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June 19, 2010

hacking a research project

Posted by dogpossum on June 19, 2010 12:31 PM | Comments (0)

More interesting uses of archives, etc over at discontents where @wragge is talking about getting funding for a project which is utterly FASCINATING.

"hacking a research project" was posted in the category academia and curating and collecting

May 6, 2010

interesting reading

Posted by dogpossum on May 6, 2010 5:35 PM | Comments (0)

An interesting article about governance and the importance of independence for archivists and librarians.

And one about Australian indigenous knowledge and libraries.

It's bits of research like this that give me the strength to continue my course, despite the terribly poor scholarship of some of the assigned readings. Information management is actually interesting.

"interesting reading" was posted in the category academia and curating and collecting and learning

May 1, 2010

dictionary of sydney

Posted by dogpossum on May 1, 2010 1:08 PM | Comments (0)

The Dictionary of Sydney is a pretty good resource, if you can navigate it. I remember seeing a job going with them a while ago - either as a research position through its host uni, or through the tool itself as an information management person.
It could be really awesome. I'll use it a bit more and see what I think. The home page has some usability problems, though.

....this is my life, isn't it? Every site I see, I'll assess for usability. Geez.

"dictionary of sydney" was posted in the category academia and curating and collecting and learning and research

April 29, 2010

kindergardeners rock spaghetti architecture

Posted by dogpossum on April 29, 2010 1:37 PM | Comments (0)

Kindy builds good skills.

This film is interesting for the discussion of iterative design processes. This is something we talk about in class - the importance of building prototypes over and over and over again during the design process. This has also been the hardest part of learning to design things, for me. In the beginning of the semester I tended to spend half, if not three quarters of the allocated design time in class talking and thinking and writing about my design. And then I'd try making or doing the design and realise that, actually, it's more useful to talk less and to play more.

I think that a PhD does this to you: it trains you to think about doing things, rather than to actually do them. Which of course is the inverse of learning to dance. You'll never dance fast or well or interestingly if you just stand there thinking about it. I think that learning jazz routines on the social dance floor, in 'real time'* has been the single most important part of my education, ever. Of all time.

It's taught me to work with other people. It's taught me to observe - to watch and listen. It's taught me that to make shit, you have to do shit: you can guarantee that you will NEVER learn a routine if you just stand there and look at it. But if you try, you automatically improve your abilities a zillion percent. And even if you don't get the routine (which most of us won't), you will learn how your body works. And understanding how your body works is absolutely the most important part of dancing. Or building things.

Learning jazz routines on the social dance floor also teaches you that counting out steps is ridiculous. It's a silly enforcing of a rigid organising system on something which is far more exciting and slippery. Jazz - in 'real time' (ahahhahaha) is bound by phrases and bars and so on, but it is also slippery and busts out of those boundaries with improvisation all the time. If you only learn routines by numbers, you will never learn how to bust out of boundaries and improvise. And improvising is everything that dancing is. Without it, you might as well be... writing pages of the dictionary out by hand. It's far better to learn a jazz routine by listening to the music and understanding musical structure (and hence choreography and dance structures) by moving your body and using the music as the organising principle.

Off the dance floor, improvisation and iterative design processes teach you the limits of your materials (how strong is a piece of spaghetti), the importance of collaborative design and learning (and you can't learn to work with people in theory - you can only learn by doing) and the sheer joy of working within a time frame and feeling the adrenaline surging.

I know I'm an adrenaline junky. But I just think life is so much more fun when you give yourself a little jolt of the organically manufactured good stuff.

*I pause here to laugh a lot about the ridiculousness of this idea: dance is always in real time, or else it just doesn't exist!

"kindergardeners rock spaghetti architecture" was posted in the category academia and fitness and learning and lindy hop and other dances and music and research

April 5, 2010

online collection

Posted by dogpossum on April 5, 2010 8:04 PM | Comments (0)

My interest (for obvious reasons) is caught by online or digital collections curated by... well, by all sorts of people. I'm especially interested by public institutions like libraries, national galleries, etc using online galleries as a way of reaching the wider public. I'm also interested in the opposite - collections which work better in the face to face (I'm thinking of the national archives and their collections in remote indigenous communities...fuck, regional centres. God forbid they actually get action out to _really_ remote communities. Who aren't white.).

This is another one I've just found:, which is the national gallery's prints and printmaking... collection? I guess you'd call it that.

"online collection" was posted in the category academia and clicky and curating and collecting

March 20, 2010


Posted by dogpossum on March 20, 2010 4:49 PM | Comments (3)

Running report: I can run for 28 minutes without stopping. I'm at run 3 of week 8 of the c25k. I am badass. I am considering some sort of fun run situation.

DJing report: went to BBS and DJed. DJing for blues dancers is a bit boring. Blues dancing events are a bit boring. Having said that, I had a very good time. For my money (and it was), BBS offers the most interesting bands and venues at any Australian dance event. G$ has some great photos here. That's one of his there with this post.
My DJing was ok, and I think I did a pretty good job on the... Sunday night I think it was. On the whole I didn't hear a whole lot of really inspiring DJing over the weekend. Most of the sets seem to lack coherency or flow. And they tended to be really low energy. The low energy is a real suck at an entire weekend of blues - you really need to keep the energy up there so people dance. One exception was Chris Haarm, who did some really nice work warming the room on the Friday night. I think his set was my favourite.
The bands, though, ROCKED. And that's how it should be.
I don't think I'll bother with another blues weekend. I ended up going for a run on the Sunday because I didn't feel like I'd had enough exercise. And that's just wrong for an exchange.

Learnz report: I am working my way through this pgrad diploma. It's really hard not directing your own learnz. I don't like waiting for someone else to decide when I'm ready for the next bit of learn. I also much prefer following my own interests rather than having to follow someone else's curriculum. Remind me to talk a bit about this more later on.

Intertubes report: I have neglected this blog for twitter. And my learnz.

That's it.

"reports" was posted in the category academia and c25k and djing and lindy hop and other dances and melbourne and music

March 3, 2010

mid-week report

Posted by dogpossum on March 3, 2010 10:05 AM | Comments (1)

This is just going to be an account of things I've done lately, as I'm trying to get my brain in gear for doing readings and some writing.

Today I did the third run of week five of c25k. That was 5 minutes walking, 20 minutes running, 5 minutes walking. I ran for twenty whole minutes without having to stop. I haven't been able to do that since I was in an athletics squad at thirteen. It's pretty bloody amazing. And it wasn't as hard as I thought. My knees did get a bit sore from the impact, and I really felt the limited range of movement in my right ankle, but otherwise it was ok. I'm pretty tired now, and I don't have that massive, crazy adrenaline-charged energy I usually have on days I run, but I don't feel terrible at all. In fact, I am tough.

Tomorrow I'm off to Melbourne for Blues Before Sunrise, a blues dancing exchange. I'm not doing workshops. I never do any more - I'd much rather spend the daylight hours being a tourist and socialising. I'm not interested in any of the teachers either, which is usually the deciding factor. I'd really like it if Damon Stone came back so I could do some historically informed blues dancing classes.
I'm doing some DJing there (as I mentioned earlier), and I'm interested in seeing how Melbourne's social dancing is going these days. I'll probably play the sort of set I do at Roxbury these days, as Melbourne used to have slightly higher tempos than the Sydney SP gigs, but I'll also keep an eye on the lower tempo range as it's an after-class gig.

I'm also looking forward to buying a good sports bra. I've lost a bit of weight since I started running and this has meant that most of my clothes no longer fit the same way. Most of my wardrobe is cope-with-able, but I'm finding that I really need to get a smaller bra. I've got three super awesome Berlei ones that are actually still in good shape, even though they're about two or three years old. Apparently the elastic goes in bras after a few zillion washes, so you should replace them. But I like these and they were fricking expensive ($70 each). They're not, though, really fitting properly, and I'm getting some bad bounce which actually gives me a bit of a stitch. Egads. So I'm going to go in and get fitted at Myer and then have a look at the outlet store in Brunswick to see if they have what I'm after. I really do have to buy at least one good one for running in.

The semester has started and I've been to two of my three classes. There's an option of getting credit for one subject because of my previous study, but I'm not sure I'll take it. I should, because it'll save me heaps of money and make the workload easier, but I'm actually interested in the content. It's really just basic semiotics and critical thinking, but it's applied to information systems and data management, which is interesting. I really could just do the readings and guide myself through the content on my own (seeing as how I've spent a couple of higher degrees learning just how to do that), but I think the discussions in class could be interesting. At any rate, I have until week four to make up my mind and then withdraw without academic penalty. I should withdraw - it'll save me 1.5 thousand dollars.
Classes have been interesting. The one I'm thinking of dropping was a little frustrating. It really was like being in a first year semiotics/intro to cultural studies subject, but in a very light weight way. It felt as though the discussion was going really. really. really. slowly. Partly because the group doesn't have the sort of discussion skills you get from an arts degree, but also because the tutor/lecturer is kind of adversarial, and this shut down the contributions. It's also because it seems as though information management people are only just discovering concepts like cultural diversity, active readership, meaning as a product of reader + text not inherent in text, etc etc.
The literature is equally slow - it's very tentative about its claims about audiences and users and the status of texts, which is very ANNOYING. These things are so standardly basic in cultural studies, it feels as though we are reinventing the wheel, but without actually using any round shapes. It's a bit interesting because it also makes clear the fact that info management really does rely on the idea that texts do have innate or essential value and meaning. If they didn't, you wouldn't collect and catalogue them and libraries wouldn't exist. The very nature of cataloguing is that texts and items carry meaning within them.
I think this is why the field is having such difficulty accommodating the idea of users as a diverse bunch with different needs and interests. If your text is the important bit, you really have to assume that readers have a shared value system and shared approaches to text. I'd like to see how the literature ultimately deals with this stuff, but right now articles published in the 1990s are all 'you know what - anything can be information! Even a building!' and I'm all 'oh fuck, didn't we talk about this thirty years ago?' So it's very frustrating, but also reveals a whole lot about the way museums and libraries and things work.
It's super frustrating because I'm used to teaching these things to undergrads, and I'm not particularly enjoying the way the tutor in our classes is handling discussion. This stuff really requires a lot of talk and testing from students; they really have to actually do the whole 'meaning is made not innate to texts' thing in class through their own discussions and exploration of readings. But this can't happen if your (white, male, hetero, alpha-male...) tutor can't let the discussion move away from him-as-focus. It's really emphasising the way patriarchy relies on masculinist ways of communicating and engaging in public talk and the negotiation of ideas to maintain the status quo. And while this tutor is all about 'multiple approaches to texts' and so on, he can't see that his own discursive style is enforcing boring old hierarchies and status and modes of engagement that marginalise women and not-patriarchy-types. This is way poop when your group is 90% middle aged women with badass careers behind them. I mean, you've gotta be doing something wrong if you manage to reduce a loud, enthusiastic, cooperative group of mature aged women students to silence. Self-reflexivity, please.

But I am really really really enjoying being back in a class again, as a student not a teacher. I did have to fight my instinct to manage the discussion in the first tutorial (especially when I could see the tutor squashing the discussion). It is hard to change the way I work in such a familiar setting. Tutorials are so clearly hierarchical. The tutor really is the alpha, or at least the guiding, structuring entity. And while I don't mind being in the beta position (yahoo! no lesson planning!), I'm finding it hard not to act on my instincts to lubricate discussion. I think in part it's because I'm also used to being in academic discussions where everyone knows how to talk - you know how to keep things rolling along.
I also think it's a part of being a woman in talk - women tend to do more affirming, active listening and general social lubrication. I've noticed that women tend to respond to alphas in a particular way - affirming, listening, agreeing rather than volunteering ideas, disagreeing or asserting themselves. In a group setting, when faced with an alpha, I tend to square up, to assert myself. And I'm trying not to do that in this class because it then encourages a sort of competition between me and other alphas, but it also provokes a particular response from the women in the group - agreeing, nodding, etc. And while that's all very nice, it also shuts you off from the sort of serious, hardcore communicating women do in all-female groups. Sure, there are particular hierarchies and power dynamics at work there, but they're not such blunt objects. So I need to chill and step back because a) I'm not responsible for the smooth and productive running of the tute, and b) these are my peers, not my students and I'll gain a lot from remembering that.
Basically, this has reminded me of how challenging being a university student is, and of how academia is - despite all this talk about discourse and collegiality - absolutely all about competitive, masculinised interaction. While it was professionally a good idea to learn how to do this type of behaviour when I was teaching, it's actually a fairly shitty way to be in a cooperative, collaborative class setting. So I'm trying to - once again - stop talking and to listen more. To not be the first one to answer questions, and to not 'take control' of the discussion or social setting, even by doing things like massaging conversation or discussion, or heading off at the pass disruptive influences.
It's also a real change to be a student within the university. I'm used to the status and privilege of teaching and researching. But as a student, no one will provide my reader, no one will tell me where to be at any one time, no one will organise rooms for me. Staff deal with me in a different way (I'm definitely lower status). It's super-nice to have other students treat me as peers, though. It's strange because though I've always tried not to be a 'we are gods' type academic, I've still benefited from the higher status of being staff. But I just haven't noticed it. So that shift in status is kind of destabilising.
I noticed it most yesterday when I couldn't find my lecture room. When you're doing the teaching, everyone has to wait for you to find the room. But when you're a student, things just continue whether you're there or not. I found this a bit daunting because it was the first class of the semester for a new subject. So coming in late, I found it tricky to catch up.
This class was discussing stuff I really know nothing about - the internal architecture of information systems like google or databases or search engines. It's taught by a computer science dood (who's really a very good teacher and a lovely guy) and it's run a bit like a computer science subject - practical lab work and lots of contact hours, but NO READINGS (that blows my brain). So I'm going to have to learn how to learn in this new type of setting.
I'm kind of lucky that I do do dance classes regularly - I have ongoing experience learning how to learn in a class, and being comfortable with not knowing things. I think that dancers in the lindy world are very much about learning and knowledge... well, most of them are. The ones who are interested in historical dance forms tend to be very interested in learning. Learning new steps, routines, etc. But there's a great deal of difference between learning a routine from an archival clip or being in a dance class, and learning how to construct databases in a computer lab.

So being a student again is challenging. But it's also very exciting. I really love being in a group again, rather than working independently as you do during a PhD. I love hearing other people talk about their ideas, and having my own brain fired up by their saying things I'd never have come up with. I love this part of teaching, but when you're part of the group it's as though you have permission to just let your brain go, and follow ideas much further. When I'm teaching, I have to stay on track and keep the discussion within some sort of structure, as you have some goals and definite things to achieve. But when you're a stood, you can just let your brain run on and on and on. It's fabulous, and I love it SO MUCH.

Meanwhile, less fabulously, the bathroom renovation continues. The tiling is going on as I type, insulated by my headphones. The floor will go in today (hopefully), and then it will be tiled tomorrow. The vanity should be in by the end of the week, and the plumber in and doing the bits and pieces that make water work and the toilet exist. Next week they put in the fittings and shower screen. So, really, it won't possibly be done by next Wednesday, unless we're really lucky. But it should be done by Friday.
I haven't had a shower since Friday, and though I'm doing a good job with buckets, I'm looking forward to showering in Melbourne. Especially as I'll be dancing so much. But the bathroom will look good, and I think I did a good job choosing the tiles. It's all white, but the shade of white matches the old tub. The shiny (rather than matte) tiles mean it's already far brighter in there, and the whiteness is really good for light. There're no external windows, just a skylight, but the new downlights have also made a big difference. I'm not entirely happy about the vanity, as it will just eat up room, but we just couldn't afford a custom-made one, which is what would be required. Well, we could have afforded it, but it's not a good investment in a flat we won't spend the rest of our lives in.

And that's just about it, I think. I have some readings to do now. :D

"mid-week report" was posted in the category academia and c25k and domesticity and learning and lindy hop and other dances and melbourne and teaching

February 9, 2010

twitter continues to swallow up my intertubes brain

Posted by dogpossum on February 9, 2010 5:28 PM | Comments (0)

Things are kind of rolling along here in Sydney.

It rained all last week, every single day, and that was terrible. But today it's sunny again. SUN!

This is what it was like last week (and this is WHY I couldn't go out running yesterday morning when it was raining, TWITTER):

I've started doing the couch to 5k, which is really just an interval training approach to running 5km. So far I walk/run about 4km. It makes me feel like a gun. I didn't think I'd like running this much, but the endorphines are fabulous and helping me stave off a case of the unemployed-understimulated-uninteresting-s. It also helps me keep my mood stable - no 'what am I doing with myself?' introspection and anxiety... well, a little bit. But mostly that sort of thinking is under control. I'm also delighted by the effect just a couple of weeks of the program has made to my dancing. That, as well as finally ditching the wedding-exchange cold has me feeling fit, collected and energetic on the dance floor. Yay.

In other news, I'm all signed up for a pgrad diploma in Information Management. It will cost a ridiculous amount of money, but at least this degree will get me a job. I'm especially interested in digital archiving and increasing the accessibility of public collections like the Powerhouse's, the National Archives, the State Library, etc etc etc. It's all a bit exciting. I was asked to teach some undergrad subjects when I contacted the postgrad coordinator, but I said no because a) that's too weird, and b) I want to focus on my own study and to (brace for ridiculously over-achieving ambition) do really well and kick arse. There's a complicated online enrolment process (not like in my day, when we had to line up at the office to hand in our forms in person) and a heap of screwing about to do yet, but it's all happening.

This is a fairly demanding course, so I'm not sure just how much traveling for dance I'm going to be able to do this year... not that we could afford much, what with the zillions of dollars this course will cost. But I will make do with local Sydney and Canberra stuff and a mid year trip to Melbourne and November trip to Melbourne for MLX. The latter are combined with family visits, of course. This means, sadly, that I won't be able to go to Hullabaloo, which I tend to think of as one of the Big Australian Events, both in terms of DJing and dancing. The dancing is good and the music is good at Hullabaloo, and Perth always puts on a quality event with lots of attendees. I'd also have liked to DJ at Hullabaloo (if they'd have me), but we simply can't afford $1000 in plane fares plus assorted expenses. That's a subject and a bit of my course right there.

In other news, I've been experimenting with bread baking. I'm not hugely good at it. It looks ok, but it tends not to taste too good. Sort of sweetish and overly yeasty. I'm going to try some sourdough next (as inspired by Tammi to see if that improves the flavour. A different sort of yeasty taste. But I've not had a chance to get the starter going, yet, so that's a way off. In other food thoughts, we've been eating well, but the shitty humidity has sapped our appetites. Lots of boring salads and little interest in anything else.

On the DJing front, things continue as usual. Lately Sharon has been DJing like a demon, inspired by international travel and an unfortunate laptop theft. I think the theft was actually a good thing, as she's been going through her music, re-adding CDs and transferring files from her other computer, rediscovering forgotten stuff and adding new things. It's meant that her DJing has suddenly had a burst of inspiring energy, and is absolutely great for dancing. She's a madkeen balboa dancer, and much of the music she loves dancing bal to is my perfect cup of lindy hopping tea. Yahoo.

The tempos in Sydney have also jumped up quite a bit (interstate visitors over the wedding exchange weekend last month commented on the speediness), and I have to say that this also delights me, as I really do prefer the higher tempos for dancing. By higher, of course, I mean over 160bpm. Tempos at other Sydney venues remain ridiculously low. I'm not interested in a majority of songs below 120bpm (srsly) with the odd dodgy 'faster' song for 'balboa'. Egads.
We've also got a Swiss DJ in town who's also a bal nut and a solidly swinging classic jazz fan, so nights at the Roxbury have been really, truly great dancing. For me. One thing we've noticed, though, is that the beginners have sort of dropped away a bit. In part, I think because the first half hour (8.30-9 or so) is super-fast tempoed for bal-nuts and crazyjazzlindyhopfools. By 9, things return to normal, but the tempos over all have been a bit higher.
This is great for me, and great for the scene as a whole, I think, as Sydney really needed a wider range of tempos in the classic swing vein. There's lots of superfast neo at Jump Jive and Wail, but that's not much good for lindy hop (well, for my lindy hopping taste). So we just needed some faster stuff. Right now, though, I think we could perhaps re-administer a little more at the lower end of the spectrum (120-140) just for variety's sake, and then we're laughing.

