There’s a growing momentum around the idea of ‘critical event studies’, which has led to the publication of this edited book (including a chapter from me!). Themes include research methods, history, ideologies and encounters.
My chapter is titled ‘The Strength of Festival Ties: Social Network Analysis and the 2014 Edinburgh International Science Festival’. It takes a broadly research methods focus, applying whole network analysis to the employees of the EISF on the eve of the 2014 festival. There are plans and hopes that this ‘critical’ agenda can lead to panels at conferences, further publications, and more symposia and gatherings.
Last Friday (9 September, 2016) saw the first Critical Event Studies Symposium, held at Mad Lab, Manchester. What follows are my bullet point notes from the day. Further material from the day is being posted to the main site, and the Twitter hashtag is #CritEvents. The format of the day encouraged discussion and conversation, critique and questioning. And some excellent note taking!
Critical Event Studies Symposium
Friday 9 September, Mad Lab, Manchester
Maurice Roche: background in mega events, particularly sporting and world’s fairs.
- Outlines growth in events work, including HE.
- Critical Event Studies: a response to burgeoning interest in events, and their meaning. Going beyond practise, operation and economic dimensions of events.
- Events need to be understood in terms of conflict and contest: should be aware of this when we look at events, going beyond mainstream interpretations.
- Contexts are vital: political and cultural, in addition to economic.
- So what’s new? Roche sees this as a re-animation and re-discovery of existing themes. (See Roche: ‘Mega-Events & Modernity’.) Example of 1936 Nazi Olympics: what was happening in Germany, what was the IOC doing at the time? But a need to justify and explain this to other academic fields.
- Roche in Sheffield: strange time in the city as economy crashes (steel, coal), while also planning for 1991 World Student Games. What was driving it, what was the legacy? Result being 25 years of debt, thus opportunity costs as a negative legacy. Therefore… conflict and contest.
- Recognition of the complexity of events; the rise of the global east; contexts are changing; changing contexts influences changes in events; what of ‘the future’ and where are we going; Roche predicts a strong future for events, coming out of the recent growth.
- Threats to events: see issues relating to FIFA, IAAF, IOC and other global institutions. Existential threat?
- Notes value and good timing for this focus on ‘critical events’.
- This is the right time, following 30 years of theorising around events. Time to bring this together with the managerial angle, to build bridges and look at common terms, and themes can be looked at afresh.
- Anthropological angle: myth and ritual and their place in events. Contemporary myth making. City branding on one level, but also how we see ourselves and how are we presenting this to ourselves and to the world. How do you tell the story? How do we judge whether an event is a success or a failure?
- Notes Brazil: a sense of pride around opening ceremony, perhaps unexpectedly, a sense that the Olympics weren’t going to be a failure after all.
- Events and festivals: differences between them. Events as to be experienced, mediated, global, building a new reality for the Olympics since the 1980s. The Olympics sells access, sells exclusivity, sells sponsorship opportunities… but this brings pressure from the needs of the media, so that the real experience is the televised one, rather than the live experience. Limited resources need to be spent where the greatest pay off can be found. Festivals are more about the lived experience, hopefully paying attention to the needs of the local audience. How to recover the festival from within the event city?
- Garcia: personally inspired by 1992 Barcelona Olympics, where the city was overtly integrated into the narrative, ‘the city as a protagonist’. However, always a struggle to get the city into the picture. Saw 9/11 as a spur to retreat back into arenas, where they can be controlled. Since then security is a key priority.
- ECOC: different from sporting mega events on the basis of scale, length, motivations, focus. See cultural events as being a harder context in which to justify position. Are they really a mega event? Do they get the media coverage that help to define sporting mega events? Is it possible to link the ‘business’ angle of cultural events (which is vital) with broader objectives relating to society and culture?
- Notes that Olympics are broadening their scope, to take on board cultural elements. See ‘national houses’ dimension, presenting a mini World Expo.
- New: the way we deal with the public realm, in that cities can’t really be shut off, so how to deal with protest and debate? Particularly in the context of social media. How to create a festival around a mega event in this context?
- New: a discussion around how to tell the story. Does the 1980s vision of exclusive media access, the experts on screen, etc. still hold true? Where is the multiplicity of voices that is expected today? What place experts today? Stories are being told simultaneously through multiple media, that no one can control.
