RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy
Since the 1996 Research Assessment Exercise, Media Studies at Sussex has undergone major changes. Of the nine staff at that return, five have moved to other institutions (three to Professorships). The process of replacing them has given the Subject Group the opportunity to redefine itself and to acquire new research directions and strengths. While this has inevitably reconfigured the research agenda in some respects, continuity with past projects and aspirations has been maintained. A series of new appointments has renewed existing commitments, such as to the study of everyday life and media technologies (Bassett and Bull), or to the study of film (Barker, Austin, Smith). But those appointments have also opened up new research directions--into the politics of globalisation (Smith), for example, or audience studies (Barker and Austin). The transfer of Cawson from Politics added impetus to our commitment to the study of new media and new technologies, as did the appointments of Bassett, Bull, Smith and, more recently, Munt (replacing Barker at the post of Reader in 2001). The appointment of Bassett, while still a D.Phil student especially testifies to our desire to invest in young academic talent.
This growth in faculty and programmes in new media reflects the University’s recent targeting of Media Studies for innovation and further expansion in the coming years. Another result of this is the incorporation of Einhorn into our research group. Given our new MA programmes in gender and media, and the ongoing European dimension of our research agenda, this is a logical and welcome move.
Even with these changes in personnel and emphasis, the guiding principles of our earlier research agenda still apply. The heart of our intellectual project is still the broad set of approaches that characterises the cultural studies tradition. We seek to understand how media technologies, institutions and representations inform the cultural texture of modern societies, and we research their impact in particular cases and on particular groups of people. We explore how media define the terms of political discourse, public life and popular memory. We investigate how domestic and public technologies contribute to the structure of everyday life. We consider how cultural differences are produced, sustained and challenged through conventions of representation. We explore how media-produced images and sounds inform identities and contribute to the conduct of private and public existence and we emphasise the place of political-economic concerns in all areas of culture. Simultaneously, we continually consider and debate the question of the most appropriate methods and theoretical approaches for researching any or all of these issues.
The faculty who have left during the RAE period all helped to shape the above research agendas and they evidently shaped their own output. Silverstone, who moved to a sponsored chair at the LSE, was particularly important in spearheading research into new media technologies and took the cultural studies approach of the group in innovative directions. His publications, Visions of Suburbia (1997) and Why Study the Media (begun at Sussex and published in 1999), reflect the productivity of his time here. Similarly, the publications of Donald (Close-up: cinema and modernism (1998), Imagining the Modern City (1999)), Merck (After Diana: Irreverent Elegies (1998), Coming out of Feminism (1998), In Your Face (2000)) and Thornton (The Subcultures Reader (1996)) reflect a research culture which they influenced and were in turn shaped by.
The Subject Group now shows significant strengths in the several aspects of media studies research we set out below. These areas constitute the focus for the research of particular faculty as we describe, but it is also importantly the case that most of the group have strong interests in several of these areas even when those are not the primary focus of their work.
1: Media studies as (inter)disciplinary:
The Media Studies Subject Group operates within the Sussex Schools system, a framework whose explicit aim is to encourage interdisciplinarity. The group’s own intellectual identity depends more than most upon such a commitment, and this is demonstrated by our wide interrogation of the disciplines germane to media and cultural studies.
