It’s been a busy two weeks.
Last week, I gave 2 presentations at 2 events, a workshop on Citizen Journalism and Major Events (introduction to the Digital Commonwealth project) for the Social Media for Social Good conference on the 3rd of December and a workshop on Social Media as a Consultation Tool on the Annual General Meeting for Glasgow Society for the Voluntary Sector.
This week, I have attended (or hosted) four community media cafes for Digital Commonwealth across Scotland (Easterhouse, Govan, Central Aberdeen and North Edinburgh) – I have two more to go before Christmas (Craigmillar and central Edinburgh) next week and a further 3 to arrange across Ayrshire at the start of January (Irvine, Ardrossan and East Ayrshire). That’s a grand total of 16 cafes in 3 months, about 4 subject areas and across four regions of Scotland.
By the end of January (24th to be precise), we will be arranging a community media meet up/symposium for practitioners at the Big Lottery Fund headquarters in Glasgow to address the key issues associated with digital storytelling, managing community media projects and response to ethical community based media. I will be updating the Digital Commonwealth website with more details of this in the coming weeks.
I have spoke about and to a lot of people about Digital Commonwealth over the last few weeks which include those who represent agencies, those who are deeply embedded in the activity of their local community and those who live and breath community media as the livelihood and their existence.
It has been roller coaster of emotion, ranging from sheer hyper inspiration when you discover and dig into the media that has been produced by individuals and organisations, to the (sometimes successful, sometimes difficult) tension that comes with explaining and pitching the project to groups involved.
The community media cafe model was a device to try and open up and speak to as many people as possible in an informal way, where they can also learn something along the way about 1 of the 4 media tools we are using (audio, video, blogging and social media). As we are working with a number of different partners & groups in the project areas, the form in they have take have been very different. Some have been workshop based, some have been in cafes, some have felt like a sit down lecture and others have been hands on. We wanted to experiment in this space – so in terms of controlling the format, it was balancing act.
Juggling the finding the people, with the right location, with the right venue, with the right approach with the expectations of each set of people you encounter – from the trainer, to the volunteers to those who have discovered the sessions on the train, – and keeping it within the tight timeframe we have – has been a real eye opener.
The project its is a national, multi-faceted project that aims to generate a citizens’ creative response to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games – but it was never intended to just be about the Games. It’s about providing access digital literacies. It’s about connecting the dots between existing organisations. It’s about providing, generating an archiving a digital space for stories that would not be heard otherwise and for networking stories from existing social media users and community media organisations.
The Games are a catalyst for developing digital storytelling skills, its a massive media event – and will produce a mass of media about Glasgow and Scotland – it (as a context) is a safe place to learn digital skills because you can be descriptive or you can be thematic.
The digital skill demands, the learning resources and the workshop processes that we are currently developed to deliver these skills to schools and community groups who decide to participate will be paramount – as will how we communicate the process and encourage people to use and develop those in their own personal contexts, as well as connecting to the wider project.
So learnings? Next steps?
I’ve learned that it is impossible to meet all expectations of everybody that you meet. There are going to be people who understand the vision, contribute and see opportunity in a project of this scale – and they’ll be others who don’t see any value at all, even after you spend more time focussing down on the reasons and the purpose of using the resources of major events at a catalyst.
This can feel pretty deflating, especially as it can be impossible to judge the experience and understanding of the audience in the 2 hours that you have with them- but I also understanding (mainly from my PhD research) that the tension of ‘alternative’ narratives and media forms are difficult to communicate without practice because they are not the established ‘mainstream’ understanding of major events are mediated. This can be broken down further into finding appropriate ways in which to advertise the project successful, to deliver content whilst also working towards the next stages of opportunities for formal training for those who wish to commit.
It perhaps might be easier for me to just concentrate of those who specifically have a commonwealth related or funded project already, and exclusively offer training to them as the buy-in is already present – but that would be the same as offering social media training to people who found the event through twitter or facebook already. If we are to genuinely focus on digital literacy and widening access and awareness to digital storytelling tools, then it needs to reach beyond pre-existing and obvious channels and networks.
Painful and messy, especially for my own mental health which is taking an absolute beating at the moment – I am not a target driven sales person with a hardened skin, I struggle saying no when it comes to wanting to help out-width the project scope – but I hope such challenge will be it will be worth it as we move into the next stages, recruiting a core group of people who will become trainers, who will become participants and will be given the opportunity to learn how to use the Internet for digital storytelling purposes, that contribute to the Digital Commonwealth archive but can be transferred into whatever context they desire.