When I DJ I'm very conscious of working the wave (moving up and down the range from 130->200 and down again), and the mega-humidity and heat have made this even more important. My last few sets have seen me working a fairly predictable wave: 140-160-180-200-180-140- etc. It feels as though I'm covering the tempo bases pretty well and managing dancers' energy levels more effectively. I think in the recent past I've tended to clump at specific tempos, neglecting the wave. I've also tried hard to manage energy levels as well. Though dancers are more interested in higher tempos, now, they simply can't hack the physical demands of fast lindy hop in 90% humidity (which is where we've sat for the last two Roxbury nights) and mid 30s temperatures. It's just too draining - the humidity in particular.
I think that balboa has, once again, to be thanked for many dancers' comfort, or willingness to experiment with, faster tempos. Faster tempos simply seem less threatening when you hear them more often. And when you hear really fast tempos, 180bpm just doesn't seem too fast at all. Which is very nice. My own increasing fitness has made it much easier to deal with the humidity and to enjoy faster dancing again. Yay.

Though we have perfect growing weather now (warm, wet, sunny), we still haven't put in a proper herb garden. We are feeling its lack quite seriously, but we just haven't had time to get to the markets for plants, or to get some seeds sprouting. We must get on that ASAP, as fresh herbs are so important in our day to day cooking.

Twitter continues to swallow up my intertubes brain. It's the instant gratification that I like. I'll try to do better.

I'm sure there's more to write about, but I can't think of it. So, enough, then.

"twitter continues to swallow up my intertubes brain" was posted in the category academia and djing and domesticity and fewd and gastropod and lindy hop and other dances and music

October 19, 2009

adventures with badass sistahs in outer space: olivia dunham

Posted by dogpossum on October 19, 2009 9:43 PM | Comments (1)

I love SF telly. I love it. I watch every SF program, just in case. I also like supernatural, fantasy and general make believe stuff.
But I tend to have less patience with programs that do not have good female characters. I make exceptions for programs like Supernatural which explore male characters and masculinity in new ways.
I love all trashy vampire telly. I can't help it. It's a sickness.

I did my honours thesis on female violence in action film, and I'm still interested in the way women and violence and, more importantly, women's violence are depicted in mainstream film and television. While I was doing this honours project I came across an article which basically argued that straight-to-video releases (ie B films) were often more transgressive in terms of representations of gender than mainstream or A films. I am really interested in this idea. This is partly how I justify my passion for B telly. Partly. But I also think it's true. Telly that doesn't gain broadcast telly release, doesn't make it to prime time, or even make it to Australian television tends to be where I find the most interesting gender stuff. It's as though being B gives you a little freedom to explore different types of characters.

I gain access to these programs through the internet, and through video shops. Video shops are actually very important. DVD releases of even the most B programs has given me access to some of the most wonderfully un-top-shelf television. Accessing these programs this way (rather than via broadcast telly) means that I tend to watch them in a block, rather than one episode-per-week. I binge view. This changes the way that I read these programs. It makes me more likely to read the meta-arc, the larger story. I tend to regard individual episode stories as pieces of a whole, rather than as discrete texts. Even when the program is very 'monster of the week' (as most SF is, particularly in its first season).

I find out about these programs via websites like io9. I use wikipedia extensively to clear up plot points I haven't understood or to follow up characters and add-on texts like comics. I also use imdb for details about directors, actors and so on. I like to talk about these programs with other people, but I don't particularly want to sit down and dissect them for hours. This was something I used to do with Buffy when I was at school. These days I quite like to share programs and to mention them, or to share add-on texts, but I'm really only interested in watching them. I do talk about them with my partner when we're watching. But only the programs he's also interested in.

My PhD dissertation involved a lot of research into fan studies and methodologies and theories involved in researching fan cultures. I am self-reflexive about most of my talk about these SF telly shows. I am interested in issues of gender and class and sexuality and race and ethnicity.... and all that good identity stuff. But I am also interested in questions about technology and machinery, wider questions about humanity. But, really, gender is where it's at; all that other shit is inflected by this. And, as somebody clever said once, I'll be a post-feminist when we live in a post-patriarchy. Gender issues are so central to SF culture and texts, it's ridiculously self-deceiving to try to ignore them.

This is just one post about one character (mostly) that I like. I'll try to write other posts about other characters. And perhaps about this program in more detail. But don't count on it; I'm slack.
Because I tend to watch a number of programs at one time, and am also reading SF all the time, I tend to read intertextually. Well, of course I do. We all do. But this is one of my particular pleasures; I like to imagine characters from different programs meeting. I like exploring the industrial connections between programs - how could the director of Veronica Mars move to Moonlight and what happens when Mark Mothersbaugh does the music for Big Love. Oh - I also read and watch across genres. I'm reading lots of dodgy supernatural romances most of the time, and always reading Tanya Huff; I'm watching programs like Vampire Diaries and, of course, Blood Ties.
So when I'm watching these programs I'm not only reading the text in front of me, I'm also thinking intertextually, I'm thinking about modes and industries of production, and I'm paying attention to audiences and modes of reception. And the communities which tie them all together.

And I re-watch and re-read on a massive scale.

I also do some sessional teaching at various universities. I exploit this role by pushing the television I love on young, vulnerable middle class kiddies. I do, unapologetically and with great verve, present these programs in a feminist light. I have no - as in zero - tolerance for anti-feminist arguments from my classes. I will listen to them and then dismiss them as they deserve. I aim to indoctrinate a generation of students. They will be feminist and they will value SF.

They can just suck it up or fail.

So here's some stuff about Olivia Dunham. Main character of Fringe. All-round badass sistah. Mos def.

First, watch this:

That's a Fringe promo. The blonde is Olivia Dunham.

I'm really liking the character Olivia Dunham in Fringe. I especially liked her in the first season of the program. Why?

She's a crack shot. She is really, really good with a gun.
She's a good fighter. She wins most fights, and when she doesn't win, it's only because her opponent is, I dunno - a car or something.
She's super clever and figures things out. There are lots of things to figure out in Fringe.
She's a good explainer. Because she's a good figure-er-outer, she often has to explain things to other characters. Usually her male partner Charlie, but also quite often her boss.
She listens and thinks and listens again. She's not always flapping her lips, yapping. She's listening.
She's a good runner and jumper.
She's very gentle and patient with Walter, who's not only a habitual drug user (and abuser) but a mentally unwell older man who's been quite seriously damaged by his time in an institution. She listens to him and pays attention to him; she doesn't patronise him. She protects him when he needs it (and when he asks), but she is also willing to let him take care of himself.
She used to be a prosecutor in the military. She investigated and then prosecuted a middle aged white man who later became her boss. He was charged with sexually assaulting a number of women. When he became her boss, he sought revenge on her through systematic harassment. She didn't take that crap; she kept on being a badass agent. She didn't martyr herself; she called him on his bullshit. Her usual boss was this bad boss's friend. At first he didn't want to like Olivia because of this. Eventually he figured out Olivia was a gun, and that his friend was crap. Then he became a better boss. Olivia kept on being a gun, regardless.
She's willing to tell bosses off if they need it. She's also prepared to listen and to admit she was wrong.
She really likes her sister and her little niece.
She had good, solid, platonic relationships with her male coworkers. There is never even the intimation of sexual tension between her and (the awesome) Charlie. They are partners in the truest sense. He has a wife he loves and Olivia is busy being... Olivia.
She operates in an all-male world - the FBI (or is it CIA? Whatevs - some institution) - but she is aware of gender issues and articulates them. Most especially in her dealings with the bad boss. But she also makes comments about men in positions of power who can't handle assertive women. She has one great line in the first season about how the men around her (especially her male boss) aren't listening to her because she's 'getting emotional, just like a woman'. And then she says something, very sternly, about how she is getting emotional, because this is emotional stuff, and that this emotion is making her a better agent. Olivia is not only calling the men around her on their mysogynist bullshit, she's also reworking the role of 'great agent' to incorporate a range of characteristics not traditionally located in the male arse.
And she is a fully sick agent.

Throughout season one she is the main character. She is the centre of stories, and as the agent in charge, she is also boss of the cases they work. She's the one to call the lab and tell them to get their gear and come investigate something gross. This changes a little in season two, and she is set up as something of a victim (recovering from a 'car accident'), but this is changing. We are at about episode four, and she's already back on her feet and kicking arse. Peter has taken on a more managerial role in the group, and the 'Fringe division' has officially been disbanded. Charlie has [SPOILER] died [/SPOILER], which sucks arse, but I'm dealing. So Olivia's status has shifted. But this is ok, as Peter's character has only slowly been working away from 'carer' for Walter and 'general slacker' towards some sort of three dimensional personhood. He's also finally realising his abilities as an investigator type person. In other words, his character is gradually being fleshed out. I worry that he'll become Olivia's partner (in the sense of FBI ness and in the romantic sense), but I don't see this happening any time soon.

I really like Olivia because I don't worry about her. She's kind of superhuman, but only in the way we expect our SF protagonists to be. She gets scraped and banged and shot occasionally, but it doesn't stop her winning. Sure, she's kind of a paragon of all things awesome, but this is as it should be in SF. She is, however, flawed. And [SPOILER] probably partly psychic and awesome because she was experimented on as a kid. But she has begun dealing with this history and is assimilating and coming to terms with its effects in a phenomenally healthy way. Which in itself is a bit worrying.

Olivia is an impossible woman. An impossible character. But this is as it should be in SF. This is how SF protagonists are: they are strong and brave and clever. Cleverness is important. She is conventionally attractive, but she doesn't wear booby shirts or stupid shoes. She can run like a badass mofo and she likes suits. Just like the male agents around her. She wears her hair tied back in a piggy tail, or she wears a sensible black beanie. She doesn't wear much make up. She is conventionally attractive. But so are most protagonists.

I <3 Olivia.


Olivia isn't the only woman character in Fringe worth loving. I also love Astrid, who's the agent assigned to working with Walter in his lab.

Astrid is also awesome.
She has a degree in cryptography, another in computer stuff (or is that a double major) and she's got some sort of medical training (well, she does now). She loves cryptography. As in, she's a nerd for it. And she loves computers.
She's also an agent.
She calls Walter on his bullshit, including his inability to remember her name (which we suspect is a ploy on Walter's part). She won't let him (or anyone else) forget that she is actually a badass agent as well.
She deals with Walter's gross dissections and experiments very matter of factly.
She runs errands and also has some badass ninja agent skills.
She veers into 'servant territory' every now and then, which is particularly worrying as she's African American. But these little deviations are usually addressed: Astrid will call bullshit on Walter's behaviour and regularly refuses tasks she feels cross the boundary from professional assistance to nurse maiding.
She is super smart.
She and Olivia talk regularly about things other than men. They often figure out puzzles together.
She is fond of Walter and also deals with his mental illness and fragile personality gently, yet without patronising him. She does not take on a carer role; she is, if nothing else, Walter's lab assistant.

Nina Sharp is another important female character in Fringe. She's the CEO of Massive Dynamic, a sort of super-corporation specialising in technology. A bit like Skynet Cyberdyne Systems, but awesomer. She admires Olivia greatly and has tried to recruit her to Massive Dynamic a number of times. She and Olivia have a refreshingly realistic relationship; they deal with each other as professionals. They do not have the sort of antagonistic rivalry alpha women are usually given in SF... in telly.They talk to each other about plenty of things besides men. They often talk about technology together. And science.
Nina Sharp is middle aged.
Nina Sharp has a bionic arm and a clear glass ipod thingy. She is way cool with technology generally. This is one middle aged woman who is not relegated to earth mother status; she is technology, economic and industrial power and smarts.

I love Olivia the most, though. I love the way she stops and thinks about things. I love the way she can fighty fight. I love it that though she might, one day be interested in Peter romantically, that day is waaaaaay off in the future, and for now she's busy being a badass. He thinks she's neat. He might think she's neat in a romantic way, but for now he just thinks she's a badass and he wants to be her partner, I think.

So I love Olivia Dunham. And this is why I can watch Fringe.

PS: I'll try to add some more pics to this later, when I can figure out how to do it in this new version of MT without opening a new stupid window every time.

EDIT: I had to add this link to a drawing Jasika Nicole (the actor who plays Astrid) drew of herself.

"adventures with badass sistahs in outer space: olivia dunham" was posted in the category academia and buffy and angel and digging and fringe and teaching and television and veronica mars

May 4, 2009

map of new orleans jazz neighbourhoods

Posted by dogpossum on May 4, 2009 8:50 PM | Comments (0)


This will make a lot more sense if you read more about it over here at the National Parks Service site. Yes, jazz + parks. It's a strange American thing. Remind me to post about the Century Ballroom and its interesting relationship with the NPS.

If you're digging on these maps, make sure you also check out the Louisiana maps, especially the historic ones.
I have been trying to 'tour' New Orleans via googleearth, but can't quite figure it out. Will report back.

Can I add: MAPS! SKWEEE!

"map of new orleans jazz neighbourhoods" was posted in the category academia and maps and music and research

the trouble with linear jazz narratives + more

Posted by dogpossum on May 4, 2009 6:33 PM | Comments (2)

In the earliest parts of my researching into jazz history, I tried to set up a sort of 'time line' or map* of musicians and cities and bands. Who played with which band in what city at what time? Then where did they go? This approach was partly based on the idea that particularly influential musicians (like Armstrong) would spread influence, from New Orleans to New York and beyond.

But drawing these time lines out on pieces of paper, I found it wasn't possible to draw a nice, clear line from New Orleans to New York, passing through particular bands. Musicians left New Orleans, went to New York, then back to New Orleans, then off to France, then back again to New York. The discographies revealed the fact that a band recorded in different cities during the year - they were in constant motion, all over America. Furthermore, musicians didn't stick with one band, they moved between bands, they regularly used pseudonyms and even the term 'band' is problematic. The Mills Blue Rhythm Band, with its dozens and dozens of names, was in fact a shifting, changing association of musicians, and did not even have a fixed 'core' set of players. Perhaps this is why the MBRB is so important: many people played with them, and they were a band(s) which moved and changed shape, a loose network of musicians who really only existed as 'a band' when they were caught, in one moment, on a recording. Or perhaps on a stage (though that's far more problematic). I wonder if that's why it's so hard to find a photo of them? Perhaps the 'Mills Blue Rhythm Band', as a discrete entity didn't really exist?

The more I read about jazz and 'jazz' history, the more convinced I am by the idea of 'jazz' as a shifting series of relationships. I think about cities not as fixed locations, but as points on a sort of 'trade route' or even as a complicated web or network of relationships between individual musicians (which is, incidentally, how I think about international swing dance culture - the physical place is important, but it's not binding).

Right now I've followed some references backwards to an article by Scott DeVeaux called Constructing the Jazz Tradition, which is really interesting. It not only outlines some of the political effects of a coherent 'narrative' history of jazz, but also the economic and social effects of positioning jazz as a 'black music', with interesting references to consequences of the 'jazz musician as artist' for black musicians. Read in concert with David Ake's discussion of creole identity and ethnicity in New Orleans as far more complicated than 'black' and 'white', this makes for some pretty powerful thinking.

I'm very interested in the idea of a 'jazz canon' and of the role of people like Wynton Marsalis, the Ken Burns Jazz discography, jazz clubs and magazines developing during the 30s and 40s devoted to New Orleans recreationism and the whole 'moldy figs' discussion. The tensions surrounding the Newport jazz festival also feed into this: the Gennari article (which I discuss in reference to its descriptions of white, middle class men rioting at Newport here) pointed out the significance of a festival program loaded with 'trad' jazz - for black musicians and for the popularising of jazz generally. I've also been reading about the effects of this emphasis on trad jazz for superstar musicians like Louis Armstrong.

O'Meally and Gabbard have written about the way Armstrong's public, visual persona is marked by ethnicity.
Armstrong was known for his visual 'mugging', or playing the 'Uncle Tom' for white audiences, particularly on stage. Eschen writes the struggle for equality accelerated, Armstrong was widely criticized as an Uncle Tom and, for many, compared unfavourably with a younger, more militant group of jazz musicians (193)
This, as Eschen continues, despite the fact that Armstrong was actually an active campaigner for civil rights in America, and overseas.
The trad jazz movement - or 'moldy figs' pushing for the preservation of an 'authentic' jazz from New Orleans - effectively pushes Armstrong to continue as Uncle Tom - unthreatening black man clowning for white audiences. A narrative history of jazz which emphasises a beginning in New Orleans and a consistent, clearly defined lineage of musicians and styles also, more subtly, relies on an idea of the black musician as powerless or unthreatening. DeVeaux makes the point that positioning jazz (and jazz musicians) as artistic loners who do not 'sell out' with commercial success:
Issues of ethnicity and economics define jazz as an oppositional discourse: the music of an oppressed minority culture, tainted by its association with commercial entertainment in a society that reserves its greatest respect for art that is carefully removed from daily life (530)
In this world, the 'true' jazz musician is 'black' (in a truly singular, homogenous sense of the world), he is poor and he is mugging for white audiences.
Billie Holiday becomes a particularly attractive representation for this idea of the 'jazz musician': poor, black, addled by drugs and alcohol, a history of prostitution, yet nonetheless, a creative genius pouring out, untainted in recording sessions (and I'm reminded of the 'one take' stories) and tragically cut short.

All of this is quite disturbing for someone who really, really likes jazz from the 20s, 30s and 40s. Am I buying into this disturbing jazz mythology? It's even more disturbing for someone who found similar themes in contemporary swing dancers' development of 'narratives' and geneologies of jazz dance history. As DeVeaux writes (about jazz, not dance), though, this is

The struggle is over possession of that history, and the legitimacy that it confers. More precisely, the struggle is over the act of definition that is presumed to lie at the history’s core (528)
I wonder if I should suspect my own critique of capitalist impulses in contemporary swing dance discourse?

I don't think it's that simple. Gabbard discusses Armstrong's work with Duke Ellington, including the filming of Paris Blues (in which Armstrong starred, and for which Ellington contributed the score) and the recording of the 'Summit' sessions:

…at those moments in the film when he seems most eager to please with his vocal performances, his mugging is sufficiently exaggerated to suggest and ulterior motive. Lester Bowie has suggested that Armstrong is essentially “slipping a little poison into the coffee” of those who think they are watching a harmless darkie….Throughout his career in films, Armstrong continued to subvert received notions of African American identity, signifying on the camera while creating a style of trumpet performance that was virile, erotic, dramatic, and playful. No other black entertainer of Armstrong’s generation – with the possible exception of Ellington – brought so much intensity and charisma to his performances. But because Armstrong did not change his masculine presentation after the 1920s, many of his gestures became obsolete and lost their revolutionary edge. For many black and white Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, he was an embarrassment. In the early days of the twenty-first century, when Armstrong is regularly cast as a heroicized figure in the increasingly heroicising narrative of jazz history, we should remember that he was regularly asked to play the buffoon when he appeared on films and television (Gabbard 298)

You can see a clip from Paris Blues here.

Armstrong's performance gains meaning from its context, from the point of view of the observer, from his own actions as a 'real' person (Armstrong was in fact openly, assertively critical of Jim Crowism and quite politically active) and from its position within a broader 'body' of Armstrong's work as a public performer. Pinning it down is difficult - it's slippery.

The idea of layers of meaning is not only interesting, it's essential. This physical performance of identity, tied to the physicality of playing an instrument reminds me of the layers of meaning in black dance. And of course, of hot and cool in dance, and the layers of meaning in blues dance and music. Put simply, what you see at first glance, is not all that you are getting. Layers of meaning are available to the experienced, inquiring eye. Hiding 'true' meanings (or more subversive subtexts) is important when the body under inspection is singing or dancing from the margins. Tommy DeFrantz discusses meaning and masculinity in black dance during slavery:

serious dancing went underground, and dances which carried significant aesthetic information became disguised or hidden from public view. For white audiences, the black man’s dancing body came to carry only the information on its surface (DeFrantz 107).