Smith, who joined the Group as professor in 1999 from George Mason University, Virginia, has been a leading figure in the development of media and cultural studies in the US for almost twenty years. Much of his work over the years has questioned the status of theory and method in media and cultural studies, and he was the co-author of one of the first theoretical agendas for cultural studies in the US, ‘The Need for Cultural Studies’ (with Giroux, Shumway, Sosnoski) in 1984. Since then his work has crossed disciplinary boundaries in search of a viable set of common protocols for cultural studies and his work in this and in other areas now commands attention in a variety of disciplinary fields in the US. He is currently completing a book, Cultural Studies: A Manifesto, that recommends an interdisciplinary framework of method, theory, and protocol, and that stresses the role of political economy in cultural studies. Munt's work has similarly engaged disciplinary issues, emphasising the relation between textual practice and politics and engaging deeply with social theory in her work on space and on sexuality. Several of Medhurst’s recent publications also address questions of method, pedagogy and disciplinarity. In particular his chapters on working class identifications and on punk rock consider the relation between autobiographical and academic discourses, the role of personal memory in cultural disciplines, and the question of pedagogy and sexuality. Barker has built on a sequence of audience studies to reflect on the use of the idea of the 'text' in media and cultural studies, and in his recent work has developed an account of contemporary film combining humanities and sociological methods Barker and Austin collaborated on a new interdisciplinary approach to film analysis in a book that shows how to take account of both cognitive processes and sensuous, emotional and cultural responses when mapping how films propose roles for their audiences to occupy. Wood’s work on media and cultural memory engages with key historiographical developments and debates and has resulted in collaborative projects such as the volume she co-edited with Prof. Kedward of History, The Liberation of France: Image and Event. Wood’s articles on the media’s role in the coverage of events like war crimes trials have broadened and strengthened this interdisciplinary collaboration, demonstrated by their publication in journals like History and Memory, and French Cultural Studies. Wood’s book, Vectors of Memory, makes a case for a historiographically-informed approach to memory on the part of media and cultural theorists and argues that historians must become more attuned to the politics of representation.
The Group’s interest in interdisciplinarity crosses the divide between research and teaching, as for example in Barker's book on The Last of the Mohicans, and Smith's provocative articles on the teaching of cultural studies, and most strongly in Aldred’s contribution to the book she co-edited, Teaching Culture. Aldred's work adds significantly to the research on pedagogy in our fields, and the book reflects on what new forms of interdisciplinary knowledge are needed in order to open up educational access to non-traditional students in universities.
It is typical of work produced by the group that it constantly strays across disciplinary boundaries. Therefore a good deal of what appears below under more specific headings could as well have appeared here.
2: European Media and Culture
Building upon her past work on East-Central Europe, Wood has co-edited and contributed to a major BFI reference encyclopaedia on Russian and Eastern European cinema and has also co-edited and contributed to a forthcoming volume on the role that the media play in European migration processes. Lacey's research on German media, radio in particular, is well known in both Britain and Germany for the way it engages issues of European history, technological innovation, and both national and gender identities. Since her book on gender and radio, Feminine Frequencies, she has extended her research to consider the transformation of the European public sphere in the formative years of broadcasting, connecting the public sphere of politics to the historical ‘horizon of European experience.’ Her current work attempts a historical periodisation of the practice of listening in Europe and she has spent a term on a research exchange at Humbolt University to continue this work. Now that Einhorn has joined our research programme, the European and East-Central European dimension is further enhanced. Einhorn, author of the path-breaking Cinderella Goes to Market: Citizenship, Gender and Women’s Movements in East Central Europe (1993) continues to investigate women’s rights, economic status and social power in a period of democratic transition, and to bring this analysis to bear on MA courses such as the new ‘Gender, Media and Nation’. Bassett’s research into new media technologies has of necessity involved a consideration of these developments in their European context. Her contributions have been threefold: participating in a European Council seminar programme on the development of new media cultures and policies in Europe, contributing to a collection looking at the development of new media culture ‘from below’ across Europe, and focussing on the digital arts training and production facility Artec, an EU-funded organisation. Cawson's work on the production and consumption of new technologies has also concentrated on their European impact, dealing with policy and issues of business practice in the television and the electronics industries.
3: New Media, New Technologies:
Work on the new media is emerging as a major new direction for the group. The consolidation of our MA in Digital Media, the transfer to the group of Cawson, along with new appointments, indicate our commitment to this, as does the appointment of two new digital production tutors, and our current search for two new faculty who can contribute to the existing areas of our research agenda while being skilled in production areas.