The team are currently working on a loosely titled ‘Handbook of Digital Storytelling’ that we can use to prepare our training resources from – and to situate our desire for Open Badges around. It is an exercise in pulling together what people need to know to participate in the project (as a trainer, a teacher, a participant) but also putting to words the best practice of delivering digital storytelling and social media training which isn’t just reinventing the technical handbook for whatever branded service is popular at the moment. Platforms change, but a confident user of the Internet adapts.
One more week to go!
Only 4 days late, but at least the year hasn’t quite been broken in yet!
After re-reading my ‘End of Year‘ 2011 post, I started to draft this post on the 27th of December. It’s only been now I’ve been able to return to it after moving house during the holidays and hibernating through the usual obligations of the festive period. I’ve been re-reading a lot of things I’ve written online over the last 3 years, especially in the run-up and during the actual suspension of my PhD at the end of October. The benefit of keeping a blog, even if it doesn’t strictly feel like ‘PhD’ or research related chat or reflects an academic or work-related self-promotional tone, has been a real confidence boost (when I’ve really needed it) and a way of reminding myself of the things I have done or the frame of mind I was at a particular period in my life. Even if I didn’t want to admit it or even recognise it at the time. So, a personal reflection of 2012? Why not.
Don’t get me wrong, suspending the PhD – it was a big decision, and I guess I would like to think it was a decision that defined the year. But it wasn’t. It was pragmatic. And it wouldn’t be a reflection of 2012 if I didn’t write about that first.
It was partly financial, but not because I was skint or lacking in relevant work contracts but when funding runs out, it is a case of deciding to go part-time and attempting to less work that pays more (ha! lucky for some) or suspending until into a better situation with accommodation, debt repayments and gaining a steadier income comes my way. Having moved back to Glasgow quite hastily in May and found myself living under a friend’s stairs up until a few days ago, it’s only been now that we are in a new flat that I’ve been able to dig out paperwork and begin to assess the real financial damage of the events of 2012. With this in mind, it has not been a good time to let the precious clock of PhD time tick away when I know there was a particular hierarchy of need that had to be addressed before I could return to the luxury of being able to focus on a task such as completing the write up of a PhD.
It was partly subject related, having got too personally involved in the public critique of the Olympic Games through the torch relay and the #citizenrelay and moving far away from my initial research interests of alternative media, new media and citizen journalism and how specific communities engage socially and politically online. So less about the Olympics and Olympic Studies (a bizarre space that I do want to engage in any further at this stage in time – thank god 2012(tm) is over), more about mega events (or even events in general) can be used as a catalyst for community engagement using citizen-led media and the emerging research methods (using social media) to measure value and impact of this. However, in short, I am a person who loves reading. Who loves writing. And when I’m not reading and I’m not writing – and feeling guilty because I am not doing either. We have a problem. Furthermore, the first day I went to the Mitchell Library after suspending my PhD, I inhaled the first two books I picked up in one go. Story books. The stuff you feel guilty reading because it isn’t something relating to PhD research. Being registered on a PhD, without any passion or spirit to read or write is simply a ticking time-bomb to fail in the long term. I have no regrets as I am picking my reading speed up again through library books and reclaiming my attention span which was at the stage where a 10 minute youtube video required too much concentration.
And finally, what I am realising now, that I am so far removed from the initial PhD project about Vancouver 2010, with such a filmsy and unloved background of literature and absolutely no passion or enthusiasm to correct it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a lot of ‘stuff’ written in various folders and documents labelled PhD. I have 4 folders of organised work, reading notes and annotated bibliographies, but to attempt and rewrite a backdated version of my life wouldn’t work. I went to Vancouver without a body of literature or a detailed methodology. Now, with a couple of research projects under my belt, I can’t think how I can cram that mess into a document that would resemble (and pass as) a PhD – however, there has been plenty of bang of its buck in terms of how that trip influenced projects between 2010 and now. It cannot be separated – but it itself isn’t the PhD. I know in myself, if I have to backdate and rewrite work from that time, there are a few things and learning outcomes that would be much easier to write about and be a PhD that I would want to spend two years part-time writing up. Things change, people change – and I could argue that I’ve been staring the wrong dataset in the face for so long that I’ve missed the point of a PhD being an exam I have to pass and defend. It’s not as if I want to rip it all up and start again in a entirely new field, I have a lot of writing and research that I can work with, I just need to shift the focus back into what interests and gets me excited and fits into my current work practices. I know that I can do this – and I won’t be any means starting from scratch – but it will hopefully be a project that will not only be something I will enjoy doing, but can be situated within a research area I feel part of and want to contribute to.
