A disturbing myopia in Global Events Management?: A response to Rojek
It’s been a while since I’ve felt the need to draft a blog post – not because I’ve run out of content or decided that academic blogging is past its sell by date – but instead because I’ve simply not had the time or been provoked enough to react with a retort to some story in the news or an experience from my academic life.
However, today I have felt compelled to provide a riposte to an article penned by Chris Rojek titled ‘Global Events Management – a critique‘ which appears in the Leisure Studies journal. One of the main lines of arguments in the article is the superficiality at the very heart of this new upstart to the academic game – Events Management. Now, let’s be clear from the beginning, I agree with some of Rojek’s sentiment about an unproblematised, uncritical, neoliberal-influenced thread of work within the field. I have written, with others, to that effect here in the Event Policy book. I also like the title of Rojek’s new book, Event Power: How Global Events Manipulate, including his notion of event appropriation. I’m hoping the soon-to-be-published book will provide a more rigorous appraisal of the Global Event Management subject he describes as at the moment there are some crucial flaws in his argument that I’d like to draw attention to here. These can be summarised as:
1. He is extremely selective in his definition of event management as a subject. He associates it mainly with the work of Bowdin and Getz and, whilst their high selling books do make them important to the emerging field, they operate at the logistical and operational end of the spectrum. There are many other scholars (Roche, Waitt, Eik, Cornelissen, Schechner, etc) who provide a very different take on the function of events historically and in the contemporary period and do so with a healthy dose of scepticism about their transformative power. Whilst Rojek claims that Event Management literature is overwhelmingly ‘uncritical and self congratulatory’, I would argue that even a cursory glance at material produced in a number of key texts over the last few years would contest this claim.
2. He uses all encompassing terms like Global Events Management, cyclical events and events appropriation without defining their limits and acknowledging previous work which has addressed the same issues around the neoliberal tendencies evident in event management. This strikes me as sloppy and more than a little dismissive of the broader literature and underpinning discipline (s) that make up the field. As I’ve argued elsewhere, in the study of events, you have scholars approaching the topic from political economy, urban geography, politics and urban studies, to name a few. Mega sporting events, for example, have been the subject of extensive critical attention in recent years and, I would argue, that this now influences those bidding for and delivering these events. It could even be argued that some protest movements formed around mega events emerged and have been given backing by an academic community concerned at the acceptance of event-led regeneration as a panacea or economic salvation for cities.
3. He makes what I think are overly broad-brush comparisons between Leisure Studies (a field I was steeped in during my early academic career) and Global Events Management (whatever that ‘is’ remains unclear throughout). As mentioned, I think he underestimates the extent of critical scholarship existing in the field, some of which is radical, oppositional, political and does certainly critique ‘social control, economic inequality and moral regulation’ which Rojek suggests are marginalised.
4. Finally, Rojek claims that Event Management claims reflect a ‘disturbing myopia about generations of critical study in the Social Sciences and Leisure Studies on questions of power, control and resistance’. Whilst it is true to say that few event management courses will contain more than one or two units which address these issues, as someone who would consider his work (and that of many of his contemporaries) to be concerned with what we might call events policy or event studies, I would have liked to see a more balanced appraisal of the field as it stands.
It’s ironic that I’m pointing more people to read an article that’s provoked me to produce a blog post critical of its content – and I have no doubt that, in part, that was the intention of the author all along. The field of event management could do with more debate on matters of its own ontological and epistemological limits and body of knowledge. If Rojek’s article has the desired effect then ultimately it will make a positive contribution to the level of critical debate many of us desire. And, if the field continues to attract attention from scholars concerned with issues of power, social control and resistance then perhaps one day I’ll have a radical journal of Event Studies in which to publish a response.