Cawson’s work has concentrated on the process of innovation in technology-based new media products and services, from the point of view of both producers and consumers and in the context of the increasing convergence of digital technologies. On the production side, he researched the strategies of producers and the within-firm process of new product development, especially in his book, The Shape of Things to Consume. On the consumer side, he has researched the take-up and use of new media technologies, and their impact on social and political processes. His principal research questions are how far user needs are embodied in new product development, and how far the actual use of new media products conforms to producer expectations (a major theme in his ESRC-funded project). Recently he has studied Internet usage and has researched and developed tools (the Kogan Page Illustra Guides) to make the Internet accessible to non-technical users. Smith’s current research for 'World Wide Webs' (under contract) includes an investigation into the Internet and telecommunications in the context of globalisation This book will follow up on parts of his Millennial Dreams and is concerned in particular with the effect of media ownership and the political economy of the media on both consumers and on the development of new forms of cultural meaning. The work also considers the relation of the new media to chronic socio-cultural concerns such as pornography and censorship, gambling, and hate-speech. This year Smith has led the development of a bid for an AHRB Research Centre focussing on the relationship between new media and technologies and cultures of consumption and based on collaboration between Media Studies at Sussex and the School of Information Management at the University of Brighton. Bassett’s research also concerns the social and cultural significance of new media systems. Her published work considers the discursive construction of gender in on-line worlds, the question of gender and technology in relation to cyber-feminism, the development–and political implications—of commercial leisure spaces, and mobile telephony as a cultural practice; all these topics involve the negotiation of new senses of the public and the private. Her doctoral thesis, completed in April 2001, brings these and other areas together and seeks to establish a connection between new forms of communications technology and the nature of narrative and its practice in the context of a particular political economy. Bassett and Smith are also centrally involved in two new journals in the forefront of the field of new media research: Bassett is reviews editor for New Media and Society, and Smith is an editor of the American journals Television and New Media and the on-line Cultural Logic. Bassett is working with Austin on a project about the Brighton Marina, concentrating on the production of new leisure spaces inflected by new media and new communications technologies (for which they submitted an AHRB bid). Aldred has been engaged in work on the implications of multimedia for pedagogy and for training in the new media industries. She has spoken at a BFI conference on these issues, and her presentation is being published as part of the conference proceedings. Einhorn has acted as an Editorial Consultant for UNU/INTECH on a publication concerning the impact of new forms of telecommunications on women’s opportunities in developing countries. The current direction of Munt's research on new technologies, cultural space and identities adds a further dimension to our growing strengths in this field. As a necessary continuation of current work, other faculty also address the significance of particular forms of new media and technologies. Bull's work on sound technologies and the urban environment, Lacey's attention to digital broadcasting, Barker’s work on digitalised special effects in the cinema, and Bassett's work on mobile telephony all share the premise that new technological modes are always simultaneously social and need to be located within a firm sense of their historical matrix.
4: Popular culture and identities:
The interface between the media and popular culture a strong suit of many in the Subject Group. Much of Medhurst’s best known work centres here – as demonstrated by his essays on punk rock, and on suburbia. He has a book forthcoming (2001) on English identity and comedy, and has delivered many lectures on those topics, including the Keynote at the International Association for Research into Popular Fiction in Liverpool in 1998. His work on class identity includes his chapter in Munt (ed.) Cultural Studies and the Working-Class ((1999) and a Keynote talk for that book's spin-off conference at UEL in 2000. Munt's own work has also focussed on identities--gender and class particularly--in relation to popular culture and the media. Austin has investigated the critical reception and consumption of popular film as processes whereby a range of social and cultural identities are constructed and differentiated. Drawing on a combination of discursive contexts and audience research, he explores the erection and contestation of multiple distinctions between film audience fractions, made on the grounds of taste and ‘cool’. Bull’s work has concentrated on those areas of popular culture that are, in his word, 'auditised.' He investigates the use and consumption of audio technologies in the urban environment, focussing on the construction of everyday life and patterns of experience. His book, Sounding Out the City, which attends to the use of personal stereos, constitutes a major rethinking of previous work on this topic in cultural studies and will soon be followed up by his co-edited volume, Into Sound. Smith’s research in these areas has been internationally known ever since his theoretical work on subjectivity in Discerning the Subject (1988 -- a book still widely adopted in American postgraduate and undergraduate courses--and is represented more recently by the discussions of national identity and cultural ideologies in Millennial Dreams, a book that was the topic of a week-long reading group at the Institute on Culture and Society at Georgetown University in 1999. His interest in popular culture and subjectivities has ranged widely. His co-edited volume, Madonnarama, undertook an investigation of the way subaltern sexual identities are affected when they irrupt into the mainstream media; a chapter in his book on Clint Eastwood, "The Meaning of Black," has become a seminal text in discussions of blackness and Hollywood cinema; and his 1997 article on the political economy of the clothing brand, Tommy Hilfiger, has received much attention for its analysis of race politics and popular fashion in the US.