Armstrong's performance is more than simply its surface. As with any clown, the meanings are more complex than a little light entertainment. Gabbard continues his point:
In short, Ellington plays the dignified leader and Armstrong plays the trickster. Armstrong’s tricksterisms were an essential part of his performance persona. On one level, Armstrong’s grinning, mugging, and exaggerated body language made him a much more congenial presence, especially to racist audiences who might otherwise have found so confident a performer to be disturbing, to say the least. When Armstrong put his trumpet to his lips, however, he was all business. The servile gestures disappeared as he held his trumpet erect and flaunted his virtuosity, power, and imagination (Gabbard 298).

This, of course, reminds me of that solo in High Society that I mentioned in a previous post. There's some literature discussing the physicality of jazz musician's performances, but I haven't gotten to that yet (though you know I'm busting for it). I have read some bits and pieces about gender and performance on stage (especially in reference to Lester Young), and there're some interesting bits and pieces about trumpets and their semiotic weight, but I haven't gotten to that yet, either.

Sorry to end this so abruptly: these are really just ideas in process. :D

To sum all that up:
- The idea of a jazz musician as 'isolated artist' is problematic, especially in the context of ethnicity and class. Basically, the 'true jazz musician who doesn't sell out by making money' is bad news for black musicians: it perpetuates marginalisation, not only economically, but also discursively, by devaluing the contributions of black musicians who are interested in making a living from their music. Jazz musicians are also members of communities.

- Linear histories of jazz are problematic: they deny the diversity of jazz today, and its past. Linear histories with their roots in New Orleans, insisting that this is 'black music' overlook the ethnic diversity of New Orleans in that moment: two categories of 'black' and 'white' do not recognise the diversity of Creole musicality, of the wide range of migrant musicians, of the diversity within a 'white' culture (which is also Italian and English and American and French and....), of economic and class relations in the city, and so on.

- 'linear histories' + 'musician as artist' neglect the complexities of everyday life within communities, and the role that music plays therein. These myths also overlook the fact that music is not divorced from everyday life; it is part of a continuum of creative production (to paraphrase LeeEllen Friedland and to refer to discussions about Ralph Ellison - which I will talk about later on).

- Music and dance have a lot in common. They carry layers of meaning, and aren't simply discrete canvases revealing one, singular meaning to each reader. They are weighted down by, buoyed up by a plethora of ideas and themes and creative industrial practices and sparks.

DeFrantz, Thomas. "The Black Male Body in Concert Dance." Moving Words: Re- Writing Dance. Ed. Gay Morris. London and New York: Routledge, 1996. 107 - 20.
DeVeaux, Scott, “Constructing the Jazz Tradition: Jazz Historiography” Black American Literature Forum 25.3 (1991): 525-560.
Eschen, Penny M. “the real ambassadors”. Uptown Conversation: the new Jazz studies, ed. Robert O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004. 189-203.
Friedland, LeeEllen. "Social Commentary in African-American Movement Performance."
Human Action Signs in Cultural Context: The Visible and the Invisible in
Movement and Dance
. Ed. Brenda Farnell. London: Scarecrow Press, 1995. 136 -
Gabbard, Krin. “Paris Blues: Ellington, Armstrong, and Saying It with Music”. Uptown Conversation: the new Jazz studies, ed. Robert O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004. 297-311.
Gennari, John. “Hipsters, Bluebloods, Rebels, and Hooligans: the Cultural Politics of the Newport Jazz Festival.” Uptown Conversation: the new Jazz studies, ed. Robert O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004. 126-149.
Lipsitz, George. “Songs of the Unsung: The Darby Hicks History of Jazz,” Uptown Conversation: the new Jazz studies, ed. Robert O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004: 9-26.
O’Meally, Robert G. “Checking our Balances: Louis Armstrong, Ralph Ellison and Betty Boop”. Uptown Conversation: the new Jazz studies, ed. Robert O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004. 276-296. (You can see the animated Betty Boop/Armstrong film O'Meally references here.

*The jazz map was found via, but they don't list the url for the map in context.
There's something seriously addictive about historic 'jazz maps'. I think it's because they're imaginary places. My latest find: New Orleans 'jazz neighbourhoods'.

"the trouble with linear jazz narratives + more" was posted in the category academia and djing and lindy hop and other dances and maps and music and research and thesis

April 29, 2009

magazines, jazz, masculinity, mess

Posted by dogpossum on April 29, 2009 1:51 PM | Comments (3)

This is another in-progress bit of writing in response to things I've been reading lately. I've found some nicely critical engagments with jazz and jazz study, and am suddenly wishing I was in the US. This isn't the most coherent of posts, partly because I lost part of it with an inadvertent page refresh. Shit.

I've been thinking or wondering about the relationship between Esquire magazine and jazz, partly as a result of my work with the jazz discography (and following Billie Holiday). There were a few concerts in 1944 and 1945 featuring the 'Esquire All Stars' - a group of truly big names: Roy Eldridge, Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, Coleman Hawkins, Art Tatum, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey and others.

There are some albums released from these concerts, including one interesting one called At the Met, the cover of which is particularly provocative when you consider the issues I raise below.

I've just found this in a paper about Miles Davis:

By the 1950s, American had become aware of subtle shifts in social and gender roles. Sociologists and psychiatrists were talking about men trapped in gray flannel suits, the age of conformity, the weakening of the superego, the other-directed person. The concern was that a new postwar economy was creating a society in which people were externally motivated, too well adjusted, too sociable. Scarcely concealed behind the jargon of social science was the fear that it was not women who were changing, but men, who were becoming soft, emotional, and expressive - that is, more like women rather than like the rational and task-oriented patriarchs who had built and protected America. More often than not, such ideas were dressed up as if they were the received wisdom of the ages, but their sources were transparently pop.
Elsewhere, Playboy magazine was wrestling with the same anxieties and assuaging them with a particular kind of male hedonism, promoting the good life for the single man: money, imported cars, circular beds, top-of-the-line stereos, chicks. And like Esquire before it, Playboy championed jazz, as a male music, to be sure, but the music of a certain kind of male, as the couture, decorations, and genderized illustrations of the jazz life in its pages made clear. Then there were the Beats, detested by Playboy, but sharing some of its fantasies by celebrating freedom, male bonding, drugs, art, and the hip lifestyle, one of their inspirations being the nightlife of the black musician (Szwed 183).

This article "The Man" discusses Miles Davis' masculinity, positioning him in the 1950s as both 'a man' and as a jazz musician. There's lots of talk about 'masculinity'. We can also draw some conclusions about white, middle class men and their interest in black masculinity as some sort of 'free', 'sensual' and 'vibrant' ideal. Particularly in reference to the Beats.
It's been interesting reading this article after one about the Newport Jazz Festival, “Hipsters, Bluebloods, Rebels, and Hooligans: the Cultural Politics of the Newport Jazz Festival" by John Gennari. Particularly in reference to this section:

At the Newport Jazz Festival on the fourth of July weekend in 1960, thousands of white youths described by Life magazine as "more interested in cold beer than in hot jazz” spilled from the jazz concerts into Newport’s downtown, attacking policemen, kicking in store windows, and manhandling the town’s residents and visitors. Press reports noted that many of the drunken rioters screamed racial epithets while rampaging through the town. State police used billy clubs and tear gas to stem the riot, then called on the marines for help in restoring order. When the air cleared, over two hundred of the marauders found themselves in local jails, while more than fifty of their victims required medical attention. One witness told the Providence Journal: “I’ve experienced fear twice in my life. Once was in combat during World War II; the other was Saturday night in Newport.” Scheduled to end on Sunday night, the festival was ordered shut down on Sunday afternoon by the Newport city council. The last act was a program of blues narrated by Langston Hughes. Anticipating the city council’s action, Hughes penned a set of lyrics on a Western Union sheet. He handed them to Otis Spann, who sang them slowly as the crowd quietly departed.

Among a rash of press reports on the riot, one commentator blamed the allure of Newport, a “resort area which hold[s] a fascination for the square collegian who wants to ball without running the risk of mom and dad stumbling across his prostrate from on somebody’s lawn.” Mordantly noting the contrast between the Newport gentry “in the front row with their Martini shakers” and the youngsters “squatting in the back, their heads between their knees, upchucking their beer,” journalist Murray Kempton wondered, “Was there anything in America at once so fashionable and so squalid?” To many who had embraced Newport as jazz’s City on a Hill, a sterling model of New England Brahmin philanthropy, more disconcerting than the spectacle of loutish yahoos profaning the festival was the rioter’s identity. These were not switchblade-wielding rebels without a cause, nor pothead beatnicks in overalls. These ‘young hooligan herrenvolk of the Eastern seaboard,” as Village Voice jazz critic Robert Reisner dubbed the rioters, were students from the elite colleges, fraternity brothers on a fast track to the corporate boardroom. “You could tell the students from Harvard and Yale,” wagged one man on the street: “They were throwing only imported beer bottles.” (Gennari 127)

I'd previously thought about the Newport Jazz Festival in reference to the film High Society and the documentary film Jazz on a Summer's Day, both of which suggest class tensions, but in the politest way. Neither references these sorts of middle class men rioting (!). In fact, JOASD is, as Gennari discusses, a more than a little arty, genteel and restrained. Here's a gratuitous clip to illustrate:

For many dancers Newport is significant for the albums recorded there by Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Gannari discusses the racial tensions at work in the Newport Jazz Festival, particularly in its later years and in reference to Louis Armstrong's performance in JOASD which is a little too uncle Tom to be precisely comfortable (and Gannari complicates this with references to Armstrong's own ability to subvert this stereotype). Unlike the idealised descriptions in Beat literature (including some sections in On the Road, which have always bothered me, especially when read in conjunction with Anne Petry's novel The Street), in JOASD black masculinity is carefully contained.

I guess what I'm trying to do here is make some distinctions about representations of race and class in mens' magazines, in music magazines and in films like JOASD. Mens' magazines and Beat writers presented an idealised black masculinity with was free, undomesticated, independent - an artist unbound. Films like JOASD and High Society present black masculinity as safely contained as an item of novelty by the bandstand or (as in JOASD) safely receptive by chairs in the audience. Both of these disconnect them from the broader community of which they were a part... the communities, I should say.
I always think about stories about Nat King Cole in these sorts of discussions. About an anecdote I heard on a TV doco. Cole, financially and artistically successful, bought a large house in a wealthy white suburb. His lawn was set on fire/painted with racial epithets. Though he sought the trappings of middle class security, he was still tagged as 'other'.

Let's talk a bit more about High Society.

This is my favourite part of the film. Armstrong is, effectively, the narrator of HS. It is his voice which anchors the film. I like the way he introduces us to Newport, and his presenting jazz as the most important part of this narrative. I like the casual setting of their playing - playing for fun, for their own enjoyment rather than for an audience. Armstrong's story is for the guys in the band. I kind of like the idea of the band on the road because it echoes the idea of bands and jazz as music in transit. Travel and jazz are also buzzing about in my head at the moment (and I've talked about it before). Their place on a bus is interesting, too, as it clearly marks their class later on, when we see characters like Samantha zipping about in their flash, private cars. Again, buses are a space I think of as 'public', and I'm really interested in the way musicians and dancers make public places 'space' - they occupy it aurally and physically and socially, cutting down invisible lines between individual people with a song or a dance step.

But this contrasts with the following clip (one described in Gennari's article).

This is such a great song. And a fascinating scene. Armstrong and the band are actually introduced to the very white, very upper middle class Newport gentry by Crosby (I can't remember why, exactly). The point is that they're introducing this crowd to jazz. And, we can assume, to black musicians as more than servants. It's pretty radical to have a white singer on stage with a black band, but not that crazy. The band are, of course, matching in their suits. The part I like most is where Crosby's perfectly articulated, wonderfully modulated voice is upstaged by Armstrong's badass trumpet solo. Crosby is perfect; Armstrong is perfectly badass.
This song is popular with dancers, but this version isn't so great for dancing. It's a little too mannered. There's another version where Armstrong sings all the lyrics and the song, generally, has a little more kick. It makes you want to dance. I wish I could find it on the internet, but I can't. Having Armstrong sing as well as play trumpet anchors the song in quite a different way. Armstrong is more comfortable with improvising, and the subtext feels a little saucier. There's a greater element of call and response. And improvisation, of course, is the best way of escaping and adding creatively to a song without it collapsing into random noise.

This clip is significant for its role in introducing the Newport Jazz Festival to a white, straight crowd. And Newport was largely, as one of the promoters George Wein insisted, about popularising jazz. Or about introducing jazz to mainstream America. Debates about the types of jazz on display at Newport, about work practices, pay and the general culture of the festival during a period of Jim Crow legislation make it particularly interesting. Because, remember, the fact that Louis Armstrong and his band are sitting at the back of the bus is very important. Segregation meant that where they traveled and how they traveled and how they played music was managed by law. In this context, what does it mean for Armstrong's solo to bust right out of the carefully mannered, modulated frame set up by Crosby and his 'introductions'?
Of course, in the film HS the white crowd return immediately to 'not-jazz' music and dancing after the performance; this was a moment's entertainment.

I'm not really sure where I'm ultimately going with all this, but there's something niggling me about the connection between men's magazines, masculinity in the postwar (1940s-60s) period, jazz and jazz performances - big jazz concerts in particular.I've also come across an interesting discussion of gender and masculinity in jazz by David Ake in the article "Regendering Jazz: Ornette Coleman and the New York Scene in the Late 1950s". I'm also thinking about jazz clubs in the 40s and 50s, their (predominantly male) membership and their effects on the jazz scene. There's something about big jazz concerts in there too, I think, that I have to follow up. Especially since I noticed just how many live recordings Billie Holiday did in the last decade of her career. The 50s saw her do a whole lot of television shows as well as large concerts, and recordings made from these. I want to follow up these ideas about the 'popularising' of jazz in regards to the status of jazz as 'art' music today. There's a tension between 'classic jazz' as 'art' and later jazz (from bebop to avant garde) in the jazz literature that I want to explore, especially in regards to the Ken Burns' documentary film Jazz. In fact, I always have something to say about that film, especially in regards to its positioning of the jazz musician as isolated 'artist', and jazz history as one of artists prompting cultural change. I am, of course, far more of the opinion that jazz was and is very much a product and process of community and local cultural context.

I know that there's something to be said about individualism and masculinity and the freedom from consequences that comes from the idea that 'jazz' is about isolated artists without community responsibility and ties. How connected was that rioting by young, white middle class college men with a 'freedom from responsibility' associated with the black jazz musician by mens' magazines and writers?

George Lipsitz presents the book Songs of the Unsung as an alternate history of jazz, one firmly embedded in local community, with jazz musicians as necessarily participating in everyday community life, rather than isolated with their 'art' in some rarified space:

Songs of the Unsung presents jazz as the conscious product of collective activity in decidedly local community spaces. The modernist city and the nation pale in significance in Tapscott’s account in comparison to the home, the neighborhood, and the community. Physical spaces far more specific than the ‘city’ shaped his encounter with music, and these spaces had meaning because they were connected to a supportive community network (Lipsitz 17)

I think I like this approach because I want to talk about jazz in the context of contemporary swing dance culture, where dancers read a history of jazz not as a history of art, but as a history of music for dancing. And this history of music for dancing as a collaborative, community history, perhaps too complicated to be told with a simple temporally linear narrative.

I was absolutely delighted to find this section in Lipsitz's book:

Instead of modernist time, this would be a history of dance time, starting with ragtime, not as a showcase for the personal ‘genius’ of Scott Joplin but as a site where African attitudes toward rhythm (and polyrhythm) became prominent in U.S. popular culture. The difference between the rhythmic concepts in ragtime’s right-hand melodies and left-hand bass accompaniment and the genre’s additive rhythms (eight semiquavers divided into 2/3s and 1/2s) evidenced a tasted for multiple patterns at the same time that it opened the door for future rhythmic innovations. Rather than the era that gave to Dixieland and swing, the 1920s and 1930s could be see as a movement from the fox-trot to the jitterbug and the lindy hop. More than a away to distribute music more effectively to a broader audience, the development of electrical recording techniques would be seen as a shift that enabled bass and drums to replace tuba and banjo as the key sources of rhythm. Such a story would feature the tap dancing of John “Bubbles” Sublette, who was dancing “four heavy beats to the bar and no cheating” fourteen years before the Count Basie band came east and popularized swing. This narrative would honor the moment in 1932 when Bennie Moten began to generate a different kind of rhythm and momentum for dancers by replacing the banjo with the guitar and substituting the string bass for the tuba. The transition from swing to bop in this story would not focus on the emergence of the saxophone over the trumpet or the small ensemble over the big band as much as it would highlight how string bass players and frontline instrumentalists began to assume responsibility for keeping time so that drummers could be free to experiment with polyrhythms and provide rhythmic accents for soloists.
The distinctive creators of ‘dance time’ would not be the virtuoso instrumentalists of modernist time but rather virtuoso ‘conversationalists’ like drummer Max Roach and dancers Earl Basie (better known by his stage name, Groundhog) and Baby Laurence. (Lipsitz 22)

I'll see how we go after a bit more reading...

Ake, David. Jazz Cultures. U of California Press: Berkely, 2002.

Gennari, John. “Hipsters, Bluebloods, Rebels, and Hooligans: the Cultural Politics of the Newport Jazz Festival, 1954-1960.” O’Meally, Robert, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin, eds. Uptown Conversation: the New Jazz Studies. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004. 126-149.

Lipsitz, George. "Songs of the Unsung: The Darby Hicks History of Jazz" O’Meally, Robert, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin, eds. Uptown Conversation: the New Jazz Studies. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004. 9-26.

O’Meally, Robert, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin, eds. Uptown Conversation: the New Jazz Studies. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004.

Szwed, John. "The Man" O’Meally, Robert, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin, eds. Uptown Conversation: the New Jazz Studies. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004. 166-186.

Many of these books are produced by members of the Jazz Study Group at Columbia. You can find some of their articles in full-text form online here at It's a fab resource.

"magazines, jazz, masculinity, mess" was posted in the category academia and fillums and lindy hop and other dances and music and research

December 31, 2008

oh no

Posted by dogpossum on December 31, 2008 11:53 AM

Faceplant and twitter are killing my blog. Or, more accurately, my blogging skills. I haven't written a longer and thought-out entry in ages. I was never one for hardcore planning and editing (I just write straight into MT here, then do a bit of cursary editing once it's published), but the one-line update has killed of what little stamina I had. But I do update regularly.
I do quite like the short, one-line update. I like experimenting with content and style. I like using lines from songs I'm listening to (most of which are oooold and fairly dirty), and I've just started adding sections from books I'm reading (for review). Yesterday, while adding a few bits from a book I'm reading about censorship, I was suddenly struck by the potential of one-line updates. If you have a group of friends, either on faceplant or twitter, you have a group of 'listeners'. If you write something provocative, you'll get responses (and the interesting bit is seeing which things turn out to be provocative - it's difficult to plan these things, I think). The really nice bit is, of course, the replies. What short answers does a one-line comment from you, on your 'profile' (showing up in their feeds on their pages) stimulate in your group of 'friends'? And then, what answers do their answers stimulate?
I'm a little frustrated by the short answer option, sometimes - I want to read a longer, thought-out comment in response to an update. But then, I think the shorter answers keep us reading. It's more of a conversation and less of a series of lectures or conference papers.
This all made me think: couldn't you use this feature to encourage learning? I mean, I don't think it's going to work if you announce a teaching mission, or even if you demand your students use faceplant or twitter or whatever (I prefer faceplant for the way it threads responses - though twitter might have the option, I'm not sure). But it could work if you were sneaky. And if your group of friends has 'naturally' formed around a shared interest or even just a shared relationship.

I've also been interested in the way a 'high status' poster/personality/friend, who has a larger group of friends stimulates discussion. If they post just one comment (on a photo, an update, a note), the hits for that comment (and that page) leap. This isn't anything new - this sort of thing is played out in more familiar public spheres, when a TV star (celebrity) comments, when an MP visits, when a famous scientist opines. But I'm interested in the way these statuses play out on a smaller scale, within peer groups.
A 'high profile' personality might simply be an agreeable sort - someone you like to talk with in person, someone whose comments entertain you. In the dancing world, the 'high profile' person is almost always a 'famous' dancer. But on faceplant, the highest 'high profile' personality always has a large group of friends (a large audience), offers something to these friends (interesting comments, funny jokes, and so on) and posts regularly. They have a high profile. There are, of course, gender correlations (at least within the online world of swing dancers).

