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Research on the cultural politics of work

BCMCR Research Events

Wednesday, 5 April 2017 from 16:00 to 17:30 (BST)

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Dr. Bridget Conor (Kings College London) -  Britain’s Hardest Workers: Developing a cultural political economy of the low wage economy

Britain’s Hardest Workers screened for five consecutive nights in August 2016 on BBC2BBC2. This was after a groundswell of critical reportage about this programme which was dubbed variously as ‘Hunger-Games-style’ TV, ‘poverty porn’ and ‘exploitative’ of the twenty contestants selected to compete to be the most productive worker across a range of low paid occupations from hotel cleaning to rubbish picking to e-commerce fulfilment work. This paper uses Britain’s Hardest Workers to develop a cultural political economy framework to analyse the contemporary economic imaginary of the low wage economy. Whilst this programme is a competitive reality show, it also purports to investigate a wide range economic and political issues that have fuelled low paid working conditions in many sectors: the ramifications of the financial crisis, increasing casualization and the rise of zero hours contracts. I will use this programme as a site for semiotic analysis in order to analyse if and how the low wage economy is ‘sedimented’ (Jessop 2009) and also, how the moral and evaluative aspects (Sayer 2000) of this particular programme, and its reception, relate to the broader moral framing of contemporary employment.

Alice Borchi (BCU/University of Warwick)  - Occupying culture: grassroots movements, commons and the arts in contemporary Italy

This paper analyses the activities of two Italian grassroots organisations, Rebeldía and Teatro Valle Occupato, and their involvement with culture and democracy from 2011 to the present

Since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, the discontent of the Italian population with the implementation of austerity policies and the lack of political and economic stability caused an uprising involvement in political activism. The cultural sector, in particular, was facing a lack of state funding and episodes of poor management; in addition, many young professionals had been struggling to find a paid job, especially in the theatre sector. The dissatisfaction of the emergent creative class led to a series of demonstrations and campaigns that asked for the recognition of the rights of arts workers. Many abandoned buildings, especially former theatres, were occupied and became spaces dedicated to artistic and political experimentation. These sites became a meeting point for activists, artists and scholars who tried to build an alternative to existing cultural organisations and engage differently with their users and their local area.

The organisations discussed in the case studies are Teatro Valle Occupato, in Rome, and Rebeldía, in Pisa. The two organisations both engaged with cultural activities and the occupation of abandoned buildings; moreover, they are united by the cause of the approval of a law on the commons by the Italian parliament. However, despite their similarities, they have different purposes and different ways of involving their audiences in participating to democratic processes.

This analysis will take into account the history of Teatro Valle Occupato and Rebeldía, and their artistic and political practices. Furthermore, it will examine the relationship of these organizations with the local and national government, underlying issues of legality and legitimization.

About the speakers:

Dr. Bridget Conor is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Culture, Media and Creative Industries at King's College London. She is the author of Screenwriting: Creative Labour and Professional Practice (Routledge 2014) and the co-editor of two recent collections, Gender and Creative Labour (with Rosalind Gill and Stephanie Taylor) and Production Studies the Sequel! (with Miranda Banks and Vicki Mayer).

Alice Borchi is based in the School of Media and is a final year PhD applicant in Cultural Policy Studies at the University of Warwick. Her research interests include cultural value, the commons and grassroots arts activities.



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When & Where

P424, 4th Floor Parkside Building
Birmingham City University
5 Cardigan Street
B4 7BD Birmingham
United Kingdom

Wednesday, 5 April 2017 from 16:00 to 17:30 (BST)

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BCMCR Research Events

The Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research (BCMCR) engages in collaborative work across five research areas:

Popular Music Studies

Cult, Gender and Sexuality

Media History

Journalism, activism, community

Cultural Ecologies

Since our inception in 2009 we have grown swiftly, and the nearly 30-strong group of independent researchers generate work of internationally excellent standard.

We have so far delivered, or participated in ten major, externally-funded, research projects with a total value of £1.4m, including projects with organisations such as the BBC, British Library and Arts Council. In total these projects were built on inter-disciplinary partnerships with 13 other universities and over 50 non-academic organisations.

We supervise research degrees to MPhil and PhD level, and the 20-plus students currently studying with us play an important part in the centre’s research culture. We also deliver the 12 MA programmes which were established on the basis of the research work generated within the centre.

These cover music industries, radio, social media, online journalism, screen studies, media for social change, and enterprise and cultural policy. Research from centre members is also prominent in the curriculum of BA programmes associated with similar media sectors.

We welcome visiting researchers from across the world and hold regular research seminars which mix presentations from staff, students and speakers from a range of our collaborative partnerships. Please feel free to contact us if you have a research enquiry.

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