5: Gender and sexuality:
Medhurst’s work in this area has given him a high profile in the development of queer theory in Britain. Along with work in Aldred & Ryle, he has an essay on ‘Jason King’ in a forthcoming anthology and he has spoken widely across Britain and in the public media on these issues. He and Munt co-edited the first Lesbian and Gay Studies collection in Britain. Winship has long been known for her work in feminism and she has continued to focus on questions of gender and representation, both historically and in contemporary contexts. In particular, her research on advertising investigates its representation of women and the shifting relationship between feminisms and femininities; and her studies of chain stores show how the class and gender identities of shoppers are taken up into the cultural fabric of 'Britishness. 'Lacey’s work has explored the gendered discourses shaping the development of public service and propaganda models of broadcasting in Germany. Her book, Feminine Frequencies, is a groundbreaking attempt to bring questions of gender into discussion of radio and broadcasting. Bassett’s work on identity and digital spaces explores the limits of gender performativity revealed in on-line worlds where gender categories might be expected to be infinitely fluid. She has also sought to critique and to reclaim cyber-feminism. Nearly all of Smith's work touches on issues of gender and sexuality and for many years he has been influential in the field of gender studies in the US. His co-edited volume, Men in Feminism (1987) was groundbreaking and has remained influential, with its 25th anniversary to be marked by an official session at the 2002 Modern Language Association meetings. His co-edited volume, Madonnarama, was a trade book that sold out several editions and received awards and citations in the gay and lesbian press. His most recent edited collection, Boys, won a Choice award in gender studies in 1996.
Other aspects of the Group’s research regularly involve issues of gender and sexuality. Austin’s audience research has tracked the articulation of gender/sexuality with viewing practices in the social events of watching the erotic thriller Basic Instinct. Barker’s audience researches have raised significant issues about the way gender and class are implicated in audience responses to films. His research on Crash explores how gendered erotic responses are interwoven with ways of making sense of a film.
The addition of Munt and Einhorn to the research programme further confirms our commitment to this area. Munt's several anthologies in lesbian and gay studies as well as her book, Heroic Desire, have made her a leader in gender studies in Britain. Einhorn is an internationally known scholar in gender issues, focussing in particular on how gender, nation and identity are articulated in narratives of exile and return.
6: Audiences and consumption:
Represented in the group are three distinct strands of work on media audiences and practices of consumption. Barker has in this period conducted and completed two empirical, ESRC-funded projects investigating film audiences (concerning Judge Dredd and action-adventure movies, and Crash and art-house films). His work has led to important developments both in models of ‘text-audience’ relations and in the applicability of methodologies of discourse analysis to audience research. Austin’s empirical research has centred upon developing a multi-dimensional approach to popular film culture in the 1990s, by tracing the interrelations of commercial procedures, wider social and discursive contexts and – by way of empirical audience research – particular moments of viewing. His book on these matters, Hollywood, Hype and Audiences, will appear in 2001.
In a different vein Winship's work has continued to interrogate the sphere of culture and consumption. As part of the ESRC-funded project into the contemporary place of Marks & Spencer in British cultural life (with J. Shaw, Sociology), she has conducted a historical investigation of that neglected cultural form, the chain store, placing it in the cluster of forms that Raymond Williams has conceptualised by the term ‘mobile privatisation.’ Her work has been concerned to trace the relation between the specific commercial culture of retailing that developed in Britain from the 19th century onwards and the changing status of consumption with its ensuing shifts in class cultures.
Bull's innovative work on the use of music and sound technologies focuses on the way that consumers forge and conceptualise space, time and their everyday experience. His work, a blending of ethnographic and theoretical research, is already well-known in urban studies and sociology.