I have a friend whose comments (on both faceplant and twitter) are not only very clever and funny, but also kind and socially gentle. She doesn't score points with cheap jibes. But she is assertive and 'present' as a speaker as well as a listener. In my mind, I'm equating lurking with listening. On facebook - as with discussion boards and blogs - the number of listeners always far outweighs the speakers. Which of course lets us think about the way speakers gain social status but listeners do not, and yet listeners are essential for the success of any speech or comment.

At any rate, though these things are boiling away in the back of my brain, I'm not writing long posts any more. Nor am I writing any academic posts. I found that I was at my most prolific academically when I was also writing masses online, whether on my blog or on discussion boards. I was also reading a whole lot. These days I'd say my feelings about writing and reading aren't so good. In fact, I'm not happy. I'm very unhappy with my inability to get full time work. I guess it's your typical overachieving academic crisis: so many years depending on educational institutions for a sense of self worth, and then suddenly I'm outside that system and there's no more affirmation. It doesn't help that I can't do any serious exercise (but I'm off to yoga next week, so things will improve there I hope). No lovely endorphines. None of that interpersonal interaction you get dancing. There's nothing quite as wonderful as partner dancing - two people working together, communicating without talking to make something lovely and creative - and there's no partner dancing like lindy hop. Jazz, sweet jazz - you make me happy.
But I'm struck by the way my satisfaction and inspiration in writing and reading is so necessarily social. Can't I just enjoy my own company? I think it's more that while I am very good company and terribly interesting ( :D ), I actually really enjoy listening to other people's ideas. And there's nothing so stimulating and exciting as having your brain stretched by someone else's great ideas. I mean, you'd never have come across that thought without their inspiration - how wonderful is that?

All of this post was inspired by Lisa Gunder's excellent post about teaching over on Memes of Production. I was struck by her comments about the relationship between casualised communication and students' _not_ doing the [opposite to casualised] sort of learning we expect from them. I also liked her comment (and do read through the article to the comments):

Most young people do, in my experience, care about issues and have opinions on politics. Sometimes you get glimpses of this in class, but inside or outside of class this frequently seems to be the bit of their lives that they keep private even if the rest of it is lived out online or on mobiles.

I think this is a fascinating point, that students (in a world where they broadcast all sorts of things about themselves online and via their mobiles) keep their politics and feelings about issues private. I think I agree with this. And I think I'd also add that these students don't often seem to have confidence in their ideas - they're reluctant to explain how they feel about something in class because they're afraid they'll look stupid or say the wrong thing. I wonder if this is because there's such great pressure to pass their subjects and get their degree. They don't seem to have the time or space to sort of mosey along, taking intellectual risks and generally playing with ideas. When I enrolled in my BA in 1993 I had no idea where I wanted to go with my study. I just chose subjects (from the absolute wealth on offer at UQ in those days) that interested me. And I really enjoyed tutorials and writing assignments - I liked talking and writing and sharing ideas. I was also very, very lucky to have tutors who were - for the most part - interested in my ideas. And they weren't massively overworked. And they were - quite often - staff members, not sessional teachers or postgraduates.
It makes me sad to think of my students not feeling brave enough or having enough time or even the interest to explore ideas. I think perhaps that this reluctance is encouraged by the way we structure assessment. I once taught a subject that had fabulous cumulative assessment. The first assignment was a literature review for a project. The second required them to plan out the project (but not actually complete it - which most of them found frustrating!). I had also taken great pains to develop tutorials (which ran for two hours, not the ridiculous one we had last semester) as places for discussing these projects. It was so wonderful to see them introducing their projects in the earlier part of the class (where we'd all just chat about the media we'd been getting into in the last week - and which we all enjoyed) and then commenting on each other's projects and offering suggestions. As their knowledge about research techniques and theory improved, so did the depth of their discussion. It was wonderful. Perhaps the best bit was seeing their confidence in their own knowledge increase, and their sense of 'ownership' of their project deepen. These guys really felt that their work was interesting, their ideas were important, and that they were doing something no one else could, simply because of who they were. I also made it clear that it was ok (if not preferable) to work on stuff that interested them - to choose topics or media that they were really interested in (I have written about this teaching stuff here).

So I guess I'm going to sum all this up by saying that I really enjoyed Lisa's post - it's as lovely and nice as she is in person. I am also definite that I need intellectual stimulation, and that self-stimulation isn't enough. I will endeavour to write and read more and to try to be more creative with the way I use faceplant and twitter updates (did you see I had my twitter feed up the top of that left column now?) and will have a bigger think about teaching tools.

Also, happy new year, homies. :D

"oh no" was posted in the category academia and clicky and teaching

October 30, 2008

teaching, dancing and making place space

Posted by dogpossum on October 30, 2008 1:57 PM

Only half way through an article on taste (G. Hawkins ‘TV Rules’ UTS Review 4.1 May 1998, pp 123-139), I'm struck by the discussion of the ways in which 'place becomes space'. How does a room become a 'living room', or a house become a 'home'? Specifically, Hawkins is discussing (in the quote below) the ways in which children living in our homes force us to articulate the 'rules' of living in shared space. Or, in line with the discussion she presents, the ways in which articulating these rules gives us the chance to become reflexive about the way place is made into space by use. This isn't exactly new stuff (this article alone was published ten years ago, and develops Barthes' even earlier discussion of the cinema as place), but it suddenly seems important to me. Here's the section that made me think:

Rules, then, are systems of order - they allow us to project ourselves into the world and project the world back to us. Rules are guides for how to act, how to be in t his space. Rules discipline in a productive sense: they produce meaning, they organise, they are creative, they make inhabitation possible. Rules are embodied in things and actions, they communicate. Rules are also specific, they take place in situ, each room is a unique system of rules and a unique network of power because rules and regulatory practices are provisional, they constitute objects for their own practice. And children elicit rules, for Wood and Beck they are the ultimate barbarians, they have to be domesticated and in the process of prescribing rules, adult values and meanings become manifest. Adult order is constituted and so too is the never ending struggle to establish it as dominant (Hawkins 128).

The thing that struck me, here, is the way in which pedagogy - teaching - makes us articulate and become aware of our assumptions about space/place. Teaching in universities forces me to think about the ways the material I am teaching 'work' in a broader social and cultural context. The most difficult parts of teaching cultural studies (for me) lie in teaching 'class' or 'power' or culture as articulation of/space for the negotiation of identity, class, power, etc etc etc.

The part I have trouble with is teaching this stuff in the context of the old school neo-Marxist cultural studies tradition. In that context, this discussion is, ultimately, geared towards social change. Teaching or study or research is not (and should not, it is implied), be neutral. It should be a part of a broader social project. Or, more plainly, activism. For me, one of the ways I justify what I do is by framing it as activism. Women's studies doesn't make sense, for me, without feminism.

I am excited by the idea of this stuff as having value or usefulness. It's not simply ideas or theory in space - it has a job to do. It is a tool. It's something we can use. Being raised by the sort of people who didn't tolerate cruelty or injustice (social worker, decent person, animal activist...) has made me particularly aware of my responsibilities as a person. Simply, if I'm going to live here, I have to play nice. I have to do what I can to make things better for other people (and for myself as well). More clearly, I have a responsibility to play nice and be useful and helpful. I am sure there's some scary gender stuff in there (isn't that the way little girls are raised? To care, to be useful, to be helpful, to assist? Perhaps I should think more about leading or inspiring caring or begin project which require help?). But I find it makes me feel good to give a shit, and it also gives me purpose; it gives me reason for doing the things I do.

At any rate, teaching cultural studies has been difficult when I've been teaching wealthy kids at big, rich unis. I have found myself articulating this stuff in terms of 'responsibilities'. When I was teaching this stuff to less privileged kids, I found that that approach was just plain bullshit. It became a matter of 'rights'. This is one of the stickiest sticking places for me, teaching this stuff. And teaching - the breaking down and remaking and exploration of ideas - forces me to become aware of and to engage with my ideas and the ideas of authors at hand.

In another, connected point (where ideas must have practical applications), I'm absolutely struck by the way teaching works (in this context) in dance. I wrote quite a bit in my thesis about institutionalised pedagogy as a way of shaping ideology, or making ideology flesh. I placed it in opposition to vernacular dance practice - or learning on the social dance floor through more osmotic modes. Both are ideologically shaped and shaping practices. But I have trouble with pedagogy as capitalist practice - dance classes as product to be sold and bought... well, when it happens within a broader institutional context. Mostly because 'selling dance' on a larger, organised level demands homogeneity, and demands the disavowel of heterogeneity. In other words, it's difficult to teach dance (in this context) without creating right/wrong binaries. The right way is, of course, the product you are buying. Everything else is wrong, and hence undesirable; you wouldn't want to waste your money on it. Brand loyalty thus achieved.

But, continuing with this, I'm interested in the way dancers make 'dance floors' out of ordinary places. Hawkins refers to the role of emodiment (or bodies) in this process, largely via Barthes and his discussion of the bodily experience of the cinema (and at one point there was a reference to Frith** and taste, and there is of course reference to de Certeau). With dancers, this sense of embodiment is explicit.
The whole notion of 'floor craft', for example, where dancers learn (or choose not to demonstrate) the ability to dance 'safely' on the floor, not kicking or bumping into other dancers. Floor craft is a story of sociability and communitas, but it is also a story of social power. Which couples have the greatest liberty to ignore these rules? The most advanced. When is the idea of 'sharing the floor' set aside? In jam circles, where dancers display their abilities and status.
There are countless other examples. Lindy bombing involves groups of dancers descending on a 'non dance space' with music and dancing spontaneously (and often illictly). DJing functions as a way of making a place 'space'. DJs often speak of the 'feel' or 'vibe' or 'energy' in a room - a palpable, physical emotion and sensation - and the ways in which they manipulate that experience. The very act of dancing, therefore, not only creates space, but - far more importantly - creates an emotional, social space as well. Sharing a dance floor is about engaging in a non-verbal social discourse which is all about the body. In fact, without the body, the space collapses back into place. It might carry echoes, but it is, essentially, nothing without the dancers.
I'm suddenly reminded of way I think about DJing the first set of the night: I imagine it as 'warming' the room. Sometimes this is a physical warming, but most of the time it's a social, ideological, emotional, cultural, creative warming. I need to build the vibe or energy before I can manipulate it.

And to bring all this back to rules and articulating rules and teaching... dance classes are one step in the process of socialising dancers and teaching them how to make space out of place. I could argue that formal dance classes are in fact directly contributing to the breaking down of space - busting the vibe - because they insist on hierarchies and formalised, articulated modes of communication, but I'm not sure it's that simple. I do know, though, that the discourse of formal, institutional, commodified pedagogy is an impediment to the process of making dance places spaces. This is because teaching is about verbalising dance and about shifting the way we 'think' dance from the body to the brain and language. And any dancer will tell you that the sweetest, most satisfying moment of dancing comes when you stop thinking or articulating and become thoroughly and completely in your body.

Roland Barthes 1989 “Leaving the Movie Theatre” The Rustle of Language Uni of California Press, Berkeley, pp 345-249.

Michel de Certeau 1984 The practice of everyday life University of California Press, Berkeley, pp. xi-xxiv.

Simon Frith 1996 Performing Rites Oxford UP, London.

Gay Hawkins ‘TV Rules’ UTS Review 4.1 May 1998, pp 123-139

"teaching, dancing and making place space" was posted in the category academia and djing and lindy hop and other dances and teaching

February 27, 2008


Posted by dogpossum on February 27, 2008 12:03 PM | Comments (0)

I'm currently thinking about 'faceplant fatigue' as a tiny side-thought in a larger article and am collecting articles.

There are heaps of other neat articles on the sudden 'rush' to ditch faceplant, but I'm tickled by the thought of 'social networking fatigue'. It's so difficult having friends.

"ideas" was posted in the category academia

February 13, 2008

sour grapes

Posted by dogpossum on February 13, 2008 6:58 PM

Reading this rant here (and it is a rant, and I do think we should all allow ourselves the luxury of ranting on our blogs - that's the delight of self-publishing, no?), my immediate thought was "that's a bit rich." I mean, the author is one of those young-gun rock star type American academics. She's sporting a whole lot of academic and social privilege which plebs like myself really don't have access to.

I also thought "hey, I have a paper in that journal!" And I am, I must admit, extremely excited about my article (it's a nice one about YouTube and dancers and I'm quite proud of it). It's not in that special issue of the journal, though it was initially accepted and later politely knocked back (I guess it was bumped for some rock star, right?). As I said, I'm feeling quite chuffed about being in this journal - it's an International, donchakno? So I'm not all that cool reading that post - what does that make me, sister? Some sort of publisher's stooge (I wish, I wish - I am so ready to be some publisher's stooge).

So reading that article, I was a little bit... pooped. I mean, I don't really think it's all that cool to snub the very source of a serious part of your cred and status. That's the action that's getting her a career. That's the action that'll help me get a permanent job (anyone else just loving these semester-by-semester positions? Empowering, no? Terribly punk, yes?) and fund my future jazz spending (wait, I'll tell you about today's presents later). That's the stuff that'll make the past...15 years of work mean something.

I'm sorry, homegirl, you can't go making those sorts of calls without expecting some sort of kick up the bum... or perhaps just a polite throat clearing and measured response.
This one by Anne is my favourite so far. I also like Jason's comment on the original article and his blog entry. You can chase the other responses around the internet yourselves, but you can see the sorts of responses that sat bestest with me.

I think, from my position here, as:

  • casually employed lecturer
  • unemployed researcherjust-finished-(no corrections! - sorry, but I need to remind myself at times like these) PhD-person
  • self-employed article-writer and book-maker (oh yes, I can't help but squeeze those papers out - it's like blogging: must share, look-at-me-look-at-me-look-at-me!, God, am I the only one?)
  • serial paper-giver/self-humiliator

I'd be kissing internet arse, making like I was the biggest bitch o' the establishment ever if I was in that position.
I mean, isn't that the scam? We get in there, softly, softly, then we make with the rabble rousing on the quiet, like?

And, finally, the other immediate thought that I had when first reading that initial post was, "hells bells, woman, we're working in universities, not Médecins Sans Frontières". Yes, it'd be really nice to think that we were actually out there making people's lives wonderful, fighting the good fight and all, but at the end of the day we're working within institutions whose primary goal is to institutionalise people. And to make money. I think it's a little naive to think that universities now - if ever! - have ever really been about freeing minds, making jiggy with the knowledge and all. I know it's a wonderful idea, but in practice... let's be realistic here. Researching and writing in universities is privileged stuff. It's not easy - it's damn hard work, especially for n00bs - but it's pretty freakin' good work.

And sure, let's say our academic articles are suddenly free and available to the whole universe. Does that mean that they're suddenly also well written, accessible and meaningful to most people? I don't think so... There's far more to be done to make academic work the people's work than simply avoiding old school journals. And I do feel that there's some sort of ...arrogance? to the idea that just because our academic work's out there in the 'public sphere' that people'd actually want to read it. Pft. I don't think so. You know they'd really rather look at kitties. I had that idea when I started in on my PhD work. But maybe that's just dancers - no time for academic wankery.

...I can't help thinking about this as I type this. I might be one of those types.

"sour grapes" was posted in the category academia

January 29, 2008

retuning for white audiences - more sister rosetta tharpe

Posted by dogpossum on January 29, 2008 11:23 AM

Helen has asked for specific details about the tuning of Tharpe's guitar in her comment here. Below is a big fat quote from an article called 'From Spirituals to Swing: Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Gospel Crossover' by Gayle Wald (published in 'American Quarterly', vol 55, no.3 September 2003), pgs 389-399. This is where I read that note about Tharpe's tuning - hope it's useful, Helen.
Wald's article is mostly about Tharpe's movement from black gospel music to the white jazz/blues/pop mainstream. Tharpe is taken as an example illustrating wider points about culture and music during this period. It's a really interesting read.

Although Tharpe arrived in New York already highly credentialed in Pentecostal terms, Sammy Price, Decca's house pianist and recording supervisor at the time Tharpe recorded "Rock Me," apparently wasn't feeling any of this joy. Tharpe, he recalled in his 1990 autobiography, "tuned her guitar funny and sang in the wrong key." In all likelihood Price was referring to Tharpe's use of vestapol (sometimes called 'open D') tuning popular among blues musicians in the Mississippi Delta region. (Muddy Waters is among the many blues guitarists, for example, who learned vestapol technique in the 1930s, when he was growing up in Clarksdale, Mississippi.) As common as it was in the South, however, vestapol tuning could sound distinctly crude and out-of-place in the context of northern jazz bands. By his own account, Price, who later went on to record several hits with Tharpe, refused to play with her until she used a capo, the bar that sits across the fingerboard and changes the pitch of the instrument. "With a capo on the fret," he explained, "it would be a better key to play along with, a normal jazz key."

Price's brief story of the carpo as a normalizing technology is rich with implications for the discussion of what 'crossing over' to the realm of popular entertainment might have meant for Tharpe. Resonant of southern black communities and of musicians who honed their craft in churches as well as on back porches - musicians Hammond quite unself-consciously called 'unlettered' - Tharpe's 'funny' guitar playing introduced, to Price's ear, an apparently unassimilable element into the prevailing sounds of urban jazz. It's also possible that Price was demanding that Tharpe sing at a higher pitch, to conform with popular as well as commercial expectations that high pitch evidences a correspondingly 'higher' degree of femininity. In any case, and as Price suggests, Tharpe quite literally had to adjust her guitar and singing techniques to make commercially popular, 'secular' records that would earn her an audience beyond the relatively small market of consumers of 'religious music.' The 'makeover' of Tharpe's sound also has important gender and class implications less obvious from Price's comment. In bringing her sound more into line with the sounds of commercial jazz, Tharpe would not only have to change her tuning, but 'change her tune' as far as her performance of femininity was concerned.

The 'Hammond' referred to in the article is John Hammond, an important figure in the promotion and management of a number of big jazz musicians. Gunther Schuller's book 'The Swing Era' reads almost as a history of Hammond's career. I think it's important to note that this one white man was important for his influence on the developing jazz and swing music industry. His selection and then promotion of specific artists shaped the recording industry, popular tastes and the white mainstream's understanding of and access to black music during this period. As the race records and black-run radio stations were forced out of the industry by white competitors and blatantly racist media regulation, black artists had less and less control of their own representation in mass media, and black musical culture was mediated by white corporate and cultural interests.


All of this makes for fabulous, fascinating reading. It is, though, all about America. I'm not sure how much (if any of it) can be translated to the Australian context. But that would make for interesting research in itself, particularly when you keep in mind that jazz in Australia is necessarily the product of cultural transmission - black music filtered through mainstream American recording and sheet music industries to white mainstream audiences and musicians and white Australian musicians and audiences. Sure, there were musicians making jazz in Australia (people like Graeme Bell of course), but I've been thinking about 'authenticity' and jazz in such a transplanted context... particularly as I've read recently somewhere (goddess knows where - I'd have to retrace my steps) that music tends to reflect the vocal patterns and intonations and rhythms of the culture in which it develops. So, we could draw from this the conclusion that we Australians would play jazz with an Australian accent. It wouldn't sound like American - or black American - jazz. I'm hesitant to make comments about the relative value of localised jazz, but it's an issue hanging in the background there...

But back to Hammond. John Hammond of course organised the concert 'From Spirituals to swing' at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1938 (you can see the artists here, in a recording of the concert) . This concert featured a bunch of super big artists (Jimmy Rusher, Joe Turner, Mitchell's Christian Singers, Albert Ammons, Sidney Bechet, Count Basie, Benny Goodman). It's goal was a combination of musical 'education' for the white mainstream and - indubitably, considering Hammond's impressive business sense - promotion of black music to new white audiences/consumers.