- Challenge: making use of the expertise available. The ‘caravan of experts’ that exists around each mega event, who will provide a festival model for you (at a cost): importing ideas into your city, because they worked elsewhere. How is this providing an answer for the needs of your city? They can’t, without creating ‘non-places’, where anything that doesn’t fit the model gets covered up and ignored. How to make the most of knowledge transfer, while responding to what’s difficult and challenging and specific to each destination?
- Agrees that we need to value place making, and how do you combine the necessity to learn and provide legacy, with the need for wonderment, and for each host to question the situation it finds itself in.
James McVeigh: Festivals Edinburgh
- Edinburgh Festivals context: 1947 to 2017. Festivals rooted in the destination, with both historical and contemporary links to the festivals. Lends ‘authenticity’ to the festivals.
- Impact assessment report (2016).
- 2007 ‘Publicly-funded culture and the creative industries’ text started debate over the role of the public funding and later commercial successes.
- Fault line between ‘important work’ and ‘popular work’. Led to ‘Desire Lines’, to pick out the influence between the festivals and the year round cultural provision.
- Resident versus tourist: who are the festivals for?
- Social impacts: who are the festivals for? Scope: festivals are more than fireworks… they last longer that just the moment of experience. Where is the voice of the resident? How to find the voice of different communities? How to bring audiences and communities into the conversation?
- Festivals in the broader cultural economy: how to establish the link between festivals and broader cultural work, when this is poorly understood? Note that Edinburgh festivals are seen as a place to see new work, and recognised as such by the artists themselves.
- Festivals’ role in audience development: why do people do things differently at festival time? See new work, engage differently.
- Festivals Innovation Lab: how can festivals adapt and change, act as a laboratory of new thinking. Festivals should be at the vanguard of cultural thinking.
- Societal importance of festivals: from Holi to Tomatina, Day of the Dead, etc. Festivals interrupt the day to day. They introduce work into new spaces. They can help you reimagine your city.
- 1947: context of post-war austerity and European conflict, yet Edinburgh held a party, for the ‘flowering of the human spirit’.
Ellie Turner: Walk the Plank
- Critical events: community participation and relevance. Giving people and communities a sense of place, and pride. Working at all scales, on land, sea and air. Telling a story through their work, their artists, makers, musicians, etc. Bringing international artists together with local artists, to build the capacity of NW to deliver such projects. ‘Impact’ is delivered from the start.
- Key to connect with the community that you’re working with.
- Have we been held back by a focus on mega events?
- The biddable nature of sporting events means that they get a lot of attention, have to be able to justify themselves and get support. How do we define mega events: does it include ECOC? In Edinburgh festivals are seen as a concentration of space, time and activity… so a year long festival doesn’t make sense, it’s a branding exercise.
- The distinction between attracting events and supporting those you already have and are created yourself. Where should funding come from: different pots of money for these different types of events?
- Distinction between local and global: how to reflect both. How to retain knowledge, experience and expertise within the destination.
- James notes timing of festivals’ founding, often in a time of change and/or crisis: post-WWII, 1968, post-Berlin Wall.
- Where’s the critical? Are we being constrained by orthodoxies and how do we overcome them? How do we think radically?
- BG: bring new people to the table.
- JMcV: Edinburgh’s engagement with tech sector, viewing the festivals as a laboratory.
- Should events and festivals have a limited life time? That they exist to fulfil a particular need, but that they should be allowed to die once that need has passed.
- KW: notes opposition to Paralympics and whether this ‘circus’ is meeting the needs of its various communities.
- Institute of Event Management and professional recognition:
- How will outputs be disseminated from today? LP highlights today as a starting point, but that outputs will be disseminated centrally and by different participants.
- What of local/global and other dichotomies:
- Looking to roots of festivals: to what extent are there common factors in different places?
- What happens when you take an event from one context to another, with a different cultural context?
- How to address the complexities of societies and cultures and destinations: disconnected communities, etc.?
- How to reflect the diversity of a community or destination? How to avoid the standard white, middle class audience? The diversity of a city can be its strength, but is this reflected in the producers, consumers, participants and audiences of a festival?
- How ‘local’ are local festivals, which are produced by external organisations? E.g. Walk the Plank getting a contract to deliver events in your city.
- Distinctions between festivals and events and processions:
- JMcV: points to FE criteria for being a member, which includes lasting for at least three days.
