The pumpkins haven’t even been carved yet and Christmas lights are going up around the city centre. Still, even walking back through October rain their sparkle and glitter makes me smile. I suppose it must take time to sort out all that wiring.
Somehow our usual sense of space, place and time changes, when it gets toward November. Even people with no umbrellas seemed fairly relaxed amidst the downpour.
A lovely day for late October and a lovely day to meet with an old friend from Glasgow (well, Northern Ireland actually, but let’s not split hairs). We first met during our long-ago Undergrad days at Glasgow Uni – which suddenly didn’t seem so very long ago after all. Naturally my being new to the city meant a good excuse to go exploring, so we headed away from the city centre into Salford, and down to the Quay to look around the undeniably beautiful Media City UK complex where the BBC, ITV, Salford University, and various start-up media companies (“Media Village”) will make, or are in the midst of making, new homes. Right now, the BBC make a very 21st-century impression while the ITV “quarter” is still a literal building site – meaning that Simon Cowell and Tracy Barlow grin unconvincingly out from their posters as if to distract us from the fact it’s JCBs behind them rather than sweeping, angular glass and metal.
A little bit like Glasgow’s Pacific Quay (where BBC Scotland and the Armadillo sit) in its aspirations to state-of-the-art waterside glamour and a combination of business, creative industry, and apartments, it’s far grander, much more spacious, and infinitely more interesting to photograph. No matter which direction you look in, you are guaranteed to find a good shot.1 Media City may have “installed enough fibre to stretch from Salford to Sydney” to cater to the “bandwidth-hungry requirements of the media industry”, but it really does feel like a public space; especially with the Lowry Arts Centre and the Imperial War Museum North also on its banks. Everyone can wander around and enjoy the landscaped park, the piazza, and the bridges that cross the river. Near the BBC building, a temporary sound sculpture (or, if you like, “an acoustic wind pavilion”) called “Aeolus” made delicate and almost harmonic sounds in accordance with the movement of gentle winds. The installation captures the music of Salford’s breezes via a combination of strings and amplifying tubes. You can hear it here, at the website of Luke Jarram, the artist who designed it in collaboration with acoustic scientists at Salford University and Southampton University.
Still, the Media City UK complex has not been without controversies. It has brought about a certain (probably inevitable) amount of “upheaval” and some political wrangling both within the BBC, and with the institution’s favourite sparring partner, Westminster. Some question the justification for moving operations all the way up North from London. There has also been criticism about the pretty exorbitant cost to Salford University of moving its media students there. I guess that over time, we will find out if the “vision” can become part of a successful reality. As one overheard passerby, on his way back from Manchester City’s resounding victory over Man U at Old Trafford, commented to a friend: “Just so long as they [the BBC] keep charging us the same license fee”. Sadly, it’s doubtful that Salford University will be able to charge its students the same tuition fees as previously when they undertake studies on the site.
I can’t find anything to criticise about my experience today of the place in terms of its design and use of space. I had a great time looking around. Hopefully it will remain accessible to everyone and not become upmarket to the point of ultra-exclusivity as business gets properly underway.
Well, I hope you’ll agree! p.s. can’t promise any prizes but let me know in the comments if you appreciate the Beatles reference. 😉
A weekend spent in Glasgow is always guaranteed to provide a story or two and this one was no different. I was up visiting for my boyfriend’s birthday and managed to combine partying, pizza, and politics, all in less than 3 days! That’s what the city is about, I think: combining different types of experience in new and stimulating ways. A sort of real life “mash up”. 🙂
Taking inspiration from the Occupy Together movement (currently represented by 20 UK protests and 1300+ globally) a group of – what would you call them? Activists? Protestors? Politically minded citizens? – decided to make their points of view peacefully heard outside the Glasgow City Council offices on George Square. It definitely seemed worth going to hear what they had to say and to see how they were organising the event. In broad terms, their point of view is this: that they are deeply unhappy with the policies/attitudes of Scottish and British politicians and with the way the banking and financial systems are structured, administered, and treated as elites, worldwide. In the face of rising unemployment and public sector cuts it seems to a lot of people that the banks and the government special advisors are deemed ever-so-slightly more worthy of consideration than the electorate. So nevermind that libraries and hospitals and other public services will suffer. They don’t make enough money anyway and their values are out-of-date. That’s what the protesters in Glasgow seemed keen to express objections to. They want a brighter future and more say in it.
In Political Science and Economics, these problems can be seen to stem from corrupt forms of Corporatism, or even as aspects of a Corporatist/Neocorporatist Democracy: i.e. “a political relationship between the state and specialized associations involving the defense of their interests in return for moderating demands and controlling their membership”. This results in inegalitarianism and has historically been associated with Fascism. So it’s interesting to read that once upon a time Corporatist was less of a dirty word because it could also include the recognition “that problems such as working conditions and health and safety could be dealt with by specially established organizations or boards” without undue interference from the State. Still, as the Oxford Dictionary of Politics notes:
Many, although not all, of the writers on corporatism were either openly or covertly sympathetic to its use as a means of providing a ‘middle way’ that would satisfy the legitimate aspirations of organized labour whilst maintaining a capitalist mode of production.
