We are delighted to be hosting the first MeCCSA annual conference in Scotland at the University of Stirling from 9-11 January 2019.
The conference theme ‘Continuity and Change – Media, Communications and Politics’ is designed to speak to different academic fields represented within MeCCSA, whilst also speaking to specific anniversaries significant to Stirling/Scotland, including the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament. We will bring together academics, practitioners and media and communications professionals to question the role of traditional and digital media and communications in maintaining continuity and advocating for political change.
The topics we will address include: media activism and civic engagement; digital cultures; media in devolved political contexts; media archives and pedagogy; documenting political change; ways of witnessing; crisis and change communications; media representation of marginal groups; ethics, power and responsibility; and cultural histories of film, media and communications education. These themes will be addressed in a range of plenaries, roundtables, panels, screenings, archival visits and exhibitions during the conference.
Stirling Court Hotel
The conference is an annual presentation for the best work across the full range of MeCCSA interests and is also an opportunity to hear about and discuss important topics in both media and HE policy relevant to MeCCSA members.
Philip Schlesinger is Professor in Cultural Policy at the University of Glasgow. He is a Visiting Professor in Media and Communications at the LSE and in spring 2018 was a Robert Schuman Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Academy of Social Sciences and the Royal Society of Arts. He has been chair of the Ofcom Advisory Committee for Scotland and Member for Scotland on the Ofcom Content Board and presently chairs the editorial board of Media, Culture and Society. His work has ranged widely across the fields of culture and media. He is currently working on digital culture and the transformation of the public sphere, with particular reference to nations, states, and collective identities. He is also pursuing related work on the politics of expertise.
What’s happening to the public sphere?
The idea and ideal of a public sphere has long been key to debate and investigation in the field of political communication broadly understood. But in what terms is it still viable? Largely developed in the context of the democratisation of national political spaces bounded by states, public sphere thinking has also been extended to supra- and sub-state levels. Shaped by the era of mass communication, how is it faring in a digital world marked by ‘post-truth’, exclusionary nationalisms, profound socio-economic divisions, global cyber warfare, conflict over the uses of data, the transformative impact of social media, and regulatory overstretch?
Shohini Chaudhuri is a Professor in the Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex. Her main research and
Cinema of Constraints: Continuity and Change in Contemporary Filmmaking from and about the Arab World and Iran
This paper is work-in-progress for the book I am currently writing on freedom of expression and contemporary cinema from and about Iran and the Arab world. The last decade in particular has been very turbulent for the region which has experienced numerous crises that, nonetheless, appear to have inspired a creative outpouring not only in cinema but across the arts. This paper, and the forthcoming book, explores the dynamic between crisis, creativity and constraint in an attempt to understand what forms cinematic creativity takes in independent documentary and fiction filmmaking from and about the region. In so doing it offsets the idea that crisis offers opportunities for change and creativity with an emphasis on the effects of limitations on freedom of expression.
In international news, the Middle East is frequently portrayed as a crisis ‘hotspot’. Filmmakers frequently attempt to go beyond standard news images and narratives of crisis, often having to overcome numerous constraints and personal risks to tell their stories. Unlike most discussions of freedom of expression in the cinema, which focus exclusively on censorship, this paper explores an array of different risks and limitations confronted by filmmakers, and the changing creative strategies they are using to respond to, or work within, these constraints. I try to forge a more nuanced understanding of the challenges filmmakers face, one that does not reduce free expression to the presence or lack of censorship, by discussing the range of freedom of expression, that is the multiple possibilities and limitations which vary geographically and change under different political circumstances.
Drawing on Jon Elster’s work on the artistic use of constraints and Mette Hjort’s writings on the phenomenon of risk in filmmaking, as well as interviews conducted with a number of filmmakers, I argue that every film is a product of its constraints. I expand and modify Elster’s typology of constraints to show the kinds of constraints that face filmmakers making films in or about the Middle East, including external constraints that are political, economic, technological, cultural, religious, linguistic, security-related, spatial and temporal, and stylistic constraints, which can be externally imposed, chosen or invented. Some of these constraints will be recognizable to independent filmmakers everywhere, but others illuminate a regionally-specific relationship between crisis, creativity and constraint.