So, with that said, a lot of good things have happened in the last few months (moved into a new flat which is probably the nicest place I’ve ever stayed ever and new opportunities emerging from existing projects) the PhD is back on my whiteboard in the form of produced an updated PhD proposal to be submitted alongside a new restart date of January 2014. This not only gives me a year off the clock to sort out finances and concentrate on my career, but also the chance to refocus without the pressure of things like the REF and other administration processes that would have became more important that the research I would have to write up in the first place.
And as much as I said that the PhD suspension shouldn’t define the outcome of 2012 – it was and had became the main focus of my life and the decisions I was making, much of which I talked about the original blog post. A lot went on, I had to keep going and things had to give or be let slip. I achieved a lot of things in 2012, but I also let a lot people down and had to selfishly say ‘no’ to things that I would have properly managed to achieve if I was working to the same levels and intensity that I was at the start of the year. What I have learned this year is about expectations. I know that I am capable of being a workaholic to the point that the first weekend I gave myself off when I moved back to Glasgow, I made myself sick with the anxiety of just downing tools in favour of night out. I also know that when left to my own devices & with sole ownership of my own income, I can be a terrible jake-bag that could find myself on a different night out, with different friends, every night of the week in a city like Glasgow – and I have been good at justifying this, especially related to the amount of time spent over the last 5 years simply not having close friends near me or having little access to the money I was earning myself. But it’s time to reign that in again.
It’s early days now – but with the new flat (which we kind of symbolically moved into on Hogmanay of all days) and being somewhere where I actually want to spend time in, to live in, as a home rather than use a place to crash between work and play, will make a huge difference. 2012’s lesson has been about the importance of having a base – especially if you intend to work in a transient, multi-locational and contextual environment. I spent the first 6 months of 2012 travelling for work. It was getting to the stage that in one week I was in Leicester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Birmingham and London – working on projects whilst I was on the trains into between and sleeping in a different city every night. Now, that level and intensity of travelling still excites me, and I need to go further than the UK – but I had reached the point where I didn’t know what end of the country I was living at. I always wanted to move back to Scotland when I could. But with the people around you conditioning you with the idea that moving back to your hometown was a ‘good’ idea to save money and ‘do the PhD’, it wasn’t long before I was going to implode. It is very clear in my mind now that I could never go back to live in Ayr, no matter the circumstances, because it is just not where I belong and in all honesty? I’m not afraid of offending people when I say that I hate the place.
That’s why this flat is important. It is a base, pure and simple. But it is more than a place to store things, it is a home and it will be a home for as long as we need it to be or until the next adventure. Unlike at the end of 2011, where I was looking towards of future of completing the PhD and getting onto the next stage or level of my career, the conclusion of 2012 has got me thinking a lot more about the smaller things. It doesn’t matter how seemingly productive I appear or the extent in which I jeopardise my own health or mindset in order to pursue a career in existing academia, or even the process of self-medication to cope with the pressures of such, when projects become obligations and the fear of not keeping up with yourself are greater than your love of what your doing. To be honest, I could list a million things I’ve managed to achieve this year, but I also almost ran right off the treadmill, and I was very close to cracking up – and would have done if I didn’t scream ‘stop’ and found myself back in Glasgow, surrounded by people I really needed at the time.
So yeah, 2013?
With the philosophy of doing less things better, I have 12 months to 1) fall back in love with my PhD and hone down the new topic, 2) develop my self-employed career to the stage it has a coherent identity and set of services that I can confidently offer, manage and deliver (and who knows, perhaps be able to employ people as well) as well as delivering on the current contracts I have at the moment, writing them up as case studies (perhaps even forming the basis of academic research project) 3), work closely with academics at UWS and others on projects relating to social media, information management and a community media project towards Glasgow 2014 – and publish at least 2 academic journal articles, 4) sort out finances & think more carefully about what I spend my money on and, importantly, 5) to go on holiday, somewhere abroad – for longer than a weekend (at LEAST 2 weeks) and eventually find a way to travel, for leisure preferably but wouldn’t turn down opportunity to work at the same time.
