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Critical Event Studies: Symposium Review

Making Events Critical – Symposium

9th September 2016, MadLab, Manchester

After a series of meetings of academics who are researching events and festivals (but not necessarily teaching events management); a couple of edited collections and special editions, it was felt that it was time to explore in more detail what was meant by critical events research. The symposium in Manchester was developed as a space to bring people, into the same room to create a community of scholars who were engaged in examining events beyond the logistical issues of planning, staging and evaluating. The idea of critical event studies is not necessarily new, many of us have always been engaged in this way of thinking about events but it was a good opportunity to see how we could maybe work together, out of our silos!

The day opened with a panel discussion exploring the notion of ‘making events critical’ – a broad idea which allowed perspectives from both academics and practitioners to be brought into the mix. James McVeigh (Festivals Edinburgh), Beatriz Garcia (Institute of Cultural Capital), Ellie Turner (Walk the Plank) and Maurice Roche (University of Sheffield) each offered their insights before developing into a Q&A with the gathered audience. The work of Maurice Roche on mega-events has been influential in the development of the study of events, an emphasis on understand events within the context of conflict and contestation. Beatriz Garcia, examined the role of the stories that events are telling us about places and the importance of maintaining a critical lens which builds a bridge with managerial perspectives in order to avoid a ‘caravan of experts’ – knowledge transfer is important but what is the role of place? Ellie Turner outlined the work of Walk the Plank, an organisation that develop spectacle but that rooted in community practice and about connecting people in places. James McVeigh spoke about how festivals are moments to allow us to see things differently – to examine place and community but also as a key feature of society, as they have been for centuries.

The Q&A then started to engage the panel and the audience in thinking about how we can be critical in our research, are we being radical enough in how we examine the role of festivals and events? Indeed, there was not necessarily agreement across the delegates on the question of ‘events and festivals are?’ (which can be found on the blog) – everyone was bringing a different perspective to the table which made the symposium a real fertile ground for establishing new avenues for research.

The afternoon session proceeding as an ‘open space’ where the discussions were led by the delegates according to what they wanted to talk about. Ideas for discussion ranged from critical issues on ‘the role of volunteers’ and ‘the role of experts’. More abstract ideas were wrangled with from ‘are events liminal?’ to ‘is events management self-congratulatory’ (all the summaries of discussions can be found on the blog). The open space format allowed delegates to move around discussions, test out ideas, share thoughts, create connections with new people.

The traditional conference format offers a chance to talk about our own research but it was important that the symposium allowed a space to just think differently about how we do our research, what questions we are asking and can we do things differently. Indeed, David McGillivray asked 3 questions as part of the plenary:

  1. Are we being ‘radical’ enough?

  2. What does being ‘critical’ represent?

  3. Can we be inclusive within that ‘criticality’ or do we need to accept that not everyone can/would want to be aligned with Critical Event Studies?

It is these three questions that now take us forward. The next steps are to develop further research networks and spaces for discussions. The delegates valued to open space format as a way to share knowledge and simply play with ideas…something we do not often make time for. PhD students also valued the opportunity to engage without the pressure of presented research that might not yet be fully formed – there is the hope that this community of PhD students will also develop. The blog is also a virtual space that we welcome people to contribute to – at the end of the symposium I stressed that no-one ‘owns’ this – there is already talk about applying for funding for research networks; special editions of journals; conference panels; edited collections; collaborations and further symposia.

If you would like to engage with future conversations please join the list, use the #CritEvents on Twitter or visit the blog (contributions welcome).




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