I'm interested in this concert and in Tharpe's cross-promotion to the mainstream as an example of cultural transmission - I'm fascinated by the way music and dance move between cultures. I'm also really interested in the uses of power in this process. Is it appropration? Stealing? Poaching? To quote (ad nauseum), Hazzard Gordon, we have to ask "who has the power to steal from whom?" when we're looking at this process.
I''ve been writing about the way different cultures not only 'take' dance steps or songs from other cultures or traditions, but also the way they then adapt these 'found' texts to suit their own cultural/social needs, values, etc.
I've argued all through my work that we can see the social heirarchy of the US in the reworking of dances and songs. What did they need to do to make these texts palatable for white audiences? With Tharpe it was 'retuning' her guitar and voice. With lindy hop, it was 'desexualising' and 'tidying' up the basic steps. Or at least presenting a different type of sexual performance.

Some interesting references
There's a really great page discussing race records that includes audio files, images and written text here on the NPR site.

There's also a pbs (US) site attached to the Ken Burns Jazz doco discussing race records.

For a (very nice) academic discussion, see David Suisman's article called 'Co-workers in the kingdom of culture: Black Swan Records and the political economy of African American music' (The Journal of American History vol 90, no.4, March 2004, p 1295-1324) which discusses the 'race records' of the period and the racialised nature of the American recording industry.
You can also walk through this article via the JAH's fantastic site (complete with images, sound files and other wonderful things). This is one site that really ROCKS.

Derek W. Vaillant has written a really interesting article about black radio in Chicago in the 20s and 30s which discusses these issues in greater detail ('Sounds of Whiteness: Local radio, racial formation and public culture in Chicago 1921-1935', American Quarterly vol 54 no. 1, March 2002 p25-66).

Katrina Hazzard Gordon has written quite a bit about African American dance culture. Here are a couple of references:
Hazzard-Gordon, Katrina. "African-American Vernacular Dance: Core Culture and Meaning Operatives." Journal of Black Studies 15.4 (1985): 427-45.
---. Jookin': The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.

Read more about John Hammond, look at photos and listen to music here on this Jerry Jazz Musician page.

Wald, Gayle. "From Spirituals to Swing: Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Gospel Crossover" American Quarterly vol 55, no.3 (September 2003): 389-399.

"retuning for white audiences - more sister rosetta tharpe" was posted in the category academia and lindy hop and other dances and music

January 23, 2008

i can has female role model?

Posted by dogpossum on January 23, 2008 6:21 PM

My hormones are rumbling, and I'm beginning to feel a little self-doubting.

This year's plan is as follows:
1. (semester one): make book.

2. (semester two): make teaching and/or research.

But things have gotten complicated. I've been offered different work by different university departments. Teaching? I has it. Exploitative first year tutoring? I choose not to has it. Researching? Hmmm. Interesting repeat teaching of last semester's Mega Teaching Experience, offering op to rework lectures and tutes and general Make It Gooder? I think I choose to has it.

Book? Oh, yeah, it's harder than it seemed. Rewrite? Why? It was a perfect thesis - there were no corrections needed! And what if I break it? Rewrite? But how? I mean, what exactly should I do? How should I do it? This rewriting - what exactly do you mean by that? Publishers. Yes, well. I choose Routledge. I choose them because it is an Impossible Dream, and we are in proximity to the Big Dream type stuff. Don't hold your breath though, homies - could be a long wait. There may be some resistance to my Choice.
And then, of course, there's the long, unbroken future spent tappa-tapping away at home, on my own, far, far away from other academic types. Trapped in a kind of netherworld, the Land of Far Far Away from Institutional Support. But also the land Relatively Close To (but not actually in) An Early Career.

I'm finding I'm more than a little needy with middle aged women academics. I'm looking for validation. For direction. For sound advice and useful criticism of my written work. I want pencilled comments in the margin of my work. I want an hour of uninterrupted Me Time with someone I admire and respect (and whose entire function, during that hour, is to listen to me, be interested in me, and most importantly, let me know how I'm going). I don't really know how to do this sort of larger project all on my own. Not only is the writing style I've spent 4 degrees and about 15 years perfecting almost completely inappropriate, every word I write seems to scream 'Feelings of inadequacy! Lacks confidence in own thinking! Overly defensive!' It's like I'm reading the internal monologue of a young woman dancer from the local McDance school. GoDAMN this whole over-achiever thing. I am hopelessly institutionalised and no longer capable of functioning on my own without a role model.

All these feelings are of course the product of my rampaging hormones. Premenstrual anxiety and self doubt? I HAS it.

This lolcat has, consequently, assumed disproportionate importance in my life:

"i can has female role model?" was posted in the category academia

January 14, 2008

feeling a little traumatised

Posted by dogpossum on January 14, 2008 4:55 PM

by difficult French films?

There is only one solution:

Also having difficulty imagining the dissertation as a book, so rereading markers' comments, just to remind me that I don't completely suck. Academia = way great fun.

...and I'm finding editing the Transformers pages on wikipedia very satisfying. I know nothing about the Transformers universe, I can't figure out what the articles are actually about because they're so badly written, but I am feeling immense satisfaction in rewriting them. Soon, though, I will know everything about the Transformers. Just ask me.

"feeling a little traumatised" was posted in the category academia and fillums

January 10, 2008

let's say no to perforations

Posted by dogpossum on January 10, 2008 11:25 AM

Three interstate trips in one month. No more, thanks. Conference, christmas and a funeral. Brisvegas was interesting and I quite liked seeing it - it's changed, I've changed, so it's kind of nice that we could get together again after seven years and find that we had lots to talk about and quite liked each other.
Acclimating to mega-humidity? Tick.
Family visited, without incident? Tick.
Old mates visited. Tick.*

It is hot today, and I have cleverly booked in an appointment with the doctor for another ear inspection. It's becoming an annual thing. Well, something I do a few times a year, actually. I have had enough of not being able to hear properly - it makes me irrationally furious, inciting Shouting, Stamping and Offensive Language. So I will have them irrigated today at 3. When the ambient temperature is about 40 degrees C. I'm hoping it will soften the wax and aid its removal.

I have plans for films to see, and I have started thinking about redoing the thesis. I have decided that it will now be known as The Book rather than The Thesis. I will start thinking about fonts immediately, as that is obviously the most important part of the process. Pav articulates my current feelings about the project quite nicely. As an ob-con type person, proof reading and editing is really the best place to site my natural abilities and interests. Serious Tidying will commence in a few hours, once this post is written, a cup of tea made, and a little clothes mending completed.

What fillums have I seen lately? Well, one of the most pleasing was Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers. I hated this when it came out, but now, after a few years of Howard government, it makes a lot more sense. It's also part of a recent spate of early 90s sci-fi fillum delightfulness, after we watched Total Recall the other night. In discussion with a fellow nerd yesterday afternoon, I realised that they're both actually Verhoeven fillums, and that's probably why they're both so wonderfully specrappular. Having read this type of SF as a Young Person, first discovering the Adult part of the family bookshelves (at about the age of 11, when carefully scanning the Adult stuff for the least hint of sauciness), these two fillums really capture the mood of terrible authors like Peirs Anthony. It's lovely, teenage stuff, and absolutely low-brain. So that's a tick tick and a V.G. from us.

Last night on SBS I also stumbled over In the Mood for Love, a Kar Wai Wong film that I absolutely love. I keep hoping their relationship will end well, but it never does, no matter how many times I watch the film. I love the obvious stuff - the colours, the framing of shots, the slo-mo, the soundtrack, the almost-love-affair ness of it.
Let's have a look at a couple of PR shots:
And just in case that's not enough, here's the trailer:

I think I might have a Thing for Tony Leung. My Thing for Maggie Cheung continues.
This new Thing is only fuelled by the immanent arrival of Ang Lee's latest film, Lust, Caution, which I've heard has heaps of hot sex, which I know will be an absolute visual feast, and which I'm terribly excited about. I'm thinking about special preview sessions on Friday day. It also stars Leung, which is very nice, and Joan Chen, who I also love (you might remember me crapping on about this stuff a little while ago in this post). I have rewatched Lee's Sense and Sensibility in preparation. Because no one does suppressed lust and caution like Austen.

The nicest part about catching this film last night was discovering it's part of an SBS series screenings of films by the cinematographer Christopher Doyle. The worst part was realising I'd missed Hero. Dumplings is on Wednesday 23rd January. I'm not sure if the others have already been on or not, but the SBS search function on their site sucks a bit, and I can't be bothered figuring it out. Guess I'll have to go to the video shop. Oh wait, our video shop SUCKS, so that won't work. Guess I'll be the last kid on the block to get into it, and use Netflix/Quickflicks.

Additionally, I also missed the first episode of Skins, a new series by the doods who made Shameless. And that's a big poo.

Well, think of me as I make it by PT (it's probably too hot to ride) to the doctor this afternoon, and pray for my ear drum. Let's say no to perforations.

*twice in a year! Dang, we'll have nothing left to talk about next time!

"let's say no to perforations" was posted in the category academia and brisbane and fillums and television

December 26, 2007

acma's report on families, gender and media technology

Posted by dogpossum on December 26, 2007 11:53 AM

I'm sorry I don't have time to write something clever, but I thought some of you would be interested in this. It's ACMA's "Media and Communications in Australian Families 2007" report. I'd seen a few news articles about it, but have only just had time (because it's boxing day and I'm home alone while the family are out buying stuff) to actually look through the report. If you can't be bothered reading the whole report, check out the the press release for an overview.

There are, of course, some concerns about the sample size, etc, though it's presented as a having used a representative sample (only 750 responses, but that's actually not too bad, considering), I'm concerned about the issues of class etc tied up in the sampling process.

But if you read the report, there are some interesting points:

  • Around 70 per cent of girls aged 14–17 have a MySpace or similar profile,
    compared with 50 per cent of boys.

  • Almost two-thirds of girls use a mobile phone, but less than half of boys do.

Interesting stuff there, about gender and media use. My interest is caught by the fact that girls are more likely to use technology with an emphasis on communications. I do think, though, that it'd be worth exploring the communicative, collaborative potential of gaming. Apparently boys spend more time gaming than doing things like MySpace, and one of the definite appeals of things like WOW is the option of real time, collaborative play. Which of course, involves real time, collaborative problem solving and communicative 'work'. Which is, of course, one of the functions of 'gossip' - real time, collaborative communicative work where participants explore potential 'solutions' or 'answers' or 'reasons' for interpersonal 'problems' (ie 'maybe he cheated on you with her because she puts out?').
I also wonder about the significance of literacy. Young people make greater use of online technologies as they get older - as their literacy skills improve. And I wonder about girls' preference for text-based media. Is there perhaps a correlation between girls' literacy and their social media use?
It's all very interesting and definitely worth exploring.

The report itself has some problems - the same comments about 'watching violence on telly making kids violent, which is actually quite difficult to substantiate. Violence is far more complex an issue than can simply accounted for by watching violence on telly. So, you might be more likely to 'use' violence on telly (whether for models for your own violence, or as inspiration or energiser) if you're already living in a violent home, if you've had experience with violence, or if you're otherwise vulnerable. So there's a confluence of factors contributing to incidences of violence, and it's inaccurate to say that 'watching violence on telly makes you violent'. So this report doesn't seem to have taken that into account.

There are also a few, similar problems about ideology and lifestyle - still the idea that 'technology has an effect' or that there's a causal relationship between media technologies and social behaviour. We don't approve of that, over here in the lefty cultural studies media studies feminist corner.

"acma's report on families, gender and media technology" was posted in the category academia

October 13, 2007

this is a good essay.

Posted by dogpossum on October 13, 2007 8:00 PM

This is a very great article. It reminds me of many of my own experiences in universities. Though I tend not to be the object of sexual harassment - I tend to kick heads and take names (which is probably why I'm finding it so difficult to get a full time job now). But I have had a couple of male academics try it on with me. Once was a fellow postgrad who couldn't seem to raise his eyes from my breasts when we were 'talking' (I use scare quotes because I'm not sure it's communication when one is having trouble thinking of the other as anything other than sexualised). Another was a male academic who told a particularly offensive anecdote at a staff/postgrad party. I responded with some verbal arse kicking. And never could get a leg up in the department after that.

But recently, I haven't had any of these experiences. In fact, it's been about six years. I think it's because I don't spend so much time on campus any more. And because I'm not 21 and I've pretty much given up giving a fuck what pants size I wear. And because I really do kick arse and take names now, and most male academics who'd pull that sort of stunt are afraid of me. And I like that. Even if it means no one ever gives me a proper job, I like the thought of having frightened those bastards so much they avoid me and won't make eye contact with me in the hall. And I have been known to strut upon occasion.

But I also think it has something to do with the fact that most of the academics I deal with now are women. They're the ones running the overcrowded, underfunded, understaffed subjects I teach. They're the ones who drop my name to people looking for tutors or lecturers or research assistants. They're the ones who pass my name along and then introduce me and make sure people know I'm Good Enough. I think that's half the thing - we female academics spend so much time second guessing ourselves and downplaying our abilities we forget to tell other people just how good we are. Just how skilled we are. And we hardly ever remind ourselves of our own achievements. So it's a good thing we have each other's backs. For the most part.
But that is a good essay. Read it, if you haven't.

fyi, it was written by our pav.

"this is a good essay." was posted in the category academia

August 1, 2007

John Frow = fushizzle

Posted by dogpossum on August 1, 2007 11:52 AM

The paper that made hardened ackas cry like babies has been on my mind for weeks now... hell, since December last year when I heard the Fushizz give it (or bring it, depending).

"John Frow = fushizzle" was posted in the category academia

July 14, 2007

community media r us

Posted by dogpossum on July 14, 2007 2:52 PM

I'm teaching this subject on the media this semester, right?
So it starts with a fairly ordinary introduction to basic media analysis skills and tools - helloooooo semiotics. Hello advertising. Hello COWBOYS!
Then we move to 'the public sphere', celebrity, media ownership and regulation. And then we end with 4 lectures on new media. This section is partly to do with things like media convergence and Big Brother, but also (and far more interestingly), community media and culture jamming. This is where my interest lies.

Now, firstly, I just want to note my reservations about this structure. It suggests that the internet has suddenly freed 'the media' from the grip of mega media corps, and that because we're all using laptops we're suddenly all free.
Which, as anyone who's paid attention to who's actually using the internet and computers knows, is patent bullshit. The same old collusions of class and social power are at work here - the internet demands literacy. The internet demands cash for computer gear (or internet cafe time). The internet demands time. And just because we're getting online, don't mean we're not seeing the same old racism/sexism/isms getting about.
This whole internet = democracy also ignores the fact that people have been getting radical with media since... forever. Hello political pamphlets. Hello SOAPBOX. And perhaps more importantly, there are media which are far more amenable to serious social change than the internet - go radio, go! Unlike the internet, radio doesn't demand literacy, the technology is cheap as chips, and a whole group of people can happily use just one radio. There is a substantial body of literature discussing media in developing countries (media development studies type action), and while it really fascinates me, I really don't know a lot about it.

But there's no denying the fascination of the internet for kids who're interested in the media and its role in democracy.
One of our lectures this semester is specifically concerned with old and new media in times of war. I'm imagining there'll be plenty of talk about propaganda, Bush and Howard and telly and newd. And because I'm the lecturer, I know there'll be some nice stuff about YouTube and the middle east.

But I have to go do some serious work now, so I can't carry on and make this the interesting discussion about teaching resistance and community media and YouTube that I had planned.

So go and read this article about footage of detention centres on YouTube, then go to YouTube and search for detention centres in Australia and let me know what you find, ok?

"community media r us" was posted in the category academia

May 10, 2007

in which i embarass myself with poorly researched comments about other people's blogs and laugh at spideremo

Posted by dogpossum on May 10, 2007 12:42 PM

It suddenly got cold yesterday and today I've shut the window so I don't get cold while I work.

Last night The Squeeze and I went on a date and saw SpidermanEmo 3. It was boring, but it was nice to see Topher, who I think should have been Spiderman all along. Glen talks about it a bit and makes that joke far more effectively than I can.
Then we went to have dinner at Bismi, because I wanted something Indian and with the sort of spices and chilli levels that skips don't like, and because I'm obsessed. It was goood: best roti in the whole world. Then we walked home (about 30minutes walk) and remembered the days when I first moved to Melbourne and walked everywhere, before I discovered bikes.
The Squeeze and I (in the days of Not Dating) would go out for dinner or a film or something interesting a couple of days a week, walking from my place in Carlton North to the Nova or Brunswick Street or whereever, carefully not touching. Then we would come back to my place, drink a lot of tea and watch some telly. Then he'd go home. It was all very 1950s and quite surprised my friends. It seems we are, therefore, an excellent advertisement for abstinence, because we're still together four (or is it five?) years later.

Now I'm sitting at the computer, trying to ignore the laundry detergent perfume that's rising from a pile of clean laundry next to me. I erred when purchasing the detergent, and it's not enviro-safe. Which seems to translate to 'way over-perfumed'. I'm also trying to finish editing that paper, but it's not really happening.

I'm also wondering about notions of vernacularness, especially after reading about Jean's recent conference experiences and her vernacular creativity on the street post. I really enjoy Jean's blog and her articles. But I can't help but giggle at that entry's post - for me, the term 'vernacular dance' is really the same as saying 'street dance' (especially a that's the better-known term with dancers). To see the implied surprise/delight in finding vernacular creativity on the street makes me smile. I like her enthusiasm and genuine pleasure in the drummer on a Boston street, and her sense of affinity, and fellow-buskerness. But something isn't sitting right. I need to follow up that thought.

I also think I need to read more about this vernacular stuff that those doods have been doing in Brisvegas, esp in reference to flickr. I just know those big brains are saying something really neat. But somewhere, I'm feeling uncomfortable with the way the term vernacular is being used. There is the implication that people are writing from outside a vernacular culture, and all the resistant stuff of 'vernacular' is getting lost. I know that's probably completely inaccurate, but I just... I just feel like I've missed something. In fact, I'm pretty certain it's my error in comprehension, rather than their error in writing, and I need to fix it. But not right now - when I've finished this article, ok? Or maybe I should read it all now, before I publish this...

Seeing as how this is what I'm writing about in my paper right now, here's a chunk where I define 'vernacular dance':

Lindy hop began in Africa, where dance was firmly planted in the everyday life of every person. Some ten million men, women and children were sent into slavery to the Americas from Africa – primarily west Africa – between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. They brought with them the music and dance traditions of a number of different African nations and cultures, as well as a history of slavery prior to the European invasions. Dance in west Africa was a significant part of public and community life, and Katrina Hazzard-Gordon writes in Jookin’: the Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture that "We can say without exaggeration that dance competency, if not proficiency, is required of all individuals in west African society" (1990, pp. 4), and she extrapolates from this to site dance in all west African descended communities. Africanist dance forms – dances brought to various other communities throughout the Americas and beyond – not only share steps and specific movements, but also more general tropes in terms of aesthetics of choreography and physiology. They also share similar approaches to the social function of dance. Dance is seen not as a ‘leisure’ activity or ‘work’ or ‘performance’, bracketed from normal life as it is in mainstream Australian culture today. It is in everyday life as rhythmic movement. This everydayness is read as a key feature of vernacular dance, wherever and in whichever culture it is found. A study of vernacular dance as everyday cultural practice seems the natural preserve of a cultural studies project, and in the following discussion I will both refine my definition of the concept of vernacular dance, and therefore its role as a public discourse for the representation of individuals’ identities and ideas and the negotiation of consensual ideology in public space.
The word ‘vernacular’ is commonly associated with discussions of language and dialect, referring to the language used by ordinary or everyday people. In a discussion of dance, the essence of the term is taken to refer to the everyday or ordinary common dances of a particular dance or culture. Though I take African American vernacular dance as my central concern, there is a substantial body of dance studies literature discussing vernacular dance in other cultures, including Sheenagh Pietrobruno's work on salsa. Vernacular dance is distinguished from concert or theatre dance through its positioning in everyday spaces, rather than existing only as a formalised, and usually choreographed performance of a particular dance on a concert stage. It is intrinsically participatory and happens in all sorts of spaces, both public and private.
Vernacular dance also always exists in a state of constant change, responding to the desires, interests and needs of its participants, reflecting the ideological and social values of a particular community at a particular time. This rhythmic hybridity (to use the term in Stuart Hall’s sense) and mutability offers evidence for dance as social discourse. All dance serves as a public forum for the presentation and discussion competing ideological positions, the representation of the self and the representation of ideology on the social dance floor, in the bodies of dancers. Its mutability and reflexivity allows performers to improvise and rework or introduce new steps to suit their cultural and social needs. Ralph Ellison describes African American vernacular in the following terms in Going to the Territory:
I see the vernacular as a dynamic process in which the most refined styles from the past are continually merged with the play-it-by-ear improvisations from which we invent in our efforts to control our efforts to control our environment and entertain ourselves. And this is not only in language and literature, but in architecture and cuisine, in music, costume, and dance, and in tools and technology. In it the styles and techniques of the past are adjusted to the needs of the present, and in its integrative action the high styles of the past are democratized… Wherever we find the vernacular process operating we also find individuals who act as transmitters between it and earlier styles, tastes, and techniques. In the United States all social barriers are vulnerable to cultural styles (1986, pp. 139–41).