And with that said, with basic levels of need in place and with the Olympic circus finally out of town, I can now get my head back into being more politically active, especially in Scottish politics and staying more on top of things going on in general. If anything, 2012 has been about surviving more than anything else for me. Social Media has been important, of course, but I’ve thought a lot about how its use has changed for me. And with that, and practice for writing a long document (such as a PhD ;-)), I intend to attempt to write a social media-y ‘how-to’ book this year. Not for any other reason than somebody convinced me that I could do it – and I think it would be fun but challenging thing to do. Why the hell not?
Hullo. Long time, no write. Question. What AM I doing? Folk keep asking me what is it I actually do. It’s good. I’m living in one place now, not everywhere and nowhere. I can firmly announce that I’m not “olympic girl” anymore, I’m not having to have to self-embargo on my opinions down the pub. I am not mad-for-it on bunting scandal. I’m not having to convince people that the Olympics is something to be questioned. It’s not my job anymore. It is over. It’s not relevant. Pathetic, but a big fat yas. I am free.
And, since the carnage that *was* the Olympics (was booked for 2 weeks in London, lasted exactly 48 hours down there, the best part of it was a lebanese chicken kebab shop in south-east London that was probably the most delicious thing I am have ever encountered IN MY LIFE – so much so that I will make that zone 3 pilgrimage again), living ‘offline’ for a bit – which is much easier to do in Glasgow because Glasgow is my best friend and me and her have a real fun time all the time and beginning a new role at UWS (an actual, on the payroll salaried thing) – I’m now back. Was looking a bit shaky there, didn’t think I was going to make it. But you haven’t got rid of me that easily. Now I’ve got used to being back in Scotland, I’m wanting to make loads of things happen now.
I’m sorry, before I go there, I’m admitted a big massive defeat on the fact that I have ever liked the Olympics, but at least now I can talk freely again about the complexity about WHY I didn’t watch it, WHY finding out the best 149 quid I’ve drunkingly spent on the internet at 2am was easy jet to Glasgow after self-medicating myself through a massive button pushing exercise called the opening ceremony and WHY, at the time, I felt like a total lonely freak for not drinking the koolaid when I should have done. Now I am pretty proud of the fact that I stuck to my guns, I get invited to talk about it, I get to look back to the stuff that I wrote before it and feel confident in myself that I was honest and open about how I feel about it. This will help me write up my PhD lots as probably the hardest part of the process has been articulating and finding confidence in my argument in a world where most folk who research the Olympics are puir mad sport freaks, it’s like doing a trying to write a PhD up with a gang of smug P.E. teachers health-shaming over your shoulder.
In all I wrote 7 things for the Metro newspaper before the Olympics. I didn’t write anything during it- and I certainly didn’t write anything after it, although, I am allowed to still be an author for the immediate future – so I will probably take advantage of that in the near future in terms of plotting. I am pretty proud of these 7 articles. They are so honest, like scarily so. It was also during a time where I probably had the most public glare for the work I was doing but at the same time was desperately wanting to be private, reaffirming that if I ever find myself in a similar position again, I want to be the facilitator, helping pushing up some of the unheard stories, rather than be seen as some sort of public intellectual that had the final word on things. I don’t – in fact, I have no answers now. Only questions. All of that fits into some of the academic impact debate ya-da-da. But that’s another blog post. But, here are the 7 things I wrote, in context – all of which I didn’t even think would have even published.
So, there we go. Olympics done. I promise to never mention it again. I just had to get all of that out to help make sense of the future. I’m onto the Commonwealth Games mate. Glasgow. Glasgow. Glasgow. This is going to be SUCH a different animal. I don’t care if you don’t agree, well I do care, but you are going to have to bare with me. There is less than 2 years to go – and we must get organised to make sure that the grand vision can be realised and it’s not just remembered by a corporate commemorative DVD and a couple of random white elephants draped on Dalmarnock.
Right so, I’ve started working on a community media project at the WHALE Arts Agency based in the Wester Hailes area of Edinburgh. This feeds into the work I will be carrying out at UWS, developing community media practice as a thing, as a concept – as something we can ‘do’ around the Glasgow 2014 games (but it isn’t the main focus, just the stimulus), something we can establish across Scotland, case studies, media hubs, training, support, media literacy, education the wild, challenging the notice of what higher education can be. All of that. Plus, I have been working as a research assistant on a the evaluation of the work Creative Scotland has included in the London 2012 cultural programming. Mainly for the work that I’ve done in social media data and research – but learning loads about event policy and evaluation. So much so, I’m also currently working on the evaluation of the Paisley Spree (happening this weekend) – I’m dead into this.
