David McGillivray

Professor, interested in events, culture, digital participation & sport.


Critical Event Studies: Some Reflections

On Friday I had the pleasure of inhabiting Manchester’s Northern Quarter for the inaugural Making Events Critical symposium at the MadLab. The event was the culmination of a year or two’s worth of conversations amongst those of us that want to introduce more ‘criticality’ into the study of events and associated processes. Adopting an ‘open space’ approach in the afternoon, following an engaging ‘expert panel‘ in the morning, the event was in equal measure engaging, informative and provocative. Others have already provided comprehensive summaries of individual sessions, including David Jarman so I’ll restrict comment to the notes I made for myself when leading the final plenary session of the day.

I started off by summarising some of the important questions I took from the sessions I attended. These included:

  1. Are we being ‘radical’ enough? (i.e. should Critical Event Studies do more than simply follow ‘traditional’ academic conventions and take a more ‘political’ role?)
  2. What does being ‘critical’ represent? (i.e. should we develop a coherent field of study with its own philosophical, epistemological, conceptual and methodological preoccupations or ‘borrow’ from already existing subject areas?)
  3. Can we be inclusive within that ‘criticality’ or do we need to accept that not everyone can/would want to be aligned with Critical Event Studies? (i.e. does everyone involved in teaching and researching event management simply sign up to CES or should there be a manifesto or set of principles that limits who can belong?)

These questions generated other, related, points of interest/challenges that I shared. In front of a 50-strong interdisciplinary audience of academics, policy makers and practitioners, I asked how a fledgling network like #CritEvents could be made real, meaningful and recognised by colleagues and PhD students within academic institutions? How could we generate credibility? Fields and disciplines have their own ontological and epistemological ‘anchors’ alongside defined methodological preoccupations. I asked whether people wanted to go down that route and provided evidence of people already trying to map out that territory.  To achieve academic credibility in an accelerating academy focused on managerial KPIs, CES would need to engage with the institutional imperatives of the Research Excellence Framework and perhaps also the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Would CES simply be a sideshow in these games or could it secure traction within departments, schools or faculties? What would we need to do to address that institutional reality?

I suggested that one way of generating credibility, meeting institutional imperatives, whilst also offering something different to what’s already in existence is to pool resources to secure external research funding to organise a research network and/or seminar series with an international reach. The interests of funders including the ESRC or AHRC align closely with many #CritEvents scholars. Topic areas could include events and urban space, events and the politics of gender, protest as events/events as protest….

I also posed the question of how we would want to organise ourselves. Who leads, who bids, who organises events? Or is a loose coalition of interests enough for the moment? Perhaps we should emphasise participation over processes, spontaneity over strictures, ideas over institutions. In my own conversations with participants, there was a desire for #CritEvents to adopt alternative academic practices/relationships with the practice communities present on the day. I personally think we should be blogging, tweeting and hosting more public-facing events rather than simply publishing in diverse academic journals often dependent on the institutional location of individual academics (e.g. business, sociology, geography, etc). We can generate public profile (where ‘public’ also includes non-academic audiences) from high profile, provocative events and interventions with creative themes and formats. We can lobby, inform and influence by coalescing around a web platform and pooling our academic resources so that our co-producers can access critical events literature in one place.  There’s much to do but lots to gain. Already looking forward to the next #CritEvents happening…

critical event studiescultural policyeventpolicyeventsolympics

David McGillivray • September 13, 2016

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