"in which i embarass myself with poorly researched comments about other people's blogs and laugh at spideremo" was posted in the category academia

May 2, 2007

a long dry route

Posted by dogpossum on May 2, 2007 1:48 PM

It's been a slow month or so for me.
The first rush of post-thesis creativity/productivity has ebbed, and I'm not doing any writing at all any more. Plenty of sewing, some crocheting, some quilting, some dancing, some DJing. We're also getting onto MLX7 stuff - a trifle late, but still, getting on. Slowly. But there's not been so much of the high-brain stuff lately.

I can't honestly say I've been sitting down to write much lately. But I have a heavy post-exchange cold (of course) where my throat is killing me, I sport a temperature and some snot and generally poor concentration. So writing is hard.
Yesterday I had lunch with a scribbling friend who's had similar issues. But it's pictures for scribblers, not words.
But I noticed it's Big Brother season again (why are all the characters the same person - I can't tell any of them apart! But I do love listening to them talk crap - it's like gossip. I love gossip. I love the complexities of group politics and personalities), and that seems to be a good time for writing for me. So maybe I'll get lucky. Or productive.
I have a couple of zillion papers in the works. The one that keeps catching my interest is about the type of music swing dancers are into, and how this is about jazz - as 'art music' or 'high culture' - becoming young people music with a physical purpose. It's there to be used again, not just listened to in silent clubs or theatres. It's turned up really loud, having a few beers and arguing about room on the dance floor again. It's thinking about sex, it's touching other people inappropriately and laughing loudly and rudely. Finally.
So I want to write about how young people are getting into this action, and how they're developing new relationships with bands. And, somewhere in there, I want to write about how the other people at the band gigs who best appreciate this, and really like it, are not the younger, cooler 30-somethings, but the nannas and poppas, who best appreciate the fact that jazz is about being rowdy and disreputable and having fun. And that black polar necks are really quite inappropriate wear for a jazz gig.
The other paper I'm thinking about is to do with gender performance on the social dance floor, and the way dancers use digital clips to learn ways of performing feminity or masculinity (remind me to tell you about K dancing with C at Perth: amazon lindy!). This is something I should have written about ages ago in a paper, but haven't. It's hard to write because I have so much to say. But it's the sort of thing that feminist media studies people like.

So I kind of feel as though I'm getting a bit closer to being able to write some stuff down again. We're kind of in the same room again. Not sitting next to each other, but closer.

On that note, I'll leave you with a picture from the Hullabaloo ball the other weekend. Those Perthlings give good venue, that's for sure. If you click on the pic there, you'll be taken to the larger picture in The Squeeze's gallery. And, for those who are interested, we love picasa Aperture (sorry) in our house, though it can be a bit resource hungry. It's a lovely program that organises your photos and helps you make galleries for the internet quickly and simply. It makes The Squeeze all smiley.

"a long dry route" was posted in the category academia

April 4, 2007


Posted by dogpossum on April 4, 2007 11:35 AM | Comments (0)

Ok, so seeing as how I'm sitting about being bored/depressed/tiresome and cleaning compulsively, I've decided to rechannel all that ob-con potential and actually get on with making the thesis into a book. Thing is, I have no clue as to where to start. I have asked the Supes for advice and they have offered some advice. The no.1 publisher Supes (they're both big publishers and pretty kick-arse career acka types - the types young girl ackas like myself idolise and try to emulate) suggested having a look at the Routledge site.
I've also read this guide to making your thesis into a book by MUP. But if anyone has any other suggestions, I'd be very grateful. :)

"rechanneling" was posted in the category academia

February 26, 2007

nothing distracts like the frustration of being a very slow learner

Posted by dogpossum on February 26, 2007 4:18 PM

I gots the email monkey. Each time the little red bubble thing pops up to let me know I have a new email I have to rush and check. If it's come to my 'official' email address (ie not one that has anything to genetic engineering gone totally wacked) my heart rate jumps.

I'm waiting word on a postdoc I applied for that is 'totally me'. In fact, so me it's like they wrote the application with me in mind. The Squeeze said I should just have sent them my thesis with a short note: "I hear you have a position for me?".
All this 'it's just so perfect for you!' talk (which seems to have spread all over the continent - friends in Canberra, Perth, Brisbane and Tasmania have commented - the Ps are still being Proud Ps and blabbing my academic achievements to the world) only adds to the pressure. It's entirely likely that I didn't write a terribly great application letter, that my CV was crap and my discussion of my current research interests was dodgy. I don't have enough experience with academic job applications to know what I'm supposed to do. And I'm not very good at being really serious and formal. It doesn't help that this is a postdoc with a very flash American university. Pressure? What pressure?

Applications had to be in by the 13th February.

Finalists will be determined, appropriate visits to campus arranged, and a candidate selected by March, 2007.
So we're looking at about two weeks til I hear, right?

God, this is killing me. I don't really feel like I have a chance (though I look ok on paper, even though I don't have millions of publications - I have about 5 waiting for paper incarnations but who cares about them when the chips are down?). But I'd really like the job - it's a job where they want someone like this:

...a scholar in dance history/theory who examines dance forms as cultural practice with relationship to any of the following: international cultural exchange, globalization and globalizing practice, national and/or nationalist formations of embodied identities and cultures, and/or transnational and diasporic practice. We are open to the following geopolitical areas of specialization: Latin America (including the Caribbean, Central and South America), the African Subcontinent, the Middle East, East Asia, and South Asia.
See what I mean? Even the area of geopolitical specialisation applies, as I'm big on African vernacular dance history. It really is like they thought 'hm, we want this girl. How can we get her?' That, of course, makes it even worse. I really don't feel positive about this application, but then, it is a perfect match. But did I communicate just how perfect? I mean, you have to be pretty crap to screw up a job application for which you are perfect, don't you? I know it's not helpful to think like that, but with the dentist thing dealt with and the thesis over, I need something on which to focus my irrational fears. Can't undo all those years of tertiary programing education just like that, can we?

And it's not like there are many of us thinking about dance as cultural practice, with an interest in dance history/theory (again, I'm both). And who's talking about international cultural exchange? God, it's like they read that paper on lindy exchanges and camps as un/national networks. Globalization? Well, more like localised globalisation, but what's one letter? Embodied identities? Embodied cultures? National or Nationalised formations of said identities? Diaspora? Baby, I got your diaspora right here.

It's scary. And so I can't stop checking my email. This is one application I haven't just forgotten about. It's bothering me. And no amount of work or music-listening or sewing (three dresses in a weekend, folks - one house dress, two wearing-to-a-wedding options, only a couple of hems and one set of buttons to finish) can distract me.

I think I need some Big Apple time. Nothing distracts like the frustration of being a very slow learner.

"nothing distracts like the frustration of being a very slow learner" was posted in the category academia

February 6, 2007

textual analysis = dangerous

Posted by dogpossum on February 6, 2007 11:29 AM

This is exactly the reason I didn't name names in my thesis, and am reluctant to publish some parts of it.
I just know I'll get a serve for pointing out the obvious.

I might write more on this later when I'm not so busy.

"textual analysis = dangerous" was posted in the category academia and clicky

February 5, 2007


Posted by dogpossum on February 5, 2007 2:55 PM

Today is a sad day. I can no longer access the databases and online journals at LaTrobe via the internet - my library membership has expired with my lack of enrolment.
Researching this article is suddenly a whole lot more difficult.

":(" was posted in the category academia

i suspect it's more a matter of post-phud malaise

Posted by dogpossum on February 5, 2007 12:17 PM

I've decided dancing a lot makes you dumb. Or, rather, it makes it impossible to string a few words togethere coherently (let alone creatively). I'm arguing that it's because you've shifted gears and are now focussed in a new medium.

...though I suspect it's more a matter of post-phud malaise.

"i suspect it's more a matter of post-phud malaise" was posted in the category academia

January 31, 2007

holy smokes

Posted by dogpossum on January 31, 2007 4:22 PM

I'm kind of in shock.
My guest post has been published over here and frankly, I'm having trouble breathing.

I've cross-posted the post here. This is the title Henry gave it (as I forgot that part when I sent him the copy. Doh).

Are You Hep to That Jive?: The Fan Culture Surrounding Swing Music

This is a clip of the Whitey's Lindy Hoppers dancing a Big Apple routine (choreographed by Frankie Manning) in the 1939 film Keep Punchin'. In the last section of this clip they dance lindy hop on a 'social dance floor'.

And here's footage of dancers in the US dancing the same routine in 2006.

If you follow this link you can listen to the Solomon Douglas Swinged playing the same song on their recent album.

Both dancers and musicians have painstakingly transcribed what they see and hear in that original 1939 clip.

Lindy hop - the partner dance most popular today in swing dance communities - developed in Harlem in the late 1920s and early 30s by African American dancers. Over the following years it moved to mainstream American youth culture, carried by dance teachers and performers in films like Keep Punchin' and in stage shows, and then moved out into the international community, again in film and stage plays, but also with American soldiers stationed overseas. Though it was massively popular in its day, by the 1950s changes in popular music, where jazz was replaced by rock n roll or became increasingly difficult to dance to with the rise of bebop, saw lindy slipping from the public eye.

In the 1980s, dancers in Europe and the US began researching lindy, using archival footage like Keep Punchin' but also including films like Hellzapoppin' and Day at the Races - popular musical films of the 1930s and 40s. The aim of these dancers was to revive lindy hop, to recreate the steps they saw on screen. Learning to dance by watching films, particularly films that were only available at cinemas or in archival collections, was unsurprisingly, quite difficult, and these revivalists began seeking out surviving dancers from the period. Among these original lindy hoppers were Frankie Manning, Norma Miller, Al Minns, Sugar Sullivan and Dean Collins.

Twenty years after these revivalists began learning lindy, there are thriving swing dance communities throughout Europe, the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan and Korea. They come together in their local communities for classes and social dancing, and also travel extensively for camps and lindy exchanges. My research has focussed on the ways these contemporary swing dancers utilise a range of digital media in their embodied practices. This has involved discussing the way DJs in the swing community use digital music technology; the way swing dancers use discussion boards (Swing Talk, Dance History), instant messaging and email to keep in contact with dancers in their own community and overseas and to plan their own trips to other local scenes; and the ways in which swing dancers have use a range of audio visual technology. These uses of audio visual technology include the sorts of revivalist activities first practiced in the 1980s, but continuing now in lounge rooms and church halls in every local scene, but also to record their own dancing and local communities and also performances (on the social or competitive floor) by 'celebrity' lindy hoppers.

The Big Apple contest from Keep Punchin' is a useful example of the ways swing dancers make use of digital media in their embodied practices. But it's also the focus of my own dancing obsessions at the moment. I've been dancing lindy for at least eight years, and dance a few times a week in my local, Melbourne scene. I've travelled extensively within Australia to attend dance events, I've run events in my own city and I've travelled overseas for large dance events (such as the Herräng dance camp). This year, having just finished my Phd, I've decided I finally have time to work on my own dancing, in the sweaty, embodied sense, rather than the academic or abstract.

Writers in fan studies like Henry Jenkins and Matt Hills and Camille Bacon-Smith have discussed being a scholar-fan (to use Matt Hill's term), where you're a member of the community of fans you're researching. This approach is fairly standard in much of the dance studies literature - it is notoriously difficult to write about dance and dancing with any degree of convincingness if you don't dance - it's a little like dancing about architecture. I've also found that combining my academic work with my everyday, making my everyday experiences my work, has been a satisfying way to extend my fanatical obsession with dance into every corner of my life (a little like Henry's writing about Supernatural, a program I also love, here on this blog).

So when I decided I needed to get back to some level of dance fitness, to end the thesis-imposed hiatus from hardcore dance training, I chose this Big Apple and a number of other 'vintage' or 'authentic' jazz dance routines as my focus. I've learnt the Big Apple and Tranky Doo (another venerable jazz dance routine choreographed by Frankie Manning) before, but this was to be my first solo mission, using clips garnered almost entirely from the internet, though also making use of sections of an instructional DVD produced by a famous teaching couple.

Dancing alone is an essential part of lindy hop. The dance itself revolutionised the European partner dancing structure with its use of the 'break away', (which you can see danced by the last couple in the film After Seben), where partners literally broke away from each other to dance in 'open' position. In open, partners are free to improvise, and the most common improvisation in that historical moment and today, is to include jazz steps from the vast repertoire of steps developed by African American vernacular dance culture over centuries in America. Learning to dance alone not only offers dancers the opportunity to work on body awareness, fitness, coordination, individual styling and expanding their own repertoire (a point upon which I was relying), but also encourages a creative, improvised approach to music which they can then bring to their lindy hop for those 5 or 6 beats of the 8 count swing out - the foundational step of lindy hop.

I've written a great deal about the gender dynamics at work in lindy hop, a dance which prioritise the heterocentric pairing of a man and a woman, beginning with my own discomfort with a dance where the man leads, the woman follows, and traditional gender roles prevail. But I've also written a great deal about the liberatory potential of lindy. The open position and the emphasis on improvisation are an important part of this - in those moments both partners are expected to 'bring it' - to contribute to the creative exchange within the partnership. Lindy, as it was danced by African American dancers in that original creative moment, also embodies a history of resistance and transgression, as a dance with its roots in slavery and created during a period of institutionalised racism and oppression. One of my own research interests has been the extent to which the resistant themes of lindy hop, of African American vernacular dance, have been realised by contemporary swing dancers. The fact that most of these contemporary dancers are white, middle class urban heterosexual youth goes some way to discouraging my reading of contemporary swing dance culture as a hot bed of radical politics and revisions of dominant ideology and culture. Yet I have also found that lindy hop and African American vernacular jazz dances like the Big Apple structure and the Tranky Doo offer opportunities for the expression of self and resistance of dominant gender roles.

As a woman, and as a feminist, I've found that archival footage such as that Keep Punchin' clip offer opportunities for reworking the way I dance and participate in the public dance discourse. When we watch that Big Apple clip, while we can clearly see that each dancer is performing synchronised, choreographed steps, they are also clearly styling each step to suit their own aesthetic, athletic and social needs and interests. We see the personality of each dancer as they execute a set piece of choreography. The very concept of a Big Apple contest involves dancers performing specific steps as they are called, and being judged not only for their ability to dance the correct step in time and with alacrity, but more importantly (in a setting where dance competency, as Katrina Hazzard-Gordon has written, is demanded by the social setting - everyone can dance), for their individual interpretation of the step. This is a performance of improvisation within a socially, collaboratively created structure. The representation of individual identity within a consensual public discourse. This is the sort of thing that jazz musicians do - improvise within a given structure.

And man, is that some serious fun.

For contemporary swing dancers, the idea of taking particular formal structures and then reworking them to suit their own discursive needs extends from the dance floor to the mediated world. Online, swing dancers upload digital footage of themselves dancing, edited to best display their abilities. Or they edit whole narrative films like Hellzapoppin' and Day at the Races and edit out the sequences they're most interested in - the dancing. And dancers like myself are still watching these edited clips, recreating entire routines, and then, even more interestingly, editing out particular steps and integrating them into their lindy on the social dance floor, or into their own choreographed routines.

The notion of step stealing is not new in African American vernacular dance - it reaches back to Africa. And Frankie Manning himself is often quoted as saying 'dance it once and it's yours, dance it twice and it's mine'. For me, as a dancer, this is exciting stuff. If I put in the time and effort, I can learn these steps (well, some of them - watch that Hellzapoppin' clip and you'll see what I mean). And if I practice, time it properly and really bring it, I can pull that out on the social dance floor. Perhaps. Contemporary dancers enact that philosophy on the dance floor every day -stealing steps that catch their attention on the social dance floor, or 'ripping off' moves they see performed in footage of dancers in competitions or performances or in social dance settings all over the world. Or from seventy years ago.

For me, swing dancers' tactical use of digital media in their embodied use of archival footage is not only a source of academic fascination, but also a very practical skill to develop. I have had to learn how to watch footage of dancing in a way that lets me apply my knowledge of dance to separate out distinct steps, then figure out how they work, practically. Learning to poach dance steps from archival footage is a useful skill for lindy hoppers. But the testing of my skills is not online or in my ability to write and talk about these things. The real challenge to my creative and critical faculties comes on the dance floor, when I have to bring it - to bring the right step at the right time, but with my own unique, creative twist.

Bacon-Smith, Camille. (1992). Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

---. (2000). Science Fiction Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Clein, John, dir. (1939). Keep Punchin'. Film. Chor. Frank Manning. Perf. Frank Manning and Hot Chocolates. USA.
Hazzard-Gordon, Katrina. (1990). Jookin': The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Hills, Matt. (2002). Fan Cultures. London and New York: Routledge.
Jenkins, Henry. (1992). Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York and London: Routledge.
Kaufman, S. J. (1929). After Seben. Short film. Perf. "Shorty" George Snowden. USA.
Potter, H. C., dir. (1941). Hellzapoppin'. Film. Chor. Frank Manning. Perf. Whitey's Lindy Hoppers and Frank Manning. USA.
Solomon Douglas Swingtet. (2006). Swingmatism. USA.
Wood, Sam. (1939). A Day at the Races. Perf. Whitey's Lindy Hoppers. USA.

"holy smokes" was posted in the category academia and lindy hop and other dances

January 25, 2007


Posted by dogpossum on January 25, 2007 3:35 PM

The first recorded black woman blues singer (ie first black woman to record a non-religious commercially released song), Mamie Smith's 1920 song Crazy Blues had the lyrics:

I'm gonna do likea Chinaman... go and get some hop
Get myselfa gun... and shoot myself a cop.

That's about sixty years before NWA and Ice-T came along.

Adam Gussow (in "'Shoot myself a cop': Mamie Smith's Crazy Blues as Social Text" (Callaloo 25.1 (2002): 8-44) claims:

Ths song is... an insurrectionary social text, a document that transcends its moment by contributing to an evolving discourse of black revolutionary violence in the broadest sense - which is to say, black violence as a way of resisting white violence and unsettling a repressive social order (10).

I'm doing some reading on blues and women blues singers of the 20s and 30s and it's hardcore stuff. No pussyfooting around this topic. I'm still working on ideas I wrote about briefly here, here and by extension here.

And to think a bunch of white middle class kids are using this shit to dance dirty at late night parties. Though I guess they were doing exactly the same thing in the 20s too.
I can't seem to get past the idea of the 20s as a far more radical moment than the late 30s. And the 20s were charleston time, flapper time - women dancing on their own, not wearing stockings, cutting their hair, staying up all night and getting divorced. While the 30s were lindy hop time, partner dancing, seriously tailored clothes with lots of darts and War Work.

It's really nice to have a chance to finally read and read on things that are entirely 'off-topic'. I can read whatever I like and write about whatever I like. I still can't get over that!
Meanwhile, I've done that paper I had to do and a draft of that guest blog post thing (which is scaring me - the pressure!). I've also got a stack of stuff about online community to read, including some neat stuff by Barry Wellman about the relationship between offline and online community. That dood is beginning to rock.

...I'm sure my interest in writing about seriously dance-related stuff (as opposed to more media-centered stuff) has lots to do with the fact that I'm actually going dancing more often than I have in a year - I dance pretty much every day and do at least 2 serious out-the-house dance things a week. My brain is ticking over all the time. And I feel like I have the time (and freedom from stress) to really think about ideas and make them coherent (sort of, anyway).
No doubt this is post-thesis euphoria and will soon be all over, replaced by some sort of post-thesis anxiety/depression/self-doubt.
For now I'm enjoying myself.