I don’t know what this is all called *at the moment* but if I was to draw a Venn diagram, I’m probably sitting in a weird space between teaching alternative media in the wild (so not teaching undergraduates this year, which is so weird), coming up with ways to evaluation the impact of events in different places and space (which could potentially lead to the transformation of a place’s identity and community confidence) and finding ways to use digital tools (internet and mobiles mainly) to create, produce, critique realities/histories/narratives (story telling mainly) rather than simply consuming what is lying around (the telly, the newspapers, the commentary on twitter and facebook). Even then, that’s all a bit vague. But that’s ok, I am between things, I am trying to work it all out – and that’s fine. This is just a blog post. It is helpful. I’m trying to remind myself that it is important to not let the messiness stop me writing. It’s been so useful in the past. Update over.
The last time I wrote one of these blog posts was back at the end of January 2010, several days before I was due to head out – on my own – to the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. I remember at the time feeling a whole wave of different emotions; excitement as it was my first long distance flight, my first massive research project, first Olympic Games, but also terrified because I had no clue what I was to expect when I was to arrive and what I should be doing when I get there.
Now we are onto games numbers two for me. And this is my blog post about what I might do during London 2012.
I took on the Olympics context in October 2009 after transferring my PhD (around new media) that was registered part-time at Leicester University back to the University of the West of Scotland – where ahm fae – but continued to live in Leicester due to work and domestic commitments. I’m hoping that when I return from the London once the games are finally done and dusted in August that I can finally get the PhD write-up blasted, where it has been all most impossible between travelling a ton, not travelling a ton (moved back to Glasgow permanently – should have done it sooner) and working on projects connected to the Olympics as and when they happened.
So how am I feeling about being in London during the Olympics?
Firstly, it is probably the longest that I’ve been in London in one prolonged stint. When I lived in Leicester, I didn’t ever need to spend longer than a day there as it was only 1 hr and 20 minutes on the train and it was just easy if you booked your train in advance and crammed all your encounters together into an 18 hour day.
Back in Glasgow, I’ve had three opportunities in 5 weeks to be in London – the first involved a sleeper train, a cold shower and entire day of work and back in Scotland for teatime (not recommended if you want to maintain a sane disposition) – the others had been postponed to during and after the games. But now seems that there I’m not short of opportunities and avenues to get down to London for specific jobs – and it takes half the amount of time by weekly commute between the midlands and ayrshire took – but I’m sort of terrified of amped up Landon 2012 ™ and how anything can get done during that time. “It’s going to be a lot better when it is all over and we can start to get back to normal,” I remark sarcastically.
I go through waves of looking forward to being back in the thick of it again – then completely writing the whole damn thing again, citing that I would prefer to sit with my laptop on the couch and concentrate on the next wave of amazing things on the horizon. It’s true. No denying, I peaked during #citizenrelay because it really did feel like we managed to achieve something with the resources, the people and the context that we were positioned within – not to say it was a comfort zone by any means, but it was something I could really get my teeth into and pay forward any outcomes into bigger, more meaningful (at least to me) projects that go beyond all this ‘lympics banter.
I just don’t have the energy to do it all again, this time in London and it is not because I am tired – or because I’ve overdone it, spent a long overdue week off chillaxing my face off – the transient nature of social media means that much of the things that I’ve been speaking about, writing about and dedicating mass chunks of my life (for free or out my own pocket) just passes by in the noise of other people catching wind that the Olympics is a unique phenomena that does strange things to the staunch ‘i-don’t-have-an-opinion-on-this’ brigade. And that’s fine – I’m glad the baton has finally been passed.
I’ve stepped out of the debate. I’ve stopped sharing links because others are getting there first. I am still getting my news from my twitter and facebook feed, rarely directly from the TV, radio or newspaper. For a period of time, I banned myself from consuming any mainstream media at all, because I go on mad vocal rants – at BBC Breakfast usually, then it was Radio 4 – about things I can’t do *anything* about – but that is starting to wane now I’ve stopped taking it/myself so seriously. And when I started to pick up the bug for data and investigative journalism that seems to actually make a significant dent on the news agenda. It’s not a lot compared the the PR and media machine that we will be staring at over the coming weeks, but it feels a lot more productive and better for the blood pressure.
