NTU Symposium

Ben Taylor reports on our symposium, Media and Cultural Studies @ NTU - the past, the present, the future - held on 8 February 2013

While Nottingham Trent University has long been associated with media, cultural and communication studies (a Communication Studies degree was first established here in the early 1980s), the annual Media & Cultural Studies symposium this year marked the 21st birthday of the launch of Joint Honours degrees in the subject at the institution. It used this anniversary to reflect on the current state of the discipline, on its history, and on emerging issues and developments.  The organisers were pleased that a Belgian scholar, who was visiting NTU on an Erasmus exchange, was able to contribute to the symposium. They were also happy to be able to welcome back some graduates and former colleagues as contributors.

The first session saw Ben Taylor (NTU) talk about the way in which waste has been neglected within media studies. Focusing in particular on e-waste, he argued that, while the discipline has successfully explored the dynamics of media production, the emergence of new media, and the way in which media technologies have been integrated into everyday life, it has tended to ignore the way in which we replace and discard those technologies. He called for the discipline to extend its analysis of the consumption of media technologies so that the dynamics of e-waste (planned obsolescence, recycling, disposal) could be more carefully addressed. The session also saw Bob Jeffery (Sheffield Hallam) talk about his research on the impact of gentrification in Salford. Bob located his initial interest in urban sociology within the discipline of cultural studies, and he used Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of hysteresis to examine the friction between the habitus of young people who had been brought up in Salford, and the new forms of urban living ushered in by the development of middle-class housing facilities, work and retail spaces. Drawing on ethnographic work he had undertaken in the wake of the 2011 riots, he showed how these new geographies had exacerbated social divisions within the area.

In the second session, Georgia Stone (NTU) reflected on the development of media practices over the last 21 years, and she screened some work made by students at NTU in the early 1990s. It was fascinating to see this work, not only because it demonstrated how significantly media technologies have changed in the intervening years, but also because, in many cases, the work nevertheless still stood up in its own right as examples of good film-making, often taking familiar, everyday practices (crossing the city in heavy traffic, cutting a piece of cheese) and rendering them unfamiliar.  Gary Needham (NTU) then explored the proximity between the discipline of cultural studies and the work of Andy Warhol. While Warhol’s interest in popular culture has often been noted (evidenced by the subject matter of many of his screen prints, for example), Gary turned instead to Warhol’s Time Capsules, a series of 600 cardboard boxes in which, month by month, Warhol placed the ephemera of everyday life. Gary argued that, with this interrogation of the prosaic, Warhol shared one of the central preoccupations of cultural studies, and he suggested that his work was thus of significant pedagogic value to the discipline.          

In the third session, Alexander Dhoest (Antwerp University) considered the nature of media research in Belgian, and specifically Flemish-speaking, universities. He argued that such research tended to work within social scientific, and often quantitative, paradigms, and that it regularly had an explicit policy-related perspective. He proceeded to show how British media and cultural studies, with its more qualitative foundations, nevertheless had had an impact on the field, and he used this to reflect on some of the strengths and weaknesses of both the British, and the Flemish, traditions. It was really useful to think about the geographical, as well as the historical, development of the discipline, and about what happens to fields of academic enquiry as they are taken up in different national contexts. 

The final session brought together two papers which focused on female performances in recent film and television. Donna Peberdy (Southampton Solent University) undertook a detailed analysis of the opening scene of David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method (2011), in which Keira Knightley’s character, Sabina Spielrein, first visits Carl Jung. Donna showed how Knightley’s performance of hysteria had proved controversial in reviews of the film, and how she had been accused of over-acting. Rather than simply endorsing such reviews, however, Donna reflected on the difficulties of performing perversion, and the manner in which the condition of hysteria is represented in the film as a whole. Estella Tincknell (University of the West of England) then addressed two serials which have dominated Sunday night television schedules in the UK in recent months: Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife. Both set in the past (1912 onwards and the 1950s respectively), Estella contrasted the politics of nostalgia in each serial, and the way in which social class is located in each. What the programmes shared, however, she argued, was the centrality they gave to ageing women in a culture where such representations tend to live at the margins.

The symposium allowed participants to take stock of media and cultural studies, and the range of topics addressed across the papers reflected the diverse and eclectic nature of the discipline. It thus served as a useful way to mark this particular anniversary at NTU. Unfortunately, one of the planned contributors, Roger Bromley (University of Nottingham), was not able to take part on the day, so we look forward to hearing his paper, about the origins of cultural studies and John Berger’s A Seventh Man (1975), on another occasion.       

Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Politics of Research Impact

Next wednesday (6 March 2013), we are holding a workshop on 'The Politics of Research Impact: tensions for academic research'. The event features Davide Pero, Lecturer in the Social Sciences at the University of Nottingham, and Liz Morrish and Matt Connell, both members of our Centre. The event takes place 2.00-4.00 pm in CIB008 on NTU's Clifton campus. For further details, please contact Olga Bailey.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Recognition, Transgression and the Politics of Mental Health

Simon Cross's latest article explores recent developments in the ways in which the voices of 'the mad' are heard. 

He argues that the segregation and silencing of the mad in institutions did not stem from inhumanity; it was the logical consequence of a psychiatric credo that the mad spoke only gaggle and babble. Deprived of their point of view, the utterances of the insane were prevented from adding to the stock of available reality. Challenging this state of affairs, psychiatric patients and their advocates have pursued a politics of recognition that has necessarily meant transgressing concrete and medical boundaries determining the psychiatric patient’s place in the political community. However, during the 1990s, changes in the social setting of psychiatric care enabled mental patients to once again re-enter the public sphere. In doing so, broadcast talk in the same decade expanded to encompass schizophrenics and voice-hearers in documentary and other actuality formats. But this expansion of broadcast talk to encompass the politics of voice hearing coincided with the rise of reality TV as the predominant form of actuality television, squeezing out available space for ‘mad’ experiences and opinions to be heard. At the same time however, the rise of the Internet has meant new forums are available for listening to the voice of the mad, though not without attendant problems such as ghettoization. The article contextualizes these developments and argues for a combined politics of recognition and transgression in the wider politics of mental health. 

Simon Cross (2012), ‘The Voice of the Mad: Transgressions and Public Talk about the Voice-hearing Experience’, Transgressive Culture, Vol. 2(1): 129-145.  -->

Thursday, 7 February 2013

'I did not have sex with that bishop'

Liz Morrish explores what linguistics can tell us about current debates in the UK about gay bishops.

In early January 2013, The Church of England made an announcement “Regarding Clergy in a Civil Partnership as Candidates for the Episcopate.” This was widely reported in the press as approval for the ordination of gay bishops. What the statement from the House of Bishops says is: "The House has confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships, and living in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, can be considered as candidates for the episcopate….The House believed it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church's teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline. All candidates for the episcopate undergo a searching examination of personal and family circumstances, given the level of public scrutiny associated with being a bishop in the Church of England.”
Reading between the Episcopal lines here, we find that, although no such sanction is applied to heterosexual married bishops, those who are gay and in civil partnerships with another man must swear an oath of celibacy in order to remain in conformity with the Church’s teaching. From this, we may surmise that, according to the Church of England, sexual ethics is about what sexual acts you perform, not about love, fidelity and commitment with a partner. 
Coming so soon after the Church had voted not to allow women as bishops, the talk on social media was of the Church being out of touch and obsessed with sex. One of the first to respond, angrily, was The Reverend Dr Giles Fraser who offered this solution to a gay bishop who may find himself in a quandary -  just lie. This seems unsatisfactory, as it forces gay clergy to retreat to an uncomfortable closet, and commit the sin of lying as well. None of this is a burden to heterosexual bishops, and so the advice leads to inequality and discrimination.

As a linguist, and a lesbian, the whole argument reminded me of a piece of academic research done in 1999 by Stephanie Sanders and June Reinisch on how differently men and women define ‘having sex.’ Their work was inspired by the public debate inaugurated by former US president Bill Clinton’s 1998 declaration that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Indeed, it turns out that Mr Clinton is not alone in his rather circumscribed definition of having sex, with 56% of men and 62% of women agreeing with him that oral-genital contact does not count. For most heterosexuals, ‘having sex’ would be about penetrative intercourse; however, gay men would almost certainly require a wider portfolio of sexual acts to delineate their notion of ‘having sex.’ I was once present at a workshop on sexual health where the introductory ice-breaker required each participant to recount in turn, “the last time I had sex, I…” The rule of the game, was, no repetition, and there was none. The task went round the group of fifteen gay men three times before they ran out of ideas. This just illustrates that this group’s perception of ‘having sex’ might not tally with the House of Bishops’ notion. Moreover, how ludicrous it would be if each gay bishop was required to seek a ruling on whether last night’s congress had constituted ’having sex.’ Would deep kissing offend? Or watching a porn movie? Or any of the other myriad and creative ways human beings can pleasure each other? It would certainly force clarity of thinking onto a group of theologians who seem to have overlooked some rather basic research into human sexuality. 

Looking forward to Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual History Month, this linguist offers that radical solution to Dr Fraser, and to the Church of England, and it would guarantee that Church business would be stymied, until its hierarchy finally did stop being so unnaturally obsessed with a gay man’s sex life. 

Liz Morrish is Principal Lecturer in Linguistics in the Centre.