CAMEo conference report

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Becky Coles recently attended the annual CAMEo conference. She reports….
CAMEo is an interdisciplinary research institute, set up in 2016 at the University of Leicester, to explore the dynamic relations between culture, media and economy. I went to their conference to get inspiration while writing up the longitudinal research I’ve been doing, with Pat Thomson, following young people involved in Tate’s ‘Circuit’ programme as they find places for themselves in the arts. Education was a prominent topic of conference discussion in many ways. There was a particular call to ‘re-think talent’.
Dave O’Brien and colleagues presented their growing body of work about class and inequality in the arts and creative industries. They have clearly established that the industries are not the force for social mobility they are sometimes said to be. Their analysis of large scale survey data shows that, overall, workers come from privileged backgrounds – not quite so much as doctors and lawyers but more than scientists and teachers. They also beginning to demonstrate statistically that work in the arts and creative industries has become more exclusive in recent times.
At the conference roundtable, Mark Banks and Kate Oakley started with this finding and turned to themes of pedagogy and assessment. Banks spoke about how mechanisms for selection in the arts could be particularly opaque. They are less formally prescribed, he argued, because of a belief in the importance of innate, unique, individual talent. This leads, he said, citing the work of Pierre Bourdieu, to the increased significance of classed ‘deportment’, ‘homophilic communication’ and ‘the whole capital of experience’ in selection processes. But ‘talent’ is social as well as individual and it is this social dimension of talent that needs more emphasis. Oakley described how the issue of ‘diversity’ is generally framed in terms of the importance of individual talent. A lack of social mobility results in talent being ‘wasted’. But we need to recast the idea of talent altogether, she said, pluralise it, perhaps make it ‘common’ in the language Angela McRobbie used in her plenary talk the following day.
Education had also been the topic of the first plenary session that had explored the disappearance of the art school as independent institution. Matthew Cornford and John Beck presented photographs they had taken of art school buildings across the country – almost always closed, sold off, torn down. They were not nostalgic, they said. But it is difficult not to be nostalgic for the local institutions that, no longer needed by the industrialists for whom they were once built, became, for a period, ‘outposts of the avant garde’ and while producing few great artists allowed moderately qualified local young people to experiment with making art.
Cornford and Beck also photograph the expensive ‘destination’ art galleries showing ‘international’ art (disparagingly termed ‘culture sheds’) that have replaced art schools as the most visible arts institutions of regional towns. It’s not hard to see a link between the different purposes of these two kinds of institution, a contemporary focus on ‘talent’, and increasing inequality of assess to the arts and cultural industries.

visiting scholar Sonia Ghalian

Sonia Ghalian shares her experience as a Charles Wallace British Council Visiting Scholar at CRACL, School of Education, Nottingham University July 2July 30, 2017

Sonia Ghalian at CMC

Being in a completely different scenario than yours, gives you an opportunity to reflect on your context with much more clarity. This is what the experience of spending one month in England has given me. My PhD thesis deals with the subject of ‘Children’s films in India’ and attempts to explore the nuances of representing children and childhood in the cinematic medium, within the larger continuum of Indian cinema. I aspire for my research to place the category of children’s film in India in conversation with global cinema for children and also make a case for incorporating media and film education alongside other pedagogical practices in education.

The Charles Wallace Scholarship provided me with an opportunity to reflect on both my professional context as an academic as well as on my personal context. Being a visiting scholar at the University of Nottingham, enabled me to present my work and research to a larger and wider audience both in formal presentation / conference settings as well in the form of many conversations and cups of tea shared. I plan to undertake a thematic analysis of contemporary children’s films selected from the last two decades, exploring the socio-political construction of children and childhood in India. This was something I could discuss with my mentor, Becky Parry, and the wider CRACL team.

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CMC Playground

Becky also introduced me to a wide network of people working in children media education and industry. I attended the international, annual Children’s Media Conference and the CMC Playground held in Sheffield from 4-6 July, 2017 as a delegate, listening to various panels focusing on media culture for children, its challenges and scope in contemporary times. CMC is a one of a kind event for everyone involved in developing, producing and distributing content to kids on all platforms with over 1200 participants this year. Touching on many themes across the children’s industry some of the panels got me thinking about children’s media culture in India and highlighted that we have some similar concerns and challenges. The question of gender in particular has been a central concern to me both at a personal level as well at a professional level. A key issue that emerged at the conference was the way in which gender roles are being formalised and naturalised in the media industry today, be it children’s toy and material culture or the representation of gender roles in children’s media. Another aspect that I reflected on was the lack of conversation between industry and the academic world. When the industry is recognising the need for a change in terms of how it is providing content and material culture for children, there surely has to be a dialogue between the parents, schools and researchers who are working on these subjects.

BFIIndiaonFilm.jpgVisits to London were fruitful in terms of getting in touch with other academic professionals from my field. I am so thrilled to have found Dr Shakuntala Banaji’s recent work on children and media in India and had the opportunity to discuss with her the need for interdisciplinary studies with regards to both Media Studies and Childhood Studies. Watching the program, India on Film at the British Film Institute, London, celebrating the diversity of the Indian film industry gave me some more food for thought on how much Indian cinema has travelled overseas and the role it can play in bringing very pertinent challenges in children’s lives relating to class, caste and gender to the fore.

Presentation at the seminar conducted by the Centre for Research in Arts, Creativity and Literacy (CRACL), gave me a chance to explain my project to a new audience, where I actually had to go through my whole journey as a researcher on this subject. This stint helped me gain confidence about my work and much clarity of thought on the structure and way in which I should reengage with writing my thesis.

On a personal level, this visit to England gave me a chance to interact with and meet people from very diverse backgrounds and different countries across the world. Other visiting academics that I met at my office were from Mexico, Germany, Canada, Japan and China. Now they all are very good friends. With them, I traveled around Nottingham whenever we got time and immersed ourselves at the scenic countryside that is characteristic of places like the Peak District and the legendary Sherwood Forest. The exposure on whole has led to a more expansive understanding of my subject and how to place it in context to the contemporary media culture for children.