Anyway – It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, almost like I’ve been sitting on it in order to make the right decisions about what I might do during the games time period. Originally, there was talk of being part of a collective running independent media centres (similar to Vancouver’s w2 or True North Media House). I’ve been involved in Counter Olympic Network meetings, mainly discussing media impact of resistance to the games (that gamesmonitor have managing long before London ‘won’ the Olympics, and lately space hijackers have been engineering brilliantly in terms of winding up LOCOG). Furthermore, I’ve wrote a ton about occupying the Olympics, mainly about trying to reclaim some of the histories of events that are presented on our behalf and trying to harness some of that ‘social media’ olympics chatters away from the brands, PR and marketers and more towards capturing and archiving the voices and stories of the people who lived through it. Regardless of what happens in London over the next month, it is already in the process of being looked back on as a great success and slotted neatly alongside all the other mega event stormers.
I can only hope that the little nuggets of work that have been going on in the fringes, all those blog posts, videos, audio files and tweets can be stored somewhere for others to find in the future. Even though it might feel that it is all streaming past, irrelevant 20 minutes after posting, I learnt from #citizenrelay that the impact of one sentence battering out of your mobile over breakfast can turn entire projects, narratives, themes on their head. But it fades, turns to dust if it isn’t written down, documented, backed up. Even try and find some of the online newspaper articles from Vancouver, Beijing games around alternative narratives (human rights, protests, displacement, for instance) that haven’t been archived in the public domain – if things aren’t backed up and contextualised now then there is every chance that anything that isn’t the official post-Olympic legacy site, including social media and citizen journalism, will either dissolve or just be folded back into the mix.
So, after all that, what am I doing to during the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games?
Firstly, I will be acting as a free-agent. I have made a decision not to run any fringe projects or attempt to disrupt the notion of what a journalist might be in that space. I’ve now got a better idea of what works, what doesn’t work, what gets you into trouble and what is worth saving for post-Olympics. I have the opportunity to write for several publications – and in that time I will be probably be doing it fairly regularly. I have opportunity to do some freelance work at the same time, so all in all, a pretty productive and cost-efficient games.
I will be working on Help Me Investigate the Olympics.
I will go to some of the anti-Olympic protests, especially the one of the 28th of July, making it absolutely explicit that I’m an academic researcher. This is more realistic than hanging around drinking free coca-cola and busting my head with the sponsors banter.
I will be working on a research project around live sites with David and Matt where I will spend much of my time exploring and mapping the ‘3rd sites’ of the Olympic Games. This will be carried out much like #citizenrelay – lots of media being captured and aggregated into a wordpress site that can be used as a resource for researching future events.
I will try and go to some of the London Festival 2012 events.
I will catch up with friends.
And after all that, from the 10th of August, I am going to take some well deserved time off.
For me, I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching, battling and now realisation that I’ve probably taken the most I can from the Olympic Games this time around. Obviously, I want to compare it to the first one I attended, an experience of a life time that I could barely speak about when I got back because I was very aware of becoming “This time in Vancouver…” girl. Similarly, I don’t want to lose my cool – and most importantly, I want to enjoy it. I think about the experiences that I could have had if I wasn’t stressing about trying to attend everything and nothing, about not feeling that I knew enough about it to contribute and how the lack of sleep and stressface impacted on pretty much everything I did. This is a very deliberate attempt to put the brakes on and not always be on call to action all the time. I’ve got plenty of that to be doing for Glasgow 2014.
This blog post has been burning in my head since last week, feeling (rightly so) equally troubled, inspired and generally itchy about the whole subject area so excuse me if I get all ramble-y in places, I’m still working this out in my own head.
Last week I was invited along (with around 40 others) to be part of a discussion group that was looking at education for the crisis. There were some people there who are good friends, people who I had never met but been following for twitter (in some cases, for years), some who I had came across at events and others who I had never met. They ranged from academics, activists and artists (which always seems to go well together) and aimed to open up chatter around particular topics related to technology, economics, social issues and sustainability in education.
The format was designed not to see if we could provide solutions, but instead to simply talk in a capacity that might often not happen in our existing environments. There were a few ice breakers (where I found out that I was the only Scottish person in the room) and many break out sessions which started as discussions around particular pre-defined topics and then around personal suggestions from members of the group. The final session was focused on action, that is, things that were already happening, could happen or should happen after we left the room.
