Friday, 17 December 2010

The Wrong Idea About Football

Before I start, I’d like to get something off my chest. A deep dark, stereotypically female secret.  I am not a football fan.  Or at least, I wasn’t until very recently.  I had the wrong idea about football, I was focussing too much on the action on the pitch.    The England – France international friendly at Wembley, on the 17th November, was entirely forgettable. The young and inexperienced English squad gave a lacklustre, nervy performance, letting France win 2 -1 by virtue of poor to non-existent tackling, and a seeming lack of passion.  Peter Crouch was the English hero, knocking one in the back of the net after little over a minute on the pitch. But the real action happened off the pitch, within the crowd.

Football matches are shared experiences that glue people together – families, friends, workmates, even strangers.  The 90,000 spectators, who had battled through terrible weather and dealt with malfunctioning transport systems to get to Wembley, were part of a community.  Throughout the match, fans leaned to the strangers on their left and right, swapping frustrations and inanities about the action on the pitch.  Whilst an acceptable nationalism was on display, with English fans belting out Swing Low and the national anthem, there was no stereotypical hooliganism.  Despite aggressive booing almost every time a French player touched the ball, good-natured ribald banter with French supporters was the evening’s only “conflict”.  The French, despite their terrible taste in football team, were also part of the evening’s communal experience. Supporting the wrong side, granted, but still in the stadium.   The game is something to be taken seriously when in the stands – anger, frustration and joy generated by the game are real. Supporters really do want their side to win.  But this desire does not necessarily overwhelm the enjoyment of the game as precisely that – a game, an experience to be enjoyed for its own sake.  Doubtless, had this been a more important match – a local derby, cup final, “real” international – passions would have run higher, the crowd more tense, more divided.   In any case, football, or rather the consumption of football, is an important cultural act.  Not just a scene for fan violence and laddish behaviour, football matches can afford a powerful expression of fellowship between and within groups, especially at a yawn-inspiring friendly on a cold wet night in November.  

-- Alicia

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

UCL Graduate School Review Competition

The UCL Graduate School Review Competition is still open - and will remain so - until January 14th 2011.  UCL grads from Arts & Humanities, Laws or Social & Historical Sciences faculties are eligible to submit by email "a [500 word] review of publishable quality which evaluates an academic book focussing on a subject or issue in the arts and humanities, or laws, or the social and historical sciences; or which evaluates a work of art; or a literary work; or an exhibition; or a film; or a TV programme; or a cultural event." Alternatively, you can submit "a literature review designed for a non-specialised audience which outlines the current state of play in a clearly defined intellectual field of inquiry." 

Get excited kids, as winners get cash and publication...What more could you want to warm the cockles of your heart in an inevitably snowy new year?

For full details, and to submit your review, click here.


Friday, 3 December 2010

"Romantic Moderns" Wins Guardian First Book Prize

Well, stone the crows - an academic text has won the Guardian First Book Prize.

Alexandra Harris, author of Romantic Moderns and University of Liverpool lecturer, has snagged £10,000 and certainly made some impact within the public arena.  Judges hailed the book, a study about English writers in the 1930s-1940s and the impact of art on culture, as "comprehensive and coherent", telling a "compelling story".  Somewhat distressingly, though, they also called their decision to award Harris the prize as "counterintuitive", presumably battling with the common conviction of academic texts as dry, exclusive and altogether too niche for wider consumption.  (Have a look at the BBC's coverage of the award, and Adam Foulds' views on Romantic Moderns as he writes for the Guardian to find out more.)

Almost every research training session I have attended on publication has centred on the near impossibility of academic texts "going mainstream".  How has Harris, with her first book no less, managed such a feat?  Has she set the bar a notch  higher for researchers to generate public engagement with their work? And does Romantic Moderns hold its own academically - that is, can it and will it be read as a solid, rigorous text within the academy of researchers?  Is it even possible to satisfy the needs and desires of a non-academic and academic reader within the same text?  Will this award and publication be enough for Harris to secure future funding, forward her career - and even be financially profitable for her personally?  For some reason, I can't see Romantic Moderns as the next big publishing event, or Harris a nascent J. K. Rowling...

Sadly, I have yet to read the book, but am eager to get my hands on it as soon as possible, perhaps just to figure out whether I love it or hate it. Has Romantic Moderns set the new standard of academic writing?  Something, as an early-career researcher I can fall in love with, feel jealous of and ultimately learn from? Or, with a critical eye, will I be able to demolish the book, poke holes in argumentation, referencing, logic and style?  Oh well, I suppose that's what Christmas is for...muttering to oneself whilst poring over the latest Guardian prizewinner. (Or is that just my house?)

