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Bath Spa University
UOA 66 - Communication, Cultural and Media Studies
RA5a: Research environment and esteem
The UoA is located within the Department of Media, Film and Cultural Studies and has been a constituent part of the School of Historical and Cultural Studies since the department was established in 2001.
Research in Communication, Cultural and Media Studies at Bath Spa University is distinguished by work in the fields of new media, especially computer and videogames, and stardom and celebrity and underpinned by a shared and collective commitment to the public dissemination of research endeavour. More generally, the research profile of the UoA is marked by diversity and interdisciplinarity, with active research being undertaken across the broad epistemological field of communication, cultural and media studies, and including the developing area of film.
The UoA in Communication, Cultural and Media Studies is entering the Research Assessment Exercise for only the second time. In the 2001 RAE three staff were submitted as a research grouping centred around Professor Simon Cottle. The unit resulted from a structural and curriculum reorganisation which preceded the restructuring of the institution in Schools approximately contiguous with Units of Assessment. This research grouping was subsequently disbanded when the staff left the University during the period 2001-2. Accordingly, none of the staff listed in the 2001 RAE feature in the present submission. Six of the ten staff now in the Department have joined the University during the period 2001-04. In this respect, the Department as a research unit is still in a formative and developmental stage.
The principal achievement of the UoA in the RAE of 2001, where it scored 3b, was the recognition of Communication, Cultural and Media Studies as an externally benchmarked area of research activity and achievement within the University. This recognition has produced benefits in the form of access to external research funds and School and University resources and support as described below.
2. The Research Strategy and its operation
2.1 Research Strategy 2001-7
The feedback from the Panel in the RAE of 2001 showed that although researchers attained a middle ranking of attainable excellence, the research group lacked a coherent structure; that it was based upon a narrow staff base and lacked institutional support
Since 2001 the Department’s research strategy has been designed to build upon its benchmarked research activity in three directions: firstly, through the cultivation of a research culture which is more inclusive and less reliant upon one prominent member of staff; secondly, in developing structure and strategies relating to research, and thirdly, in supporting leading researchers in terms of teaching relief and funding.
The successful pursuit of this strategy has been assisted by the deployment of staff teaching relief and by the award of HEFCE Research Capability Funding (RCF) which has provided valuable revenue for research activity across the Department in the form of funded research trips, attendance at conferences and teaching relief for individual research projects. For example, in 2005 and 2006 Peters was funded to attend two conferences in Budapest in connection with her work on cultural representations of evil and sexualities, and which led directly to publications, and in 2006-7 and 2007-8 Feasey was granted teaching relief to complete a book proposal for Edinburgh University Press.
An invitation by HEFCE in 2005 to review the Department’s RCF activity and confirm its direction for the remainder of the funding period resulted in recognition that the milestones identified in the initial RCF application had been met and exceeded and that research activity was now more widespread than the original projects.
A further indicator of a more inclusive research culture is the increase and spread of staff publications. Since 2002, of the ten staff in the Department, eight have published in refereed journals, two have co-edited books, five have contributed essays to edited collections, one has a book in press and three have recently secured book contracts.
2.2 Research Strategy for 2008 and beyond
Research will play a key role in the development of the Department over the next three to five years and its place is recognised in the Department’s strategic aims.
The UoA’s research strategy for 2008 and beyond will build further upon the existing strategy of broadening and deepening the research activity of staff and bringing existing publishing projects to fruition. In part, this will involve the continuing deployment of Continuation Research Capability Funding and targeted teaching relief for staff with book contracts or other major research and writing projects.
More specifically however, the Department’s research strategy will focus upon developing a cluster of staff and publication activity around Newman’s national standing in new media research and similarly, and in support of Feasey and other staff, in developing the Department’s expanding research profile in film and screen studies.
Dr Feasey’s immediate research focus will be on the completion of a book for Edinburgh University Press on Masculinity and Popular Television, and in the longer term, further work in the field of stardom, gender and celebrity.
Dr Newman’s portfolio of personal projects and aims will form the basis of his research activities over the next five years. This includes his Capability funded project on computer game culture which will result in a single authored volume for Routledge on computer game fans and the role of the player in the contemporary videogame industry, and more recently his participation in the National Videogame Archive project, funded through Nottingham Trent University. Newman has been awarded financial support through Nottingham Trent to work as part of a small academic team to research and plan the establishment of a National Videogame archive. This is a pioneering and prestigious project which will involve liaison with academic and industry partners such as the National Media Museum and the British Film Institute to secure advocacy, advice and support as well as drawing up documentation plans, governance and procedures for digital and offline archives.