Furthermore, the constraints leave material traces on the creative strategies that filmmakers adopt, such as directing via Skype in the Syrian warzone in the documentary Little Gandhi (2016), using animation as a substitute for live-action re-enactment in The Green Wave (2010) (a documentary about the Green Movement in Iran) and re-creating West Bank locations through CGI in the science fiction film Nation Estate (2013) to avoid risks of on-location shooting, including confiscation of footage and equipment by Israeli security. While filmmakers continue to find creative ways around constraints by tackling topics indirectly, I will argue that, dependent on the permissible range of freedom of expression and the possibilities afforded by digital technologies, their creative strategies have also become increasingly direct and less allegorical.
Leshu Torchin is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of St Andrews, where she works on the subject of film, genocide, and human rights advocacy. She is currently working on community filmmaking for gender equality in the Pacific as Co-I on the AHRC-funded 'Participatory Filmmaking as Development Method'. She is author of the monograph, Creating the Witness: Documenting Genocide in Film, Video, and the Internet (University of Minnesota Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in Third Text, Film Quarterly. Film and History and American Anthropologist as well as in the academic blog, The Conversation.
Genre and Geopolitics: Economies of Fact, Finance, and the Body
The financial crises of 2008, the austerity measures that followed, and the global protests that arose in their wake have pushed economic justice to the fore in recent years. This is not a newly emergent phenomenon, but one enabled by prior decades of protest and a shift in the discourse that pushed poverty and its symptoms into the realm of politics. Documentaries have played a crucial role in this shift. They combat the ‘media amnesia’ in financial reportage, which Laura Basu argues rewrites the crises to support the conditions that gave rise to them. In addition, they produce a framework for seeing injustice, rendering visible the invisible flows of capital, and making perceptible the violations wrought by an ostensibly neutral system. This is no simple process as economic violence does not fit the victim perpetrator paradigm, and the documentary’s own pretence to neutrality, rationality, and objectivity risks mimicking the sober discourses of capital and economics. But, as this paper argues, hybrid documentaries (for instance, John and Jane, Cleveland versus Wall Street, and Come to Me Paradise) negotiate these challenges by seizing and destabilising the authority of the mode whilst placing its subjects at the centre of a changing formal landscape thus performing the effects of coercive systemic forces on the human caught within.
Hannu Nieminen is currently Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and professor of media and communications policy at the University of Helsinki. He received his master’s degree in social studies in 1984 at the University of Tampere, where he studied political science, sociology, journalism and mass media. Before returning to academic life in the early 1990s, he worked as a student and peace movement organiser. He received his PhD in 1996 at the University of Westminster’s Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI). In his doctoral dissertation, he compared Jürgen Habermas’ and Raymond Williams’ historical accounts of the development of public life in Britain, and assessed their complementary views, as well as differences, in conceptualising the role of communication in the processes of democratisation. From 1996 to 2005, Nieminen was the professor of media studies at the University of Turku.
The Media and Informed Citizenship: Examining the Nordic Model
The common ideal of democracy rests on the notion of informed and active citizenship. It is further assumed that the major source of the information needed for democratic participation and decision-making is the media in their various forms. From this it follows that those societies with the most informed and active citizens are also the most democratic societies if measured by equality, wellbeing and security. In most, if not all, international rankings based on these indicators, the Nordic countries are among the top performers. This ranking also includes their media systems (sometimes called the Nordic welfare media or democratic corporatist model).
However, as in most other European countries, inequality and social polarization are on the rise in Nordic societies. Xenophobia and ethnic discrimination are openly displayed. Budget cuts in education, science, social services and healthcare most profoundly affect the most vulnerable members of society.
How can we explain the incongruity that the world’s best-informed people, who are also supposed to be the most democratic, are acting against the values – equality, wellbeing and security – for which they are famous all over the world? What seems to be the problem?
If we assume that the media system is the mainspring of informed and active citizenship, there are two possibilities: (1) The Nordic media systems function well, and the citizens are well informed. This means that people make discriminatory choices voluntarily and consciously on the basis of the best information. We don’t like this option, however, as we like to believe that informed citizens make only good and right choices. Alternatively, (2) the Nordic media systems don’t function well, and the citizens are not well informed. This means that people make discriminatory choices without full knowledge of their consequences (i.e., unconsciously).
In my presentation, I will follow the latter path of inquiry. I will critically discuss our understanding of the relationship between the media and democracy. I claim that, as media scholars, we are biased toward an outdated normative concept of the media that needs to be updated, a project for which I intend to offer some conceptual tools.