"nerd" was posted in the category academia and article ideas and lindy hop and other dances

January 18, 2007

the thought of dancing in the third person

Posted by dogpossum on January 18, 2007 5:06 PM | Comments (0)

If you drop in over here, you'll see that things are sounding a lot like a whole lot of swing dancers with too little to occupy their immediate attention.

I have only two things to add:

1. I wrote my thesis in the first person and began each chapter with an anecdote, not to mention peppering the whole thing with talk about me. This is partly because I was actually spending a bit of time talking about how to do research as scholar-fan (to use Matt Hills' term)/member of the community you're researching. But mostly it was because I am a hopeless narcissist. It simply became ridiculous to write about this stuff without the first person - imagine all this in not-first-person (apologies - this is from a not-final-draft):

My earliest experience with swing dance was framed by university culture. As the social convenor for my postgraduate association in 1999, I was asked to organise a group expedition to a local venue that featured a live jazz band and swing dance classes. I fell instantly in love. Moving to Melbourne in 2001 for postgraduate study, I found the local swing dance community offered a natural complement to the work and culture of academic life, and quickly became a ‘serious dancer’. Five years later, I am well familiar with ‘the zone’ and all its attractions, have devoted countless hours and dollars to its pursuit, and become firmly entangled in both the local and international swing dance community. This doctoral thesis signals not only the completion of years of academic study in cultural studies and media studies, but also my critical engagement with a community and hobby which has played such a large part in my life.

During my time in the swing dancing community, my interest has frequently been arrested by:
1) the encouragement and embodiment of traditional gender roles and social relations in the dance;
2) the ways in which these embodied dance practices and representations of identity are managed by communications media and technology; and
3) by the discursive activities of institutions and organisations within the community.
I am continually surprised by the way traditional gender roles are enforced in contemporary swing dance culture, despite the more liberal examples offered by the African American history of swing dances. I am also struck by the capitalist nature of contemporary swing dance culture articulated by dance schools and institutions, again, despite the social history of African American vernacular dance. These issues have led me to a more comprehensive research project where I asked how embodied dance practice in this community have been mediated by technology and institutions, and what are the effects of this mediation?

Much of what I have observed in terms of media practice in contemporary swing dance culture echoes the literature dealing with media fandom in cultural studies. In this small community of interest, members adopt active and creative approaches to texts and discourse, routinely poaching ideas and structures from official discourses and media texts to create new creative works. Fan studies offers me a means by which to approach my research, not only in terms of theoretical frameworks, but also in terms of considering my role as a researcher who is also a member of the community I am studying. Despite my interest in media use within this community, swing dancers are, above all else, dancers, engaged in embodied discourse and cultural practice, always with an eye to social engagement with other dancers.

A large part of the introduction, from which this bit was taken, is devoted to my figuring out how to talk about and write about a community of which I am a part. I did try writing in the not-first-person. It was mostly ok until I started trying to talk about what it felt like to actually dance. Then it just got dumb.

In fact, one of the major arguments in my work is that the divide between performer and audience in concert dance is a marker of middle class Anglo ideological stuff.

Here's some stuff from the paper I'm trying to write writing.

African American vernacular dance of the swing era, with its emphasis on improvisation and the creative contribution of individual dancers, rather than the prioritisation of choreographed performances and of choreographers as orchestrating artists, presents a public discourse that demands individual contributions. Social standing is assured by the ability to produce improvised or innovative new steps or variations on familiar steps, making public contributions to public discourse, representing the self in community discourse. A popular phrase in contemporary swing dance culture, shouted to encourage dancers in competitions or in jams or battles on the social dance floor, epitomises this notion: “Bring it!” And what is being brought to this discourse is an authentic or convincing self. Make it real or dance real feelings (whether these are anger or joy or derision or ironic humour), or stay off the floor.
...and then...
Ward makes this distinction: “there is a categorical divide between dancers and the audience in performance dance …that does not exist between dancers and spectators in social dance, where those roles are interchangeable” (18). I read this dynamic relationship between the roles of ‘spectator’ and ‘dancer’ in social or vernacular dance as a clear example of the ways in which readers participate in the making of meaning in textual interpretation. Thomas DeFrantz describes the call-and-response between performers and audiences in African American music and dance in "Believe the Hype", arguing that this structure is carried on into other media forms, and he takes music video and film as his key examples.

In the case of dance, the text is a dance, or a dancer’s body, or just ‘dancing’, and the reader makes meaning through reading this text not only as a spectator, but also through their knowledge as dancers. This ability to make meaning even from unfamiliar choreography is facilitated by the cultural knowledge of movement that we all learn as social beings within a community. We know that this is dance, we recognise it as such in this moment, because we have danced, we have seen dance before. We have occupied and are occupying the roles of spectator and performer and are culturally familiar with this as dance.

I can promise you only that more quotes from my thesis will be forthcoming. No one will ever read the bloody thing if I don't, and fuck, we endorse strutting in our house.
I will also, no doubt, continue to quote from papers until I get them under control. I am working at home, alone, and don't see another acka type person more than once or twice a semester. This is the online equivalent of talking to yourself.

But, wait, my second thing:

2) If the first person is using 'I' and the third person is saying things like "dogpossum disapproves of most things" and "today dogpossum will take her tea at her desk, though she will consider wearing pants so as to avoid unfortunate scorchings", what's the second person? Is it (to make oh, perhaps another quote from a little thing I've just finished)...

In the zone, you respond without thinking, your senses taken up by the music, by your partner and by your own emotional responses in a state or way of being that can only be described as – thinking with the body.


I think this is the sort of question that &Duck could answer.

.... look, I'm still giggling at the thought of dancing in the third person. One of the indelible rules of partner dancing is that you have to stop thinking to make it work. And one of the most excellent bits of my research has been the way thinking academically about dancing on the dance floor is the one sure way of having a really crap dance.

oo, oo, I'd really like to write a bit about choreography and the 'third person' in that process. There's some really fabulous stuff written on the choreographic process and its ideological function/context. I'm a big fan of the idea of improvisation as choreography, which suggests that you make shit up as you go along, so the new steps you create are necessarily function-first. This is of course in direct contradiction with the sort of tortured-artist-in-an-ivory-studio idea that gets trundled along in ballet and concert dance (and much of dance studies - you should see how excited they get about the idea of geneologies of dance - where they trace the influence a particular teacher had on a line of dancers/students).

[edit: oops. forgot some references:
DeFrantz, Thomas. “Believe the Hype!: Hype Williams and Afro-Futurist Filmmaking.” Unpublished paper. Spectacle, Rhythm and Eschatology: A Symposium. University of Melbourne, Melbourne, 24th July 2003.

Ward, Andrew. "Dancing around Meaning (and the Meaning around Dance)." Dance in the City. Ed. Helen Thomas. London: Macmillan, 1997. 3-20. ]

[another edit: I also like the way it's assumed that blogging is about telling the truth. Whether you're writing with emotional honesty or with careful logic and supporting linkage. Surely I'm not the only one who's digging the implied gendered assumptions about writing here?]

"the thought of dancing in the third person" was posted in the category academia and clicky and lindy hop and other dances

happy coincidence

Posted by dogpossum on January 18, 2007 1:34 PM | Comments (6)

normal_7iplodpassemuraille.jpgI'm doing a bit of research on youtube for this paper I'm doing (and discovering in the process that deciding to 'stop reading', while a fabulous tool for getting the thesis done, has left me... oh, at least a few years behind the published world of academia), and have come across this neat article on M/C by Paula Geyh. Do go read it - it's only a little thing, and does the nicest job of combining talk about bodies, urban space and D&G I've seen yet.
I am a massive big nerd for anything to do with bodies and dance/gymnastics/beautiful, rhythmic movement, and this stuff on parkour (which I've also heard referred to as urban junglism) is absolutely right up my alley.

To quote directly from wikipedia:

Parkour (IPA: [paʁ.'kuʁ], often abbreviated PK) is a physical discipline of French origin in which the participant — called a traceur (/tʁa.'sœʁ/) — attempts to pass in obstacles in the fastest and most direct manner possible. The obstacles can be anything in the environment, so parkour is often practiced in urban areas because of many suitable public structures, such as buildings, rails, and walls.
And to continue with a quote from Geyh's article,
Defined by originator David Belle as “an art to help you pass any obstacle”, the practice of “parkour” or “free running” constitutes both a mode of movement and a new way of interacting with the urban environment. Parkour was created by Belle (partly in collaboration with his childhood friend Sébastien Foucan) in France in the late 1980s. As seen in the following short video “Rush Hour”, a trailer for BBC One featuring Belle, parkour practitioners (known as “traceurs”), leap, spring, and vault from objects in the urban milieu that are intended to limit movement (walls, curbs, railings, fences) or that unintentionally hamper passage (lampposts, street signs, benches) through the space.

So when we watch footage of that parkour stuff, we're watching a combination of practical (yet wonderfully imaginative and creative) urban locomotion. But the bit that catches my interest is the repeatedly quoted line from Sebastien Foucan,

"And really the whole town was there for us; there for free running. You just have to look, you just have to think, like children." This, as he describes, is "the vision of Parkour." (Wikipedia article)

I like that idea - thinking like a child. This is play. But it also involes a creative and unconscious approach to physical activity. One of the things I've noticed about swing dancers - they're particularly keen to try new things, particularly sports, physical activities, games, tricks and 'stunts'. I think it's because they've discovered that you have to just try things (as Sugar Sullivan would shout at us in class - "If you don't try to dance it, you will never dance it!"), throw yourself into activities, even if you're likely to look foolish or fall over. When you know the limits of your body, you can trust yourself to do things which appear physically difficult. And when you're used to experimenting physically, you stop worrying about looking foolish or being embarassed.

As an example, I am frequently (if not always) the only woman leading in aerials classes. I hear comments about how leads (or bases) should be physically strong, and there's certainly a degree of posturing by some male dancers in regards to being a base. But the truth of the matter is, if you have good technique and do moves correctly, you don't need to be ridiculously strong at all. I'm no stronger than the average woman, and certainly not as strong as most men my size, but I know that I can lift my partner up onto my shoulder and flip her over. Because I know how to use my body effectively, and work with her body. You are in greater danger of hurting yourself or your partner if you enter these activities with some grandiose idea of your own strength, or, conversely, with the idea that you're going to get hurt. In learning aerials, the conventional 'female = weak/vulnerable', 'male = strong and protective' is rubbish. Self reliance, good communication, solid technique and using spotters are key parts of safe aerials

But back to the parkour people...

There's lots of talk about military obstacle courses and so on in discussions of parkour, and escaping and leaping and reaching (the latter two I quite like, as ideas), but I'm really struck by the emphasis on creative responses to obstacles, yet with a practical eye. Ostentatious flips are debated - are they un-pakour because they're aesthetic (an unnecessary) embelishments?

But the part of this that I'm really interested in, is Geyhr's references to flow:

One might even say that the urban space is re-embodied — its rigid strata effectively “liquified.” In Jump London, the traceur Jerome Ben Aoues speaks of a Zen-like “harmony between you and the obstacle,” an idealization of what is sometimes described as a state of “flow,” a seemingly effortless immersion in an activity with a concomitant loss of self-consciousness. It suggests a different way of knowing the city, a knowledge of experience as opposed to abstract knowledge: parkour is, Jaclyn Law argues, “about curiosity and seeing possibilities — looking at a lamppost or bus shelter as an extension of the sidewalk”
Flow is something that's come up in swing dance discussions. I've mentioned it very briefly in my own work, but without using that term.

Dancers often talk about being 'in the zone'. As with that notion of flow, the zone is the place where you stop consciously directing your body, but respond to the music, to the weight changes and posture and movements of your partner on an almost instinctive level. I think it's important to point out that this point of flow or zone is only achievable if your body and reactions are at a particular level of ability. To make this work, you must have a degree of body awareness, a stability of core, clear lines of alignment in joints and muscles and bones, some level of fitness and a willingness to 'give in' or 'surrender' what I call 'high brain stuff'. You have to stop planning and to just give in and move.

Needless to say, this is one of the most wonderful parts of dancing, and the point to which most dancers reach toward. It's often the motivation for travelling internationally or interstate to attend exchanges, where the sleep deprivation and intense socialising helps bring that point of flow closer. It's something that newer dancers don't feel, but suddenly, at about a couple of years, suddenly do feel, and get seriously addicted.

The thing that catches my attention in the discussion of parkour is that this flow is about the relationship between body and environment. With dancers, it is about body and body and floor.

So go read that nice article, if only to check out the neat clip.

Geyh, Paula. "Urban Free Flow: A Poetics of Parkour." M/C Journal. 9.3 (2006). 18 Jan. 2007 .

Photo from this site, a photo by a parkour dood, uploaded to

"happy coincidence" was posted in the category academia and clicky and lindy hop and other dances

January 12, 2007

round up

Posted by dogpossum on January 12, 2007 4:10 PM

Just in case you were wondering why I'd suddenly gone all boring...

I've been very busy writing a paper for a media convergence collection/special ed of a journal/thingy. So I am making a really crappy rough draft at the moment. Soon it will be beautiful, but before it's beautiful, the editing will be horrible. I really enjoy writing (when I'm not all blocked) and write very quickly, so I feel like I'm accomplishing. I do not, however, write good first drafts - I need to edit and edit and edit and edit to make it look nice.

This paper, briefly, is about the AV stuff in my thesis. I've added on a nice bit about youtube, which was very exciting - youtube has made major changes in the world of online dance clips, and the whole 'free' and 'easily accessed' thing, as well as embedding clips in blogs and the sheer, wonderful quantity of obscure footage uploaded to the site make it a fabulous resource for dancers. It's also made some interesting changes in the economy of clip exchange in the swinguverse (to a certain extent). I've added a bit about the Silver Shadows stuff I wrote about in this entry, as it makes for a really nice example of the sorts of things I'm talking about. Not to mention the whole convergence thing.

I still haven't done the 'guest' post. But at least I've had some ideas. Once I've gotten this convergence paper done, I'm going to write something about radio and swing dancers. Now there's a bit of convergent action. I'm especially interested in the way the Yehoodi Talk Show used video podcasting (a visual element to its radio podcast) in the last edition. That's some awesome shit. Especially as they spent a fair bit of that podcast watching video clips they'd found on youtube, google movies, etc. Talk about nice timing. It all flows on nicely from my stuff on DJing and uses of sound/audio technology there.

I actually had a paper in the latest edition of Continuum if you're interested in reading some of the sort of work I'm doing. It's actually a refereed paper from the CSAA conference-before-last and I'm not actually convinced it's much good. I know I've written better. Hopefully this paper I'm doing now will be nicer.

...ok, so the other thing I've been doing is working on this. It's still looking fairly crap, but I do like the way it's going. I've not tested it in anything other than Safari (bad me), so if you're using Internet Exploder - sucked in! I doubt I'll ever actually do anything with this site once it's done (despite it's fairly high hits when I was running it more regularly), but I do like a bit of focussed web design. Viva la css!

Anyway, doing a little work on that this afternoon (paper in the morning, coding in the afternoon, then a mandatory tranky doo break in the late afternoon), I came across this thing on aural style sheets in the W3 website.
It caught my attention as I'd recently read Barista's entry on deafness stuff and my interest was caught. I'd read another comment on Barista's blog a while back about accessability, and I guess it's just been percolating in there for a while. I'm a bit strict about accessability (to a certain extent) because living with The Squeeze has made me aware of things like colours and how underlining links all the time is actually very important for colour blind people. Or even people who see colours in different ways.*

So the thought of styling websites to make them more accessible for people who use screen readers...!
I will read more about it and report back later. Meanwhile, if you know anything about this or have any ideas, points, please do drop them in the comments.

*The Squeeze actually bypasses all this shit by just reading the internet on his feedreader. Except when he's looking at photos.

"round up" was posted in the category academia and article ideas and lindy hop and other dances and webbing

December 28, 2006

very un-cultural studies of me

Posted by dogpossum on December 28, 2006 12:01 PM

I've been writing a bit about women and blues music and dance lately, my ideas fed in part by my research for the thesis, but also (and perhaps more importantly), stimulated by my own experiences as a woman in the swing dance community.
I've been asked to do a guest spot on a fairly spec online culture blog, writing specifically about my own research. I've had a bit of a think about it, not much, I must admit, as I've been a bit distracted, and really, I just can't seem to put anything together in my head. I mean, I have no idea what I'd like to write about. I've kind of got stage fright. This is the first mass-public airing of my work where I'm likely to get/see immediate feedback (in the form of comments), and unlike academic journals or conference papers, I feel there's a bit of pressure to write well and accessibly. I do think that the format is quite different - shorter, lots of linkage, etc etc.
And while I just know that this is a fabulous opportunity, I can't seem to put my ideas together.

I'd quite like to do something like this hot and cool entry (with some tidying and a more coherent structure and, well point), but I'm not sure how to start.
I actually got to the hot/cool entry by way of this entry on women, blues and dance, which developed from this (fairly ordinary) entry on the same topic. And of course, that was a response to Kate's responses to a CD I sent her with a copy of a blues set I did a few weeks ago.

Of course, for me the most interesting part of this whole chain of thinking is the fact that we began with a set list posted on the internet, which is something I have started doing recently as a replacement for the fairly fizzly thread on the Swing Talk board where we did list our set lists ages ago, but which has recently fallen out of favour.

I found that thread particularly useful as a beginner DJ - I could see what sorts of songs different DJs in Australia are playing, the ways they're combining them, and then (perhaps even more interesting) I could read their own comments on the sets and how they went. I read that thread in conjunction with this DJ bubs thread (which gets interesting on the second page) and the Swing DJs board, where I'm too scared to post. And of course, I also spent a great deal of time clicking between (or and allmusic (a site which used to be better) for sound clips and musicans' bios respectively. Radio programs like Hey Mr Jesse, which are only delivered online as podcasts have recently become really important to me (I don't think it's a coincidence, as Jesse has been producing this show since January 2006 and I started DJing in February of this year).

Talking about DJing in person, with real, live DJs has played a suprisingly small part in my learning to DJ. I think this is in part because I prefer to dance when I'm not DJing, dance venues generally aren't too good for talking about DJ, and I'm not really interested in getting together to talk DJing - I'd rather talk about other crap. I do discuss levels and technology when I'm DJing or when someone else is DJing - I ask knowledgeable friends questions like "why does that sound like shit?" and then do a little hypothetical problem solving.

These were the sorts of resources that I was using to help me learn how to DJ. I was full of ideas about DJing (in part prompted by my thesis work and chapter on DJing, but not entirely - I found that most of my theoretical ideas about DJing were actually bullshit and needed to be revised post-practical experience), and feeling creative and inspired. The fact that DJing is nine tenths compulsive CD collecting and song cataloguing no doubt helped me along (I can stop whenever I want. I don't have a problem. I don't need to organise things. No way).

Posting set lists (and posting my discussions of them), getting feedback from more experienced DJs, and learning about DJing from reading their posts, in combination with all those other sources helped me get a handle on DJing. I must add, without the practical experience of DJing, none of these things would have been any good to me at all. And of course, most of my ideas about DJing and how to DJ are in turn fostered by my own dance experience - both in Melbourne over the years and overseas - and and by listening and dancing to other DJs' sets.
I think it's also important to note that all this online toing and froing is a really interesting aspect of swing DJs' activities generally - I wrote about this in the chapter on DJing. Because we live so far apart (particularly in Australia), the internet has developed as a fabulous tool for networking between DJs, for the development of skills (and increasingly for me), networking with event organisers for scoring gigs. Travel has also been important, as it gives me a chance to touch base with DJs from out of town.

And, of course, I have to make note of the fact that I know only one female DJ from out of state who has a decent amount of experience and comes out dancing regularly or posts on Swing Talk. Here in Melbourne, there are far more female DJs than in other scenes, in part (I think) as a result of the recent 'opening up' of DJing at major venues like CBD (which has so many sets to fill each month and has been organised by people who have been clearly interested in expanding the DJing base in Melbourne), and (to a degree), the importance of buddying between new DJs. Glancing over the DJing roster for CBD in January, I can see that six out of the eight DJs rostered on are female. I also note that of those eight DJs, there are only perhaps two who I'd make an effort to go dancing for. Of all these DJs, most tend to play far beyond the limits of 'swinging jazz', with only three (myself included) playing (almost exclusively) swinging jazz from the 1930s-50s.