The role will involve working on the educational and user services for the Archive and will necessitate close cooperation with partners from the Museums, Galleries and Libraries sector in addition to higher education, the creative industries and local and national government bodies.
As well as being an exciting research venture and an opportunity to begin the task of preserving the cultural heritage of the UK games industry, the project will benefit the UoA through association and by virtue of the knowledge and experience gained in digital curating, archiving and conservation.
In order to develop these projects, Newman has been awarded fully-funded research leave during the academic year 2007-8.
Dr Peters’immediate research focus will be on the completion of a sole authored book for Ashgate Press on Patricia Highsmith, and in the longer term, further work on the cultural representation of evil.
Within the Department five other members of staff have had research plans approved which will be supported by a combination of funding and teaching relief. These individual plans include work on subcultures and niche media, the politics of alcohol consumption, children’s television and the history of popular fictions.
The Department will seek to reinforce its research culture through funding bids within the University and to the Arts and Humanities Research Council and other bodies to support specific staff projects. However, a major priority over the next 5 years will be the development of a growing postgraduate student community through the development of MA programmes and the recruitment of M.Phil and Ph.D students.
2.2 Sustainability of the research environment
The vision for research in the Department is shaped by its context as a constituent part of a larger management unit, the School of Historical and Cultural Studies, and the University generally. This is discussed further below in the sections on People and Structure. Within the Department itself, support for research and scholarly activity has developed strongly over the past five years, and this is reflected in the achievements of targets laid out the UoA’s Research Capability Plan.
3.1 Support and Training for research staff
Research is valued and supported within the Department and the School as an integral component of academic professionalism and practice. The Department subscribes to the view that research is not only an individual activity, but a collective endeavour with public outcomes. Consequently, the Department is committed to and encourages mutual collaboration and support among staff to maximise research opportunities and the dissemination of research through media and academic channels.
The Department and School’s research strategy emphasises the importance of the relationship between teaching and research and the Department encourages all staff to be active researchers. The University has also been active in developing structures and policies which support research and postgraduate research degrees. Since 2001 the University has been committed to supporting research in disciplines with a proven track record. New researchers are encouraged to apply for an annual round of competitive funding and a number of bursaries have also been established for incoming doctoral students in designated disciplines.
Staff in the Department have also benefited from School Staff Development days and seminars provided by the Graduate School which focus on opportunities for securing internal and external funding for research. In this connection the Department also secured the services of Professor Justin Lewis of Cardiff University as a consultant on research strategy and methods of building and strengthening the Department’s research culture. During the course of 2004-5 Professor Lewis conducted a series of seminars and workshops on these subjects which were attended by all staff in the Department.
All members of the Department have a minimum of one teaching-free research day per week and where members of staff are engaged in an intensive period of research activity, for example the completion of a book, the number of individual research days can be increased. So for example, in the academic year 2007-8 Feasey was allocated three research days in semester one and two research days in semester 2, while Peters was allocated three research days in semester 1 and three in semester 2.
This support is supplemented by two other significant mechanisms. The Department operates a formal system of research-related teaching relief, ROTA, (Research–Orientated Teaching Allowance) which allows for a range of teaching relief, such as the reduction of courses taught by an individual and full semester teaching relief for which all staff are eligible to apply. Two of the submitted staff, Feasey and Peters, are currently benefiting from this scheme, as well as a third member of staff who has not been entered for the research assessment exercise.
The Department also benefits from the availability of the University’s Promising Research Fellowships. These are designed for early-career academic staff who are beginning to establish a national reputation for their research. The Fellowship provides substantial teaching relief to support a specific research project.
3.2 Esteem indicators
Staff in the Department are actively engaged in external networks and bodies which indicate the esteem in which they are held and the impact of their research. The descriptions here refer specifically to the three members of submitted staff.
Staff research and expertise has been recognised in a variety of forms. In addition to the National Videogame Archive project described above, Dr Newman is a member of the International Editorial Board of Game Studies: The Internal Journal of Computer Games Studies and is a book proposal reviewer for several publishers in this developing academic field, including Routledge, Sage, the British Film Institute and University of Chicago Press. His standing in the field has been further acknowledged by invitations to contribute to a number of events and publications. Thus he was invited to deliver a paper at the British Film Institute’s The Media Studies Conference July 2004; contribute to the Non-Trivial Interaction videogames conference in 2005 and to present and appear at Women in Games 07, University of Newport, April 2007. Invitations to publish include an article to appear in Semiotica on videogames and subjectivity for 2008, a chapter in the Routledge Videogames Handbook to be issued in late 2007 and an invitation by Routledge for a second book on videogames and gaming cultures, following the success of the first volume, Videogames (2004).
