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Fieldnotes: Authenticity in the age of Covid-19

Reflections on coronavirus, digital engagement, and museum practice informed by postdoctoral fieldwork in Mexico and the UK. Originally published on the GlobalGRACE project website.

I. Authenticating

For museums, authenticity is everything. Gallery owners live in fear of discovering that a work in their collection is a forgery, a reproduction, a fake! In the Western tradition, at least, the value of a masterpiece is the aura of its creation at the hands of a master; the value of an artefact is the aura of its existence in a particular context.¹

In our age of digital reproduction, you can print replicas of prized museum objects in your own living room, or buy them in the gift shop. You can tour the greatest art sites (in the Western imagination) with Google. In the Imperial order of things, however, The British Museum (and its ilk) retain possession of the (often stolen) originals. Their authentic homes must make do with replicas. Continue reading

Creative writing exercise: beyond the frame

As part of the GlobalGRACE annual PCE — taking place online — we are exploring ways of encouraging writing together, apart. Here is my response to a Creative Writing Prompt set by my colleague J. Neil C. Garcia: ‘Take out an old family photo and address the people in it or have them speak. Write about what’s not in the frame. What happened before or after this picture was taken? What does the writer know now that the people in the photograph did not know then? Or try comparing two photographs–one past, one present. Consider what happened in the time between the two.’

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Article: The politics of Covid-19: ‘busy’ parks and public blame

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My short article for Red Pepper online really seemed to hit a nerve over the April Bank Holiday weekend (raking up around 200,000 reads in the process). In it, I track some of the ways in which ministers and media outlets have attempted to prime the public to blame ‘reckless neighbours’ for repeated government failures and equivocations.

The public is not so pliable, and its been heartening to see in many quarters efforts to hold politicians (and their advisors) accountable – though painfully the most popular media outlets continue to function more as Conservative Party fanzines than journalistic publications.

Britain in Fragments (Or, Why Boris?)

I was living in Washington, DC when Donald Trump won the 2016 US Presidential Election. In the days following, I wrote an essay titled, ‘Why Trump? (Or America in Fragments). The UK is a completely different place, with an entirely different political system and culture. But I kept returning to thoughts I had back then, about a nation fragmented. So I wrote them down: 

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People want answers. On social media timelines, in newspapers and blogs, across dinner tables and at the pub, people are despairing that Boris Johnson is PM; the Conservatives back in power. People are asserting singular causes: it was Corbyn. Brexit. The media. London-centrism. Facebook. Disaffection. Fear.

The reality is more complex. There is no single person, group, strategy miscalculation, or media moment responsible for this outcome. Ignore the thousand Think Pieces and #THREADS saying otherwise. In the face of a desperately bleaker future, certainty is dangerous. It lets us look away from more complicated, more challenging, truths. 

In some cases, people voted Conservative because they saw no viable alternative. That was not the majority instinct. Millions wanted this outcome. Across income levels, across constituencies – those that Labour lost and those it never had – Britain elected Boris. Telling ourselves lets the nation off the hook. 

Other writers are debating Labour Party strategy failings and rebuilding plans; scrutinising and pontificating over where it all went wrong; which new leader might get it right. I want to ask a different question: “What kind of society wants Boris Johnson, wants this Conservative Party, to lead it?” 

To understand the election we must be open to a complex, even contradictory, set of answers. We must look at the state of the nation, not the state of Parties. That nation – our Disunited Kingdom – can only be understood in fragments.

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Publication: Notes on a Postcard

Postcard on display at the Exchanging Cultures of Equality exhibitionA new piece of writing, published by the brilliantly imaginative and dedicatedly Open Access people over at AllegraLab, which focuses on postcards. These enduring objects, as much anthropological as they are popular, have played a notable role in colonialism, activism, & transnational communication. In this essay, I discuss how we’re using postcards “as a research method, as a communication device and as exhibition objects” in the GlobalGRACE project. 

Check out the article here: “Notes on a Postcard” AllegraLab, October 2, 2019.

In praise of the TSR Writing Retreat

I have just returned home from an intensive-yet-relaxing two and a half day writing retreat at The Gladstone Library in Hawarden, organised by The Sociological Review. Now in its fourth year, the retreat is designed for early career researchers with places awarded on a competitive basis that priorities scholars from communities that are under-represented in academia. It is an extremely useful and important initiative, reflecting well on TSR that it is focusing its resources on supporting emerging scholars rather than more high-profile events.

Despite the blistering heat, the combination of dedicated writing time, relaxing walks in the countryside, great food and isolation from the 24-hour news cycle has been immeasurably useful. Not only have I been “productive” in terms of writing, but I have also been stimulated by colleagues working on exciting topics across a variety of disciplines, all connected to sociology – and pushing its boundaries. It has been a welcome temporary break from anthropology-heavy recent experiences, and one that finds me returning home with a new-found determination not necessarily to write more, but certainly to take more joy in the process, appreciate collegiate communities, and feel confident in my own work.

Red Pepper: Battles for Survival

RP Summer 2019 CoverOur extremely timely latest issue of Red Pepper takes a dual focus on two of the most pressing issues of our time: climate emergency and the rise of the far-right.

The Culture Section features a diverse set of takes on independent music, from a co-op venue in Bristol to anti-fascist and feminist music festivals in Manchester and Washington, D.C., to a revealing interview with London-based rapper Lowkey.