7. Art and Visual Culture
Smith's arrival has opened up the possibility of another interdisciplinary direction germane to other interests represented at Sussex, art and visual culture. Smith's work in these areas dates from his first published work--on Mary Kelly in 1983--to a current research project on the Roosevelt Memorial in Washington DC (for which he has been awarded the 2001 Summer Fellowship at Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks Library). He has frequently written and spoken on a variety of artists and art-works and has published in mainstream international art-journals He has also worked consistently on the French visual theorist, J.L.Schefer, culminating in the publication of a book of translations (with introduction and notes), The Enigmatic Body. Aldred has also been consistently concerned with issues of art and visual culture in relation to the project of cultural studies. 'Cultural Studies and Cultural Practice' considers the question of identity as played out in visual culture—notably in black British cultural production. Her other work in visual culture includes a piece on War Artists, an essay on David Hockney's double portraits, and a project on the Institute for Contemporary Arts that discusses how that institution challenges traditional organisational, cultural and educational boundaries. Aldred has also contributed several entries to an important art reference volume. Bassett has worked on several artists and art organisations, examining the impact of new technologies on contemporary art practice; with Prof. Cherry in Art History, she is planning a conference and research seminar on digital art and new exhibition spaces in 2003.
Organisation of Postgraduate Work at Sussex
Postgraduate programmes and activities in Media Studies come under the aegis of the Graduate Research Centre in Culture and Communication (CulCom), one of five Graduate Research Centres at Sussex. CulCom performs administrative and pastoral functions on behalf of MA and D.Phil students in Media Studies, and in common with Media Studies it has a distinct interdisciplinary agenda that encourages bridges between the humanities and social sciences and is managed by a half-time Director, currently Wood.
CulCom manages five MA programmes: Media Studies, Digital Media, Applied Policy Studies, Women’s Studies, and Literature & Visual Culture. MAs in Gender and Media, Cultural Politics and Film Studies have recently been added. The two core MAs for our subject group, Media Studies and Digital Media, continue to recruit strongly (together totalling around 30 full-time students a year), and a small but steady number of graduates from these advance to doctoral work at Sussex.
CulCom is also responsible for monitoring D.Phil student progress. By the end of the first year of study, each student must prepare a Research Outline, to be approved by the supervisor and the CulCom Director. The Director organises a seminar with all new D.Phil students to help with the preparation of this Outline. At the end of each academic year, supervisors and students alike must complete Annual Report forms for the perusal of the Director. Students may only register for a subsequent year if the Director deems their progress satisfactory. D.Phil students in Media find themselves researching alongside students of a variety of disciplines. Each year, CulCom hosts a Research-in-Progress Day at which each student must offer a presentation. It also provides financial support for an annual student-organised one-day event entitled ‘Critical Bridges’ that explores and debates the common intellectual terrain of cultural studies and the humanities.
Each MA/D.Phil programme in CulCom has its own postgraduate lecture series running throughout the academic year, and CulCom also stages other one-off events. For example, in November 1998, CulCom co-organised, with the University’s Centre for Migration Research, a day-long seminar on ‘Media and Migration’ at which papers were presented by D.Phil students, faculty and guest speakers. This has culminated in a volume edited by Wood with Prof. King, Media and Migration: Constructions of Mobility and Difference (Routledge, 2001).
There is English language support available to overseas students, for which CulCom pays. CulCom also provides limited financial support to students for conferences and research trips. (Media Studies sometimes can help further with such financing for individual students.) It provides general workspace rooms with computers, offices for D.Phil students, and a Common Room.
In 1996 the Subject Group gained funding, via the School of Cultural and Community Studies, for a research studentship/teaching assistant for Rangan Chakravarty who helped strengthen the group’s teaching and research around globalisation, and completed his DPhil in 1999. Currently Media Studies employs a postdoctoral fellow, Clare Birchall, whose work on conspiracy theory in literature and the media is already beginning to be published.
Media Studies currently has Mode B recognition from the ESRC for D.Phil research. The MA in Digital Media has received an ESRC quota award for the past five years and a D.Phil student received an ESRC fees-only award in October 2000. The University has recently instituted a system of fee-remission scholarships, called Seedcorn Fellowships, and Media Studies has two of these at its disposal each year.
Management and support of faculty research at Sussex
The main ways in which faculty research is organised and supported are the following:
Faculty have a general entitlement of the equivalent of one term’s paid leave in every three years for purposes of research. Until 1999 these arrangements were made through a School Dean but are now in the hands of the subject chair. Preference is given to study-leave requests showing evidence of attempts to secure external funding. Full-time faculty and postgraduate tutors can expect an annual research and travel allocation from the subject chair of a minimum of £200.