If anybody has read the book, I'm keen to hear your views, so get in touch in the comments section or over email.    

-- Alicia

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Christmas Forum

Thursday 9th December, 4-5.30. Room: Cruciform Foyer Seminar Room 3

To suit the needs of SELCS students, we've changed the programme for the next Thoughtsforward session slightly.  We are now holding a Christmas Forum!

* Discuss your research progress, projects and problems in a supportive and constructive atmosphere
* Get feedback from those in the know -  Stephen Hart and Tim Mathews - on how to take your work to the next level
* Meet people in the same position, and help each other out

* Come along with an informal overview of where you are in your research, key issues and any top tips you've learned in the past few months

* As an added incentive for attendance, there will be *cake* and added Christmas cheer... perhaps even a trip to the pub afterwards!

Remember - UCL students who attend Thoughtsforward sessions can earn credits towards their training points!  Just log your attendance at a "Department seminar", giving details of the sessions attended in the text box provided, in the "My Department Training" section of your skills account.  

What other seminar will get you credits for eating cake and talking about your project?!

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Cuts to the Arts and Humanities - Another Perspective

As Arts and Humanities students, we all know the future is looking rather...grim.  The cuts will hit us hard, and, despite all the student protests on tuition fees and chatter in the press about the impending downfall of British education, it seems unlikely that the coalition government's new education plans can be derailed.

It is easy to look to the sciences with a bitter eye and a mouthful of venom. Those scientists, with their research "essential to society". They will be saved; we are expendable.  Bah humbug. The disclaimer of "I'm not curing cancer, but..." seems to be a common feature of explanations of research topics within the Arts and Humanities, at least within the circles I travel.  Our jealousy, yearning for the "easy life" - financially speaking -  of scientists, leads us to see ourselves apart from the scientists: not as equal part of the research community, different ends of the same spectrum, but radically alienated, forever at loggerheads. 

Here, Stefan Collini's article, in which he postulates a parallel universe in which scientists' purses have been raided, is of particular interest.  Collini highlights the effects of the Arts and Humanities cuts, dissecting the reasoning behind it with vigour.  But he also manages to showcase - at least in the mind of this reader, and several individuals in the comments section below the article - the need for solidarity in academia, and the research community.

Have a look for yourself, and let us know what you think -

If you cut a scientist's budget, does s/he not bleed too - or wail, and bitch and moan, and then go to the pub too? Shouldn't we all just work together to fight for world-class research, and make funding fair and equal?  Will this ever be possible?  Answers on a postcard, a comment, or in an email to thoughtsforward gratefully received.

Perhaps, too, we need to look within ourselves, our topics, departments, schools and institutions and figure out how we justify our research, its importance and its necessity, to ourselves. Find some confidence about our research, a well-formulated riposte when badgered about our expendability, a mantra to repeat in the library. And if we don't believe it fully for a while, who cares? Is the only way to convince others of our social and cultural importance as Arts and Humanities researchers to behave rather unacademically... by faking it until we make it?

-- Alicia

Feedback from Zizek Session

The nights are drawing in, and things are getting frosty - but our first Thoughtsforward session provided a fine tonic to the misery of winter.

Debate flowed outwards from three informal papers on Zizek the man, and his recent polemical article on "Liberal multiculturalism" and the "decaffeinated Other".  Responses to his prose varied in the extreme.  Some contributors unabashedly loved his style, his impact upon the public and willingness to provoke debate.  Others were deeply concerned about the lack of academic rigour in this article.  (His generalizations, referencing without citation, and adopting a voice of the "man in the street" without any identifiable / real source were key sticking points.)  Questions of responsibility and context were raised... Does Zizek, as a learned representative from the academy, have an important responsibility to be rigorous in his discourse, wherever it is published? Or is his primary responsibility, when writing a comment piece for The Guardian, to be entertaining, interesting, and thought provoking - citations be damned?

All agreed, however,  that Zizek, as he blurs the line between academic and intellectual and  invades public (non-academic fora) with his explosive ideas, is a master of persuasive rhetoric with a flair for the written word. The session raised important questions as to the role of the professional academic within society, and the difference in communication modes within and outside of academia. Many thanks to all who attended!

Remember to get in touch with us by email if you would like to suggest any topics for forthcoming sessions, and have your voice heard within SELCS!