Dr Peters is a Member of the Society for Phenomenology and the Human Sciences and a member of the Steering Group for the Annual Global Conference on ‘Monsters and Monstrosity (Interdisciplinarity.net) and a member of the Steering Group of the Annual Global conference on ‘Sex and Sexuality’ (Interdisciplinarity.net). In January 2007 she was invited by Rodopi Press to co-edit a volume on ‘Sexualities’ and in February she was invited by Ashgate Press to deliver a single authored book provisionally titled Patricia Highsmith: Evil, Anxiety and the Lack of Desire. This work is currently in progress. Dr Feasey was invited to deliver a paper at the MeCCSa Women and Media Studies Network in 2006 and has recently secured a book contract with Edinburgh University Press for a volume on masculinity and popular television.
As indicated above, the submitted staff have contributed to various national and international conferences. Dr Newman was external advisor for the review of undergraduate provision in media at Trinity and All Saints College (University of Leeds) in 2005 and his books, Teaching Videogames and Videogames have both been adopted as two of the three set texts for the media undergraduate courses at The University of Colorado.
The benefits of research undertaken in the Department have been several. Firstly, these research outputs have laid the foundations for a more collective and public research culture in contrast to the more individual and private research culture which pertained in 2001. Secondly, it has enabled the Department to bid successfully for internal research funding within the School, and thirdly, it has encouraged staff not included in the current RAE submission to set more ambitious goals regarding research and publication.
4.1 Research structures and processes
Research within the UoA of Communication, Cultural and Media Studies at Bath Spa University has a strong support framework and firm processes and mechanisms to ensure sustainability.
The Department benefits from a well-structured and efficient framework for the development, support and monitoring of research activity and research outputs.
The Head of School holds responsibility for the promotion, management and monitoring of research policy and research culture in the constituent UoAs in the school. In practice she works closely with Heads of Department in developing and implementing research policy. Policy is formulated and reviewed through meetings of the School’s Senior Management Team, which are held in each of the two semesters of the academic year. Parallel meetings are also held at Departmental level where plans and priorities are determined and bids for funding considered.
Working alongside the Head of School, the Head of Department acts as the research co-ordinator for the UoA, advising individual staff via one-to one interviews on publications, external sources of funding, the allocation of internal research funds and the scheduling of timetable to provide staff with a coherent individual plan of research, together with their supporting needs.
Within the research strategy of the School and the Department the criteria for reviewing and prioritising the progress of research is based upon known potential outputs (e.g. book contract), peer recognition and the quality of citations and reviews in refereed journals and books. Promising young or new researchers are provided with start-up support from within the School’s resources. This strategy is monitored on an individual basis within the Department on a twice yearly basis (autumn and spring), allowing the staff to define and refine the course of their research activity, as well as assisting research managers in planning for teaching relief in the medium and short term.
The outcomes of the Department’s research strategy are reported to the School Senior Management Team and the School Board, and then submitted to the University’s Research and Scholarship Committee. This committee reviews the annual progress of the UoAs, sets and publishes general criteria for future funding and allocated monies to the budget managers.
These arrangements allow the UoA to keep its research strategy and outputs under constant review at a number of different levels within the University.
4.2 Academic, intellectual and material environment
The University provides all staff with dedicated office space, up-to-date networked computers, access to the University intranet as well as the internet, and individual printing facilities. Scanners and specialised software are supplied as necessary to meet research demands. Laptop computers are available for research visits. Computer support is provided by the University’s Computer Services Technicians and allocated Audio Visual Technicians offer specialised support.
Within the Department staff have strong administrative and secretarial support, which includes the typing and proof reading of draft publications.
Since 2001 the University has invested substantially in the Library, rebuilding, extending and modernising it. These improved facilities have enhanced the research environment for staff. The Media, Film and Cultural Studies subject Librarian works in close conjunction with the Head of Department to update and tailor the Library’s holdings. The new Library e-catalogue facilitates research by allowing staff to search from their offices or homes the catalogues of all Bath Spa Libraries, as well as those of the University of Bath and the University of the West of England. Access to other University libraries is available through SCONUL Research Extra. Also, staff in the UoA have access to a number of dedicated electronic resources covering communications, cultural and media studies, such as MediaTel. Staff research also benefits from an almost unlimited number of inter-library loans.
More generally, staff in the Department benefit from the scholarly activities in allied disciplines undertaken in a research active University, such as research seminars and visiting speakers.
5. Concluding Statement
The UoA at Bath Spa University operates as part of a research-active cluster of promising academics, who engage with their peers and the wider academic community and the public. The UoA and the research group as a whole function in the context of a strong research strategy, into which they have an input, and they benefit from strong research leadership and support within the management and resource structures of the University.