Events conference day 2: theory and reflection.

The second full day of the Global Events Congress IV has been very rewarding, I’ve really enjoyed it. ??I may have mentioned this, but the great and the good of event management are all together in the same room – just about everyone who’s work I’ve read on this subject, sat feet away.
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Dr Calvin Jones is a visiting professor of Edinburgh Napier and I have seen him talk before (and bought him dinner on Tuesday). ??He never loses his passion for highlighting the radical changes in our daily lives that will come thanks to peak oil, other limitations on natural resources and environmental change. ??They will make life harder, more expensive, restricting travel and the feasibility to continue aspects of life as we know it. ??Does this have any particular relevance to events and festivals? ??Why yes… if you consider events to be a largely discretionary area of expenditure, suitable for cutbacks by government, companies, families and communities – all of whom are facing restrictions on both income and discretionary spend. ??His themes were developed later in the day by others: what happens to events if we take away the tourism? ??If people stop travelling to events, do the events cease to exist, adapt, or what? ??This was Calvin imploring events and festivals to revisit their goals: what are they trying to achieve, are they managing to do so, can these goals be reached through less resource-intensive means?
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One of those commenting was Prof Donald Getz, an academic, author and commentator afforded somewhat legendary status by us who follow in his footsteps. ??His thesis rested on the development of ‘event studies’ as a crucial next step for this area of academic life. ??This is the development of a study into management into one which develops its own bank of theory, its own perceptions of its place in the academy, which can take the lead among discussions with academics from other disciplines. ??There’s a tension here which students of mine are sometimes very keen to bring up: they want to graduate with the ability to run events, they want the emphasis to lie on operations and management; yet at university we deliver the next step(s), ladening them down with theory and concepts and grand narratives. ??Yet this is vital – it’s just that it’s being developed at a faster pace than Getz imagined, and its reaching down into lower years of study than he envisaged. ??The overall talk was refreshing, packed with ideas, all encompassing and ultimately positive about the state of the art. ??It drew on three distinct discourses to help us gain a handle on our subject: event management; event tourism; and, classical discourses from other areas of academic thought. ??His priorities lie pretty much in line with the chapters of his 2007 text, so the next steps are accessible – but we mustn’t be complacent.
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I greatly enjoyed a presentation from two academics at Glasgow Caledonian University:??Dr Matt Frew??and??Jenny Flinn. ??Finally… here were people who were using technology, social media and the tools of the trade of today’s (young?) festival goers to develop their research. ??I met Jenny a couple of years ago when pitching Edinburgh Napier’s wonderful academic experience to HND students at Glasgow Metropolitan College – she was doing the same, though more effectively, for Glasgow Caley. ??I also had lunch with both of them today and took a few notes that may help with PhD progression – those notes to follow in due course. ??So to their talk, which focused on Glastonbury, the narrative that’s been built up around that festival, the brand image of chilled hippy-dom which is built on a foundation of increasingly sophisticated management. ??The notion that festivals are sold as places to be ‘free’, yet in reality punters are just as controlled in a controlled environment: a managed experiential brand, which you are familiar with before you arrive… so how can it be a forum for ‘free’ expression? ??This was termed a ‘fantasy of festivity’, where the kids fulfil their destiny to live out the experience they’ve come for, buying into the brand of Glastonbury then posting it online for their friends and the world to see and comment on. ??The research was based around online social media analytical tools, of which there are many: try Googling for it apparently! ??We saw examples of Wordles and so on, drawing on a great deal of social media data, and mainstream/formal sources of information. ??My question: how to square this super-controlled brand narrative with the disparate and uncontrollable nature of social media? ??Do the audiences have to buy into the creation myths and other aspects of the festival’s image, is negativity drowned out, is there a myth about the diversity of opinions that emanate from such a festival? ??Key theorists for this work are:
Jensen
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(Apologies for the Wikipedia and Google Books links there: it’s a start, particularly at 1am.)
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So that’s where we leave things for now, with one more day to come. ??I’m looking forward to it – this is just what I’ve needed to feel I’m playing a part in this academic discipline, while learning a lot about how others see the subject, how it’s progressing and where I can fit into that future.

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