A core element of the research culture of the group is the programme of weekly research seminars throughout the teaching year. These bring together MA and DPhil students with staff, and offer a mix of opportunities for staff and research students to test out their own research, with external speakers from other Universities in the country and internationally. For example, speakers in 2000-01 have included David Rodowick, Elizabeth Hine, John Hutnyk, John Ellis and Mike Hammond, along with several Sussex speakers.
The current chair has instituted a series of intra-group research meetings--four were held in 1999-2000 and more are planned. These meetings have no fixed agenda but can range from discussion about external funding sources and application procedures, to group discussion of particular research projects.
The Subject Group also holds at least one annual Away Day at which it reviews its research development and identifies projects which the Group as a whole ought to support.
We offer individual researchers an additional incentive to secure external funding: by allowing them to use to support further research 10% of any overheads in successful applications.
In conjunction with CulCom, we are raising our national and international profile by organising several conferences. In the period 2001-2002 there will be four: 1) Film Stars in the 1990s (organised by Barker and Austin, 2) the Marxist Cultural Network annual conference (organised by Smith), 3) 2001: A Radiodyssey--Radio Studies in Europe (organised by Lacey and funded in part by the British Academy), and 4) Gender, Media, Nation (organised by Smith, Wood and Einhorn to help introduce the new CulCom MA of the same name and for which British Academy funding has been sought). Further conferences are in the pipeline for the future, including one to be organised with Art History on new technologies, the digital arts, and new art spaces.
Of the thirteen staff in this return, the majority are actively involved in research supervisions, currently managing more than 40 D.Phil and M.Phil supervisions between them, including a number of external supervisions at other Universities; Smith is still directing 5 doctorates in the US. The range of topics supervised in the group is exceptionally wide, for example: research into gender and sexual identities and their media correlates; aspects of the international media; empirical research into audiences for particular media; film theory and textual readings, queer studies and popular culture, and British news media.
The Media Studies Subject Group has obtained the following external funding since the last RAE:
Cawson: joint recipient (with Silverstone) of £140,000 from the ESRC’s Media Economics and Media Culture programme, along with two projects from NCR’s Knowledge Lab project, worth £120,000.
Barker: an ESRC research grant of £29,000 for an 18-month project on popular film audiences, followed by a second grant of £30,000 for a study of the controversy over the film Crash.
Winship: co-directed with Jenny Shaw (Sociology) an ESRC project (Oct 1994-Sept 1996) on ‘Shopping and the place of Marks and Spencer in the British High Street’ (project grant £65,730).
Self-assessment and future directions
Faculty movement over the RAE period has often threatened to compromise stability and continuity in the group, but in fact a series of successful appointments at both junior and senior level has made the group stronger and its research agendas clearer. The quality and quantity of research output have been impressive and influential on both the national and international stages, with junior faculty contributing fully and senior faculty maintaining high levels of output. With the appointment of Smith as Professor and subject chair in 1999, the group has made great strides in facilitating and rationalising the research culture. In particular, there is greater encouragement of external grant applications, a strengthening of the relationships between teaching and research (in part by way of a series of curriculum changes at the undergraduate level), the fostering of a greater awareness of each others’ research directions and methods, better induction and mentoring of new faculty and tutors, the encouragement of postgraduate tutors as participants in the group's research activities, and better integration of the production elements of our programmes into both the curriculum and the research culture of the group. Naturally, there are weaknesses that still need – and are receiving - more attention. First, the group’s relatively sporadic record of obtaining external funding is now being addressed, with the immediate effect that five different applications have been made to external bodies in the current academic year. Second, although our MA programmes are highly successful and recruit roughly 30 students each year, recruitment numbers for research degrees have been inconsistent over the RAE period, partly reflecting inadequate sources of funding. As well as offering two Seedcorn bursaries, we have endeavoured to enhance our research profile through a revamped web-site and related publicity and recruitment strategies. Thirdly, we are adopting measures to ensure that we meet completion rate targets, in particular, by tightening up annual monitoring procedures of students and supervisors.
Users of this website should note that the information is not intended to be a complete record of all research centres in the UK
Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL
Last updated 17 October 2003
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