Corporatist political systems may be one type of representative democracy, not least when they have been sanctioned, legitimised and instrumentalised. After all, they represent someone, right? But it’s not exactly what the “average Joe” imagines if he hears the word democracy, and it’s certainly not very participative.
In 2011, a social network and some online promotional tools are of course as vital to the hoped-for formation of a critical mass of protestors as are hand-drawn or painted placards, loudspeakers, and banners. So: the 50-100 people who turned out on Sunday are variously blogging, blogged about, shown in and filming YouTube videos, and keeping track of Twitter feeds and Facebook walls. Most of this was being orchestrated from a “mobile communications hub” (that’s what I’m calling it) inside a marquee in the middle of George Square. At the front the usual brochures, pamphlets and petitions draw in the curious minded. I noticed a brochure published by the Carnegie Foundation, themselves a corporation, and of course, a part of the legacy of Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
New media far from replaces old media for those in Glasgow and elsewhere. There have been suggestions (which I think emanated from the Occupy Wall Street protest) that supporters say hello and register their feelings by sending postcards to the occupiers who camp out overnight in tents. These postcards would be visible in the public space of the non-virtual world which is vitally important: signs and symbols of participation and collaboration even from those who aren’t there. Online tools are used largely for the purpose of logistics, administration, and what we might call “PR” (or, to be more Marxist about it, “consciousness raising”). Social Networking sites and services (SNSs) allow the word to be spread quicker; co-ordination with other groups and within one group to be achieved more simply; ideas about which tactics seem to work and which don’t can be shared on a global scale; and of course, they allow better (and possibly safer) communication channels with both the press and the public.
There are a lot of similarities to how corporations, companies, and institutions, make use of New Media in this regard. What is different is that the end result is about getting people to think as well as to act, to formulate their political views more clearly, and to begin making them heard – rather than to buy a product or help a brand spread viral seeds. The Occupy Glasgow website reminds people there is no manifesto but that if they join “the cause” they must do so nicely. You can also take part in an “Online Assembly” which aims to generate ideas on strategies and “how to help out”.
Before directing you to their “Intro to Direct Democracy and Facilitation Training“, Occupy Together make their central point in terms of community and solidarity:
We hope to provide people with information about events that are organizing, ongoing, and building across the U.S. as we, the 99%, take action against the greed and corruption of the 1%.
We will only grow stronger in our solidarity and we will be heard, not just in New York, but in echoes across the world.
Whether or not the “Occupiers” are right that this is all part of a “paradigm shift”, it’s clear that is what they are hoping for, inspired by The Arab Spring and cultural memories of more local historic resistance. To bring again to the surface the very sort of political debate that stirred the philosophers and writers of previous centuries; the generations of protestors and demonstrators who have always (for example) made Glasgow’s reputation a “Red” one; and the millions who came together in the 1960s to try to identify a common cause against the perceived injustices of governments seemingly intent on distancing themselves further and further from the concerns of those allowing them to be elected. What will be the legacy of this “movement” and what if anything will it achieve? We all have a stake in the outcome, whatever our own political perspective.
Another morning meeting with my Supervisors provided me (yet again) with plenty to contemplate. In fact, I think we were all slightly surprised at the number of ideas flying around. I wonder if we are going to expand the topic to breaking point before we manage to narrow it down and find precisely the right focus? This is a normal part of the process; but right now my project seems to be elastic: there is so much to (potentially) take in that it’s hard to know exactly what not to include. However, I have started to work out a structure that makes – or appears for now to make – logical sense; and which will hopefully incorporate a little of everything necessary to contextualise, justify, and clarify my thesis for the official committee due to assess it now that I’m properly enrolled. Skeleton sections that I am working with are (at the moment of writing):
1. The Role of the Scholar, the Scientist, the Intellectual: Philosophical Roots
2. Participatory Democratic Theory
2.1. The many flavours of participation
2.2. Philosophical engagement and challenges
3. The Nature of Scholarship and New Technologies
4. New Media, Shifting Contexts, and Multiple Modes of Analysis
4.1. Recent Studies
4.1.2 Studies of Participation and New Technologies outside Academia
188.8.131.52 Private sector
184.108.40.206 Public sector and NGOs
5. Potential Framework for this Research
Simple, right? 😉
When thinking about all of this, it’s vital to have the right space to work in. Something they keep warning us about is the risk of becoming “isolated” when undertaking a PhD; so it’s great to get talking to other researchers about their work. As well as being interesting in and of itself, this can at times shine a light on my own work or make me see things from a new perspective. To quote Karl Popper: “everybody with whom we communicate [is] a potential source of argument and of reasonable information”. Much of that takes place (it seems) in Room 118 of the Geoffrey Manton building. Already, a piece that a fellow PhD student showed me, where she locates her work in relation to a critique of Antonio Gramsci’s “hegemony” has given me inspiration.
And it turns out that I didn’t have to go all the way back to the Museum of Science and Industry to photograph some retro telephones! Wonderfully, Room 118 still has an old beige model that casually displays the name (“Manchester Polytechnic“) under which what is now MMU operated until 1992, when it was granted University status under the Further and Higher Education Act. Some people, I guess, like to be reminded of the history of their institutions – and of the older forms of communication which contributed to the point we find ourselves at today.