- Cultural context important, because what works for one location might not be applicable elsewhere.
- Different conceptualisations of ‘public space’, and how some places seem to ‘discover’ phenomena that are common elsewhere.
Questioning the role of ‘experts’
- What is an expert?
- Where is the expertise: local authorities?
- What are graduates coming out of university equipped to do?
- It sounds as though we need experts within the events industry, to avoid problems and potential catastrophes.
- Research as an element of developing expertise.
- How can Event Management courses be developed to meet the needs of industry: bringing the academic and/or the practical knowledge? How to address the variety of types of events, facets of the industry and so on?
- Industry experience: situations where industry has to rescue event plans that go off track.
- Experts having a clearer idea of realistic scale and scope for festivals and events, based on available budgets.
- What of having experts from one city delivering events elsewhere: a means to the end of sustainability for the company? How to avoid the risk of damaging the original brand?
- Expertise: tied to credibility? Each source being judged on its authority and justification. So, in the events context who carries that authority and validation?
- Does the expert have to have the qualifications? What place experience? Perhaps the expert is the one to say ‘stop’.
- Development of the events management education: skewed towards the operational, instrumental and evangelical? What have we done to this generation of graduates? Highlight the value of work placements and experience to build on the academic.
- Different models of placements and internships within degree courses: concentrated, spread out, etc. A need to develop work based learning that suits the student and the employer – trying to avoid negative experiences that will put partners off in the future.
Is event management superficial and self-congratulatory?
- Following on from Rojek’s critique of events (‘Event Power’).
- DMcG: following up on this by identifying the critical work that has been done around events.
- How does critical event studies avoid superficiality?
- A sense that event practitioners are also blinkered in their approach to the industry… and yet look at Walk to Plank’s recognition that they are contributing to sense of place and pride.
- How to take a critical approach, that draws on a range of ideas (authenticity, commercialisation, etc.), to deliver events that reflect those ideas. Easy to overlook these things in the need to be successful and sustainable.
- Funding regimes: a need to satisfy funding requirements in order to get support.
- How to educate students so that they can deliver events that are successful, can get funding, and can draw from the need to meet a range of objectives.
- Rojek’s argument carries weight (though there are criticisms of how he delivers his argument).
- Events education: moving away from hospitality and tourism. And yet… how does what we do match up with what employers are looking for. (Some might prefer the previous model!)
- Legal matters: how to integrate legal content into an events management course? A dedicated module that covers ‘what you need to know’? Events students need to be aware of the broader legal context in which you operate, which includes some of the reasons why people might be protesting against your event.
- Events struggling to have an epistemology and philosophy that defines it as being different. Without it, there will be questions over credibility, coming from other academic areas.
- How are these courses then judged: on their level of academic criticality? NSS ‘intellectual challenge’?
- The foundations of a programme might be crucial in its development: growing out of hospitality and tourism, or appearing independently of them?
- Events literature: how to reflect and support the more critical work? See how Tourism has diversified, yet Events is still primarily publishing management/operational work in such journals? Critical work is being done, but it’s often published in non-events journals.
- A possible parting of the waves? Management courses, and studies courses?
- Do we see many students taking events courses purely for the academic side? Not really… the better academic students may well be generally switched on in all areas, or others are less keen to get involved in the volunteering side of things.
Events and festivals as liminal, radical spaces
- Not quite every day life, but there are still rules.
- Phases of ritual: liminal is central, the phase where someone goes from one state to another and is open to new ideas. A transformative phase.
- What happens when the person goes back into the normal world?
- A space of potential: other things are possible.
- Venice Carnival: the wearing of masks to deliver equality, or at least anonymity.
- Festivals that turn things on their heads: performances in different spaces; juxtaposing audiences and performers; altering the geography and flow of a place.
- Transformative: do we see people being changed?
- Ritual, carnival and liminality: Bakhtin, etc. …the potential for people to come back from a festival experience a different person. Does this work only at the individual level, but not for broader social change? Yet the individuals are what makes up society, and they have agency.
- Thresholds: what does it take for an individual to let themselves go?
- Examples: Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh; LIFT in London. Starting projects in order to produce and provide spaces in which new ideas can be discussed, phenomena created.
- Does liminality apply in a sports context? Crossing a touchline into a space where different rules apply? Yet liminality suggests there are no rules.