I’ve been to and followed online a few events of this theme over the last 2 years, mainly as a curious observer, and mostly around pre-occupy education-related activities and more recently, anti-Olympic meets and reactions to changes in HE policy in England.
The link between higher education and, for now, the forthcoming Olympic Games have been a constant for me throughout my PhD, perhaps because it is so close to me in terms of lifestyle, research and online discussions – or just general political context of the UK in 2012, the use of the games as a political tool (or a societal shock doctrine in terms of using mega events implement policy etc) and the almost exact repetition of similar news stories and media themes ahead of the last Olympic Games in Vancouver and the same before that in Beijing in 2008. It is difficult to predict what the impact of direct action might be against the forces of the biggest PR machines in the world.
I’ve thought long and hard about my role in fighting/challenging/resisting/opposing the current changes in higher eduction, and more, recently, if I even want to, at least in this way. Not that I am saying I agree with what might happen, but I’m finding myself increasingly intimidated by being in rooms with people who have read more critical theory than others, speak about wanting change, then speaking in a language that turns off supporters (like myself – and I’ve done 3.5 years of a PhD!), let alone reaches out to the people they articulate they want to help – young people predominantly. Very rarely have I seen young people in these spaces, and when I do, they are kept elsewhere whilst the ‘adults’ are speaking. And often being the youngest in the room, at a ripe old age of 27, I feel like I have more in common and therefore, more to say, to the teenagers outside, fiddling with their ipods, than the rest of the group discussing the future. I’ve often walked out of ‘open spaces’ because they make me feel more claustrophobic, drained in fact, than ever, despite finding the subject areas discussed interesting and valuable and entirely appropriate.
Citizen Media in this space.
From spending time working with community media groups such as Citizens Eye, which is grounded heavily in social support and community engagement (such as the work of WotBox Consultancies in schools and the array of news agencies that cover widely personal politics of individuals and brings them together across Leicestershire) as before the actual act of producing media, I’ve learned that one of the best use of energy that I can give is to work in these spaces, with the people who make it feel so rewarding.
The wider networks of citizen media makers that I’ve encountered through these projects (in the UK and further afield) leave me feeling energised and like we can use forward and achieve something, whatever that something is, if something if just waking up in the morning and not wanting to spend it hiding under the covers. Of course, these experiences on their own are not the wider solutions, or even the processes for working towards an ‘alternative’ discourse (that we can somehow own) about how we think about our planet, but in someway, neither is through imposing a new phrase regime to the same old problems.
I’m struggling here. I know, deep down, I am a more useful, passionate person when I go and stand next to somebody who is doing things that gets my gears going. I’m not interested in dominating the agenda at meetings, or to be part of a committee, or trying to force people to think the same as me or the group I have attached myself to. I prefer, and I keep reminding myself this, to take the best bits of what I observe and bring it back into the spaces where so feel like I can actually do something, rather than speak about doing it. Sometimes this works, like teaching and research, and sometimes it doesn’t, in the ways I constantly have to stretch my eyes open with matchsticks and force myself to be places because I know it will be important in the longer run.
Anyway, eduction for the crisis really did confirm for me where I need to be on the scale, and it is out and about doing and carrying on doing stuff, and not worrying too much about the current definition of what things are or might be. It was nice, as an academic like person, to be around others who were doing amazing cross overs between art and media production (if they are one and the same) with political agendas in full scope. Challenging difficult areas and putting young people at the heart of the discussion. Not, as one participant put it, seeing young people as an emerging community that needs to be changed or transformed in understand what it is that might happen in the future. Instead working, in what ever way, to help them feel empowered to challenge that dominant idea that young people need to be schooled to think a different way, either through the system as it stands, or through some alternative system that reflects the politics of ‘the left.’
We do that through citizen media, and currently, reclamation of the olympic games as a context and a reason, but others will definitely have other methods and reasons that work for them. It doesn’t have a grand alternative narrative that can replace the current one(s), but for some people who chose to engage, it’s those tiny little stories that are worth the while. Just like the way that I type this blog post, saying what I wish I could have articulated on the day but struggled to for whatever reason, it might not seem big and important and save the planet in the end, but it’s a platform in a media saturated world that allows one to make sense of it on their own terms. For some, that is an unbelievably massive thing and that is probably what I could bring and emphasis if there is to be further discussions and meet ups of this network.