I’ve just got back from the most mind-blowing conference I’ve ever been to. Keep It Simple, Make It Fast, is a conference/music and literary festival/art show organised around DIY cultures, Spaces, Places. Events were held across various venues in Porto, bringing together academic presentations, some celebrity guests, live performances, exhibitions with daily book launches and a summer school. The event is convened by Paula Guerra and Andy Bennett with an incredible team of international volunteers. I went with my Subcultures Network army (Matt Worley, Petes Webb and Ward, David Wilkinson and stayed in a seminary with the Punk Scholars Network and Steve Ignorant from Crass).
I’ve been out of the country for a week at a great workshop in Berlin “How to Write and Conceptualize the History of Youth Cultures” organised by Felix Fuhg, Doctoral Student, with the Centre for Metropolitan studies. I was travelling with the histrrry girls and The Subcultures Network, so there were Harringtons. There are always Harringtons. We spent one day working and talking in the Archiv der Jugendkulturen. Its an incredible community archive and library that has brought together all the different traces of resistance in youth culture and subcultures. From magazines made by school pupils to the Love Parades’ backdrops and giant cut outs of Nena – the transational and hyper local are boxed up together and are being carefully catalogued by local participant experts in each scene.
I remember being canvased for the 1989 European election. I was a nineteen year old mother of a two year old, living in a shared house. It was the first election I’d been old enough to vote. It was also the first time I’d seen the Green Party as an electoral force. Something interesting was going on. I can’t say that Europe itself really mattered to me very much, but it opened up ways to think things through, that we couldn’t really find space for elsewhere.
Have you ever been on holiday with your students? Its got a lot of awkward potential.
This year Chris Warne and I were awarded an Innovation in Teaching Award to take a group of students to Margate and set up a digital pedagogy experiment. DIT Digital: Doing Subcultures Online involved tours and workshops with two of Margate’s significant heritage sites; The Turner Contemporary and Dreamland. Our Twitter hashtag is #DITDreamland
Last year we had run a less ambitious project DIY Digital: Doing Punk Online with students on our Post-Punk Britain module. Students had created open access educational resources around topics from the module. One of the key lessons from the project last year had been the importance of ‘being in the room’ to facilitate virtual interaction so a field trip offered a way of sharing a physical space together whilst doing digital work. Furthermore last year’s MA mentors had been absolutely central to the success of the project and we now had a group of masters students who had been part of the original project as undergraduates who could act as mentors.
In the end I watched it because Catherine Grant very kindly invited me to speak at an event that she organised with Diarmaid Kelliher, on Pride and its Precursors and I was too honoured, and too embarrassed, to say no. When the film first came out I ducked and dived out of numerous press requests to comment on it. I had toyed with the idea of presenting at the symposium without actually having watched the film, maybe as a sort of thought experiment. I’d floated the idea over drinks with the talented historian Ben Jones from UEA but lost my confidence after he described some of the scenes I might have missed out on (the alien invasion and massive shoot out at the end).
On 19th November I stood in the Latest Music Bar Brighton and read out bits of my teenage diary from the year 1984-1985. The event, ‘Cringe at Mass Observation‘ was jointly organised by Cringe and Mass Observation as part of ‘Being Human: The Festival of Humanities’. London Cringe organise events where “Funny ‘grown-ups’ read aloud from their teenage diaries”. It’s a model that was picked up from New York and spread from there. Fiona Courage and Jessica Scantlebury from Mass Observation had been to one of the events and had immediately recognised Cringe’s resonance with Mass Observation writers who also share their private experiences and analysis for public consumption.
You can hear a bit more about Cringe, where it came from and the Brighton event on a podcast of an interview myself and Cringe organiser Ana McGloughlin did for Radio Reverb with Melita Dennett. (at about 22 minutes in)
Earlier this month I attended two conferences in a week. Not great planning on my part but it was really interesting to move across geographical locations and organisational structures to ask in essence very similar questions but with very different answers. The first symposium I attended as a discussant was Rethinking Contemporary British Political History at Queen Mary’s Mile End campus organised by Dr Helen McCarthy. (The second was the Workshop on Voluntary Action and Philanthropy at Frankfurt University which I will write about later)
When we began the Brighton hub of Wellcome’s sexology and Song-writing project we imagined that the young women involved would undertake some sort of original research and then write songs about it. It quickly became clear that the young women participants and the youth work and music practitioners had some different priorities. The practitioners wanted to concentrate on building a secure and supportive environment in which to build a collective group identity, and the young women wanted to sing songs that they already knew and liked. The young sexology song-writers didn’t want to write songs. They wanted to cover and recover them. Once we recognised that the priorities of the practitioners and of the young women needed to be our priorities too, we moved towards their goals. We weren’t training them to be researchers. They were training us in their modes of re-enactment: an active and creative intervention in a cultural circuit that brought together the legitimacy of publicly celebrated singer-songwriters, with their own experiences and voices.
Charity singles were the perfect cultural form for Thatcher’s Eighties. They were packaged and sold within the Victorian values of philanthropy but in a form that fitted well with new media opportunities, new media technology and new ‘yoof’ orientated broadcasting space. Charity singles facilitated a set of donations; the primary donation was the time of musicians and celebrities, (and sometimes technicians and distributors) which may have included additional donations of royalties, rights and or all profits.
The secondary donation was by the consumer who bought the single regardless of their motivation; for the cause, for their favourite pop star, for the song, or for a combination thereof. Whatever Thatcher said about there being no such thing as society, and however many clips of champagne quaffing Yuppies we see on retro documentaries, in the Eighties people turned to charity to fill the gaps they saw opening up in social provision. Charitable donation increased in Thatcher’s Britain, as did the number of charities and the number of ways of making a donation. Charity singles, like all parts of a charity campaign, were not just about raising money. Charitable donation raises funds, but it also raises awareness about particular issues and builds a sense of community. It builds a sense of the community for the donors, as well as an imagined community of worthy recipients. By the end of the Eighties these three functions produced a recognizable charity single formula; collective choruses, recognizable voices on individual lines, and ego-free co-operation between different generations of musicians.
I’ve just parked up a chapter on Princess Diana that will eventually end up in my new book about the 1980s. I’ve been writing the chapter for a long time and I’m not sure I’ve finished it – but it is definitely not getting any better for now so I better leave it alone. I’ve read more books on Diana in the last couple of months than I ever dreamed likely. The more I worked through the pile of unauthorised biographies and memoirs, the more the lines between the two sorts of books began to blur. It became harder to tell when people were writing about Diana, and when they were writing about themselves. I should also add, the more I read the less of an idea of what she was ‘really like’ I had. Although to be honest that wasn’t what I was looking for and it isn’t really what I’m interested in. What I’m interested in is how and why these books sell the idea of the Real Diana. Whilst academic approaches have tended to displace the Real Diana, by analysing what she signified and why people cared about her. Popular biographies and memoirs market their access to the ‘real woman’ underneath; who she was.