‘What are you working on’…Matt Spokes

There are two answers to that question. The first relates to the research I’ve been doing over the last few months, and the three papers I’ve been working on.

The first paper operates as a quasi-response to Deborah Lupton’s work on the quantification of self, and self-tracking. This is a paper I’ve been writing with my former colleague Dr. Paul Chappell for the last 18 months, but it took until this month to reach a breakthrough with it: what the paper explores is how classificatory systems change as a result of human agency in data collection and analysis, with the case study being the overly-complicated drink-diary I kept during my PhD in which I listed every alcoholic beverage I consumed over a 5 year period.

The second paper, which is at the fieldwork stage, is a walking ethnography of state-sponsored gentrification programmes in London, specifically the 30 year rebuilding of the Woodberry Down estate. I’m conducting walking interviews of different areas of the rebuild to discuss change(s) with local residents and build a rich ethnography combining their dialogue with GiS mapping data and photographs: to what end, I’m not entirely sure, because I’ve purposely not set myself a question like that yet.

Developing some ideas I originally explored in my PhD, the third paper uses social network analysis to explore how modular synth enthusiasts develop support networks to offer advice to each other on how to build and play modular synthesizers. For this, I’m using network data collected via IssueCrawler from two modular synth festivals (Sines and Squares 2014, 2016) combined with document analysis of conference papers at the festival and online forums to unpack how different people with varying levels of involvement in modular synthesis engage with one another, drawing on Becker’s typology of ‘support personnel’ and ‘integrated professionals’ for theoretical ballast.

As has been the case throughout my admittedly fledgling academic career, I am adopting a magpie-like approach to my research, which I discuss in more detail here.

The second answer is that ‘what I’m currently working on’ is, as ever, ‘juggling many things’: part of being an early career researcher – someone up to 5-8 years out of finishing their PhD – is responding to the increasing array of expectations that the increasingly neoliberal higher education sector places on young academics by increasing your workload, which is both a tacit expectation but also a self-imposed approach. That include the preparation of new teaching materials, assessments, conference organizing and research along with the genuinely important things like not being a shit dad to my 20 month old daughter.

I should point out this is not a complaint about where I work, but about broader issues young academics experience that perhaps weren’t really a thing 10/15 years ago. The pressure placed on young academics by the REF and the upcoming TEF – whereby metrics that academic research suggests do not measure the things they set out – are used to decide whether or not we are effective researchers and educators. One way to facilitate a return to genuinely progressive and thoughtful research would be to radically rethink the ways in which quality and performance are judged.

‘What are you working on’…Jack Denham

Continuing our blog series on current research practice, it’s my turn to step into the digital limelight. In terms of research, I’m going to tell you briefly about four ongoing projects. One of which is almost completed, one will take but a day, one is yet to begin, and one is never-ending.

My PhD – submitted

PhD write up has taken almost every second of my non-lecturing time of late, submitted just three weeks ago. The final piece of this puzzle was the abstract, which is probably the easiest way for me to summarise this work for you:

This thesis investigates crime memorabilia, or ‘true crime objects’, and proposes the concept of ‘authenticity’ as a way of understanding the perceived value and imagined criminality inside of objects, artefacts, exhibitions and consumables associated with famous violent crimes. Murderabilia has enjoyed a sustained rise in interest in both news media and popular culture, but academic research has been limited. It addresses a central contradiction in the paucity of literature that has touched upon murderabilia – to what extent is murderabilia an extension of existing violent transgressive narratives in popular culture; or a will to transgress these mainstream discourses themselves; or a combination thereof? To that end, this thesis seeks to understand where the consumption of criminal transgression sits as part of the broader system of objects, and the broader popular cultural genre of true crime as well. Through a digital and traditional ethnography conducted over ten months (September 2014 – July 2015), covering museum exhibitions of murderabilia, personal murderabilia collections, and manufactured murder merchandise, murderabilia is revealed as a complicated negotiation of some of the contradicting demands of art, culture, antique – and consumerism. It is argued that the consumption of murder objects is reflective of a broader societal will to transgress banality and sameness in 21st century Western consumer capitalist marketplaces, and not as an embracement or glorification of criminal transgression itself. Consumers are positioned in pursuit of experiences of perceived authenticity, despite embracing dominant popular cultural narratives of crime in the process.

York City Big Read – just a day

For one hour in the evening of Tuesday 19th September, I’ll be doing a public lecture on the merging of crime fiction and crime fact for York City Library’s York City Big Read festival – more information on this to follow in the coming weeks at www.jackdenham.com

Deviant Spaces – yet to begin

My first project after PhD completion – with Matt Spokes and Ben Lehmann, I’ll be reviving an old project idea that I had back as an MA student to investigate how the dead, particularly victims of famous violent crimes, inhabit space and place through differing approaches to memorialisation. We’re hoping to turn this into a book – again, expect updates on this intermittently via www.jackdenham.com

Death and Culture – ongoing

Ongoing is the development of the Death and Culture Network. We have a call for book proposals for our new book series Emerald Studies in Death and Culture, dates announced for the biennial conference (7-8 September ’18), and keynotes as well – information on all available on the website.