I have wondered if the serious emphasis on the cultural (and material) capital required for playing swinging jazz is exclusive - does it discourage women? I would suspect so. The largely exclusive language of sites like Swing DJs requires a fair bit of dancing (and listening) experience, and most of the DJs on this one sample list have only a couple of years dancing experience. The least proficient have also travelled the least (and travel, of course, demands lots of dosh). On a further note, only two of the DJs on this list are determinedly not interested in acquiring their music by illegal or file-sharing means. They are, also, the ones with the greatest interest in swinging jazz.

How do I feel about all this? I think it's quite clear (as I wrote in my thesis) that becoming a 'good' DJ (and I think that ability is a combination firstly (and most importantly) of DJing ability - combining songs, keeping the floor full, ranging across a variety of moods and styles - and musicall collection - playing swinging jazz) is restricted to those with the time, money and opportunity to invest. I feel uneasy with my personal insistence that 'good DJs' are those who play swinging jazz, even though I know that playing unswing results in inevitable adjustments to lindy hop technique (most of which I think are not good - they result in a simpler, musically and techically less interesting dance). I feel (on some level) that I should be ok with DJs playing unswing, as unswing is more accessible and therefore a means by which more women (and less financially well off DJs) can get access to the DJing role.
I have written at length about the ways in which the 'recreationist' imperative of many swing dancers is a discomforting (and selective) use of history which (as I have said before) neglects the darker parts of African American history and eventually recreates scary gender stuff.

So how am I to contribute to DJing discourse when I find so many bits of it so difficult?

There is the option of using 'buddying' to encourage new dancers to discover swinging jazz. But that feels condescending - who am I to tell people what 'good' music is, especially when many of them are patently not interested in this historical stuff? And really, when the whole history of African American vernacular dance is about cultural relevence, why should I encourage dancers (and DJs) away from the pop music of their day?

I might choose to give copies of the sorts of music I really like to other DJs - how else to be sure I get to dance to the music I like? I have reservations about this on the basis of IP, but also because I have found (in the past), that sharing really good songs with one person will see them spread out, diseminated to other dancers and DJs until I find that dancers are using that song (and that version of that song) to perform routines for paid gigs. And it's even more frustrating to find that the artists' name and recording details have dropped from the song, so it is circulating only as a digital, nameless file.
On the one hand, this is interesting stuff. On the other, it concerns me because (particularly when these are living artists), there are musicians being screwed. I will not go as far as some other DJs and say that I resent this illicit circulation because I'm losing some sort of cred as the 'discoverer' of this song who 'brings it to the dancers' (I'm not that naive or that arrogant - this is pop music, doods). Nor will I say that I resent this because other DJs play this song, so robbing me of my 'ace in the hole' crowd pleaser (and attendant status as 'awesome DJ'), mostly because it's cool for other DJs to hear a song, ask what it's called, say "that frickin' rocks", hunt it out on itunes or amazon, then play it when they next DJ (and I get to dance to that song when they play it). That doesn't worry me. It's more that the song is circulated as a burnt disc or shared file, with the song title, artist, recording year and musicians' details stripped from it. It also worries me that while I might share a song or songs as a gift, other DJs and dancers compile CDs which they then sell to others. That worries me.

As a dancer, it's frustrating when DJs simply take a 'found' or 'exchanged' or 'gifted' song and play it to death, without exploring that artist's other work. I hear one version of (for example) C Jam Blues by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and I think 'yes - now we're going to hear more swinging jazz. Finally. No more bullshit unswing that makes for crap dancing' (and as a dancer, that's how I think - I have no tolerance for unswing. I want to lindy hop to swinging jazz). But that song ends up just as one drop in anotherwise intolerable sea of overplayed pap played in clunky, unpleasant combinations that make for a night of shit dancing.

So I am in kind of a bind. My feminist instincts say 'fight the power' and 'information (and music) wants to be free'. But my dancer instincts say 'play some good frickin' music, and learn to DJ well'.

This post has rambled on far longer than I had intended. And far beyond the original point that I wanted to make. And I kind of think it's become a bit of a tirade against local media production and use practices in Melbourne swing culture. Which is very un-cultural studies of me.

"very un-cultural studies of me" was posted in the category academia and djing and lindy hop and other dances and music

December 12, 2006

crazed and manic jubilation

Posted by dogpossum on December 12, 2006 2:11 PM

I just found out that my thesis was passed WITHOUT CORRECTIONS!!

I have done the crazy happy dance about 10 times already (lots of high kicks up into the air, a few twirly spin-arounds, some random jiggling).

If I hurry I can do the graduation thing in March/April.

So I am now Dr dogpossum (mostly)! Hoorah!

...remind me to write about the dance conference, will you? I met some lovely (and awe-inspiring) young dancers who work with companies like Bangarra (and how did I introduce myself? "You guys rock!" - I am all about cool. But they did - their mini-performance blew me away!), networked like a crazy person, discovered someone who has Graybags for a supes (and knows Galaxy), told some inappropriate jokes, shared Frida and the Whitey's Lindy Hoppers with a bunch of doods who understood what I've been trying to say about them and ate some of the best conference food EVER.

[and hoorah for the markers - the thesis was sent to them at the end of September, and they had the marks to me by today - that's under 3 months turnaround time]

"crazed and manic jubilation" was posted in the category academia and conferences and lindy hop and other dances and thesis and travel

December 10, 2006

rock on, canberra

Posted by dogpossum on December 10, 2006 11:32 PM

Dang, homies, I have so much to blog. But that's the deal when you're busy - plenty to blog about, no time to do the actual blogging.

Since my last post, I have come to Canberra and been at the CSAA conference where I gave my paper to what amounted to a bunch of my friends. There were some rockingly good parallel sessions, including some terribly cool ones on computers. Dance sounds really naff in the program (and that's what it was called - 'Dance'. Mmm, appealing. And in the final session of the conference no less). There were 3 of us presenting, then an assortment of our mates and one guy* who I suspect wandered in by accident (and actually ended up having all 3 of us presenters address a few ideas and comments to his paper in the preceding (and absolutely world-rocking) session which was called something like 'Asian - the UnAustralian?'). I don't think he was ready for 3 dance nerds on speed, feeling the love and ready to Give Cooperative Paper.

We three are always in the same session, even though we don't really work on the same material. It's like when you have 'women' in your thesis title - you're popped in the gender studies department. But with us, when you have 'dance' in your title, you're popped in the dance session. Even when you're not really talking about dance so much as the relationship between online and embodied networks.
Ah well. We enjoy ourselves more and more each year. And this year I felt so comfortable with this crew (as did the other 2), I could direct particular points to the other presenters or ask them questions mid-paper. Not cool, in the world of 'serious' ackadackas, but far more fun. I think I break the ackadacka paper presentation rules every time I present. Too many dance clips. Too much fun. Too much to say. I'm also adverse to using impenetrable ackadacka language, so I'm sure I come off sounding ignorant. Or at least misinformed. I do write papers and intend to read them, verbatim, but I can never resist adding in comments. Especially when I'm showing clips.

In other conference news, it was really nice to catch up with old Brisvegas buddies. Shout out to the Gunders, Laurie Townsville, Sue, Andrea and everyone else - the sorts of people who feel comfortable in shorts and thongs and aren't afraid to show it... though admittedly, Sue's would be uber-chic, and not the Kmart variety.
I also developed a smarting crush on one of the Sydney pgrads (my lips are sealed)**, and my deep and abiding love for John Frow... abides. I was not the only one to admit to a serious crush on that tall, unusual and enduringly shy hawty acka. I am also smitten by (or should that be with?) Larissa Barendt: two top key note talks (missed all the others, and have heard mixed reports about them. Sorry I missed the unusual European with fascinating body language - the dancers on-crew gave very excellent reviews).

Tomorrow I do the cultural studies in dance seminar. It's not as well organised as the CSAA doo, so I'm not feeling terribly confident. Also, there are a few too many concert dance types in the schedule, so...
I've been haranguing KLK about high and low culture and why the only option for me (as a cultural studies stooge), really, is to look at vernacular dance.

Meanwhile, we're watching Back to the Future on telly, discussing our teenage years (during which this film was released), eating chocolate and sending each other to the kitchen for cups of tea.
I pay particular attention to Michael J Fox's sneakers - the sort of adidas that are tres chic with the kids today.

Rock on Canberra.

*He was on my list of conference-crushes, actually. Dang he gave good paper.
**Unfortunately, all my crushes are for people's brains. All my physical desires are reserved for The Squeeze. Because he gives good chop-and-freckle.

"rock on, canberra" was posted in the category academia and canberra

November 16, 2006

fewd for the mind and body

Posted by dogpossum on November 16, 2006 7:46 PM

I'd really like to go to this but it's in London and I'm poor.
It's on the 19th-22nd July 2007. I could do some Herrang, go to the conference, go back and do some more Herrang. Or, rather (as I'd much prefer, having had about enough of Herrang after a week), I could do the conf, then go to Herrang. And in the weeks before the conf I could visit friends and family.

I wish I had an income. :(

"fewd for the mind and body" was posted in the category academia

September 29, 2006

Australian-Melbourne-Irish-Global media?

Posted by dogpossum on September 29, 2006 1:22 PM

As some of you know, I'm booked in to give a paper at the annual CSAA conference in Canberra in December. I wrote about my abstract here and moaned about not scoring a bursary here.

Well, things have actually turned around a bit since then. I have actually scored a smallish grant from the nice people at the CSAA, which will cover my conference registration and part of my airfare. Yay.

So, come December, I'm flying up to the Can to talk theoretical turkey with acadackas, hang out with my old school friend Kate (no, not 'old skewl', nor is she particularly 'old' - she is a friend I have had for a long time) and possibly see some local dancers.

This was all very nice to hear - I'm quite proud of having scored a competitive grant from an organisation which will look good on my CV. I'm also happy to be funded for my trip to the Can - I need to get a job some time soon, and these things are good networking activities... though I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging about with old UQ buddies. And as you can see from this entry, I seemed to spend more time thinking about jazz than any professional business at the last CSAA conference.

So anyways, I'm off to do a paper.
Here is the abstract again:

Swing Talk and Swing Dance: online and embodied networks in the ‘Australian’ swing dance community.
Since its revival in the 1980s, lindy hop and other swing dances have become increasingly popular with middle class youth throughout the developed world.
There are vibrant local swing dance communities in Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, Perth, Canberra and Brisbane for whom dancing - an embodied cultural practice – is the most important form of social interaction. Swing dancers will travel vast distances and spend large amounts of money solely to attend dance events in other cities. The success and appeal of these events lies in their promotion as unique and showcasing their local dance ‘scene’.
In travel itineraries which criss-cross the country, swing dancers develop networks between local communities that are not only cemented by their embodied interpersonal interaction, but also by their uses of digital media. In this paper, I examine the ways in which the online Swing Talk discussion board is utilised by Australian swing dancers to develop personal relationships with dancers in other cities, which in turn serve to develop relationships between local communities. This insistence of local community identity in swing dance culture in Australia defies a definition of a ‘national’ swing dance community. I describe the ways in which ‘Australian’ swing dance is an ‘unAustralia’ - not a homogenous ‘whole’ but a network of embodied and mediated relationships between diverse local communities and individuals.

Right now I'm having trouble remembering what I wanted to write about. I suspect there wasn't actually a lot of planning in there. But I have started to have some ideas. Of course stimulated by my impending trip to SLX (I'll be off to the tram stop in a few hours - nursing this horrid cold that's sprung up), but also prompted by planning for MLX6 planning.

Have a listen to this:

powered by ODEO

(which you can find here on the MLX6 music page).

Now, if that's not an advertisement for glocal community, I don't know what is. I mean, before we even get to the dance/exchange stuff, we're listening to an Irish guy pimping Australian jazz for a Melbourne exchange to an international audience. Neat stuff, huh?
This is the stuff about lindy hoppers that I really love: the way they go nuts and do all sorts of creative things - off as well as on the dance floor. And much of this creative work is centered on big dance events like exchanges and camps. There are lots of film clips, mini-films, websites, DVDs, etc etc - and a couple of special official CDs produced - but I'm beginning to get interested in the way swing dancers use radio and audio technology. Specifically, digital audio technology. I mean, there is all that stuff about DJing, but swing dancers do other really interesting things as well: Yehoodi radio is streaming music chosen by swing dancing DJs from all over the world, the Yehoodi Talk Show is really just a chance for a couple of engaging dance/music nerds to have a chat online and Hey Mr Jess is even nerdier - a particularly lovely DJ chatting about swing music and DJing with another dance/music nerd.

Hello podcasts.

This promotional podcast by one of our MLX6 crew is interesting for the way it combines samples from local musicians' albums (these are all bands we're hosting for MLX6, from Melbourne and Sydney) - they're all still living, all contemporary artists - with pimpage for our event.
I do need to sit down and do a bit of analysis of the content, but this is some interesting stuff. Radio has proved a particularly effective medium for connecting dancers in different countries - a natural complement to discussion boards. And this is one of (if not the) first Australian contribution to the international lindy hop radio world (excluding contributions by local DJs to the Yehoodi radio show) - this is the first locally produced Australian swing dance radio 'bit'. And it's narrated by an Irishman!

I do need to sit down and think about how this works: the way 'Melbourne' is presented, the way 'Australia' is presented, and how different audiences within and without Australia (and Melbourne) might receive/interpret/read this text, but it's a starting point - a bit of motivation - for my paper. At the very least, I can add that to my usual list of clips and photos for the presentation - always fun to do.


--edit: you know, part of my brain is also a bit interested in the way I've used that odeo plugin, there: most times you see those sorts of things they're 'invisible', in the way my sidebar over there is largely 'invisible' from the main body of the page over here. But I've actually framed that odeo thingy as something to use and listen to, rather than just stuffing it into my sidebar or at the bottom of this post. It's an interesting contrast to the livefm thingy over there in the sidebar (which is still stuffed and giving me the shits). I am, of course, delighted and fascinated by all this convergence action - my blog as combining audio and visual as well as written? Let's see a newspaper try that then! Of course, this issue is one I've been plaguing my students with lately in tutes - as I heard in a Media Report story about cross-media ownership and digital technology, the cross-media ownership legislation kind of collapses when faced with the internet and the fancy things newspapers have been doing online: they combine av with traditional 'static' text... and bloggage, and audio, and... lots of other lovely stuff.

This is such a great time to be a media studies stooge! How could you not love the internet?!

"Australian-Melbourne-Irish-Global media?" was posted in the category academia and conferences and lindy hop and other dances and melbourne and teaching

August 21, 2006

i'd do something like this

Posted by dogpossum on August 21, 2006 10:38 AM

I'm sorry I haven't had anything interesting to say in a while. I know you're disappointed, especially after my recent rush on Terribly Clever entries. It's just that I've been insanely busy lately. In fact, I remember the days where I had two - no, one! - whole day with no work to do. No thesis leftovers to tidy (helloooo CD of clips - you'd better appreciate this Markers), no teaching admin., no MLX crap to do, no giant holes to fill in in the back yard (more on this later), no week's-worth-of-laundry to catch up on, no grocery shopping to do, no writing-up grants to apply for, no journal articles to edit and send back to the editors, no conference papers to write, no... you get the point.
I'd just like two whole days in a row with nothing for me to do. I'd go to lunch at a pub with a friend I've had to put off exactly three (or is it four?) weeks in a row. I'd go to breakfast at a cafe with The Squeeze. I'd do something like this:

"i'd do something like this" was posted in the category academia

August 8, 2006

the tyranny of distance: audiences and performers/texts in high and low art forms

Posted by dogpossum on August 8, 2006 10:34 AM

Laura has asked an interesting question here on a previous post:

...I would like to ask a question about "the everyday", in those CS quote marks - is consumption of canonical or high art an everyday activity, and if it isn't what is it? Posted by: Laura at August 7, 2006 03:30 PM

I think the man to answer this question is right up there in the cs canon (or at least the audience studies canon). Take it away Henry Jenkins...

I skip about a bit in the next part of this post (I'm a bit distracted, so I can't really take time to formulate a sensible argument)...

I think the key point (in my approach, anyhoo) is not so much the nature of the actual text or practice, but the way it is institutionalised, commodified and 'valued' by various cultural and social forces.
I've been looking at this issue in reference to dance (of course), comparing the way ballet and vernacular dances like hip hop or breaking are approached by audiences.
[In an aside, the discussions on wikipedia's project dance (esp the talk pages) - people want to capitalise the names of specific ballet choreographies, but aren't so sure about how to capitalise vernacular dances like lindy or hip hop].

I've also noticed that the way swing dancers - DJs in particular - approach jazz is quite different to the way the genre is approached by jazzniks. One of the clearest and nicest illustrations of how different groups imagine jazz lies in the way Bennett's Lane puts on gigs (Bennett's Lane is a well respected local jazz venue - devoted to 'quality' jazz). They are very strict about noise during performances, and do NOT allow dancing. This is such a strange and bizarre contrast to the way jazz functioned socially in the 20s, 30s and 40s - it was pub music. It's also a serious contrast to the way I experience and enjoy jazz at the Laundry in Fitzroy on Saturday afternoons: it's loud, it's full of smoke and drinkers, the band members will get down off the stage and kick audience arse if they give them trouble. They don't care if we dance, and there is - as a consequence - a really exciting and dynamic relationship between dancers, musicians and audience at these gigs.
But at Bennett's Lane (and other venues around the place), there's a definite positioning of jazz as 'art', which must be 'appreciated' from a distance, rather than enjoyed with the body, up close and personal. There are quite culturally specific ways of demonstrating appreciation going on. Just as Jenkins noted that Checkhov fans used different language to describe their interest in theatre, there are clear differences in the way certain groups approach jazz and music.

Here's a quote from chapter one of my thesis about the relationship between audiences and performers, audiences and texts in dance:

Considering dance, whether vernacular dance or performance dance, as a public discourse, allows us to analyse it for ideological content, for the ways in which identity markers such as class, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, age and so on are represented and valued by a particular community of people. Reading vernacular dance as everyday discourse encourages us to see social dance as an exchange of ideas, and as a site for the negotiation of identity and social relations between individuals and groups within a community. I draw clear distinctions between vernacular dance traditions, where dance occurs in everyday spaces, between ordinary people, and concert or performance dance traditions, where dance is relegated to particular ‘dance spaces’ which are separate from the everyday spaces of a community. Ward makes this distinction: “there is a categorical divide between dancers and the audience in performance dance …that does not exist between dancers and spectators in social dance, where those roles are interchangeable” (18). I read this dynamic relationship between the roles of ‘spectator’ and ‘dancer’ in social or vernacular dance as a clear example not only of call-and-response, but also of the ways in which readers participate in the making of meaning in textual interpretation. (pg5)
Later on I add this:
The word ‘vernacular’ in a discussion of dance refers to the everyday or ordinary, common dance of a particular group or culture. Vernacular dance is distinguished from concert or theatre dance through its positioning in everyday spaces, rather than existing only as a formalised, and usually choreographed, performance of a particular dance on a concert stage. Vernacular dance is intrinsically participatory and happens in all sorts of spaces, both public and private. It is also necessarily mutable and reflexive, responding to the cultural needs of its performers. (pg9)

I wonder if one of the key differences between 'low' and 'high' cultural forms and practices is this issue of distance - there is (in Western culture ...?) a divide between the audience and text/practice in high art forms, whereas the 'low' forms encourage close proximity between audiences and texts - you have only to consider the Big Brother website and voting system to see how particular industries and textual forms encourage audiences to get close to texts. If only so that they can be more easily targetted by advertisers.

It can't be an accident that high art forms like ballet and opera have trouble keeping audience numbers up, and that various marketing strategies that aim to make these sorts of forms more approachable to wider audiences are at once endorsed, yet also regarded with some suspicion by those sections of our community which have a vested interest in maintaining social heirarchies.

...there's a good article by Joann Kealiinohomoku on reading ballet as an 'ethnic' dance that examines how race and class work in high and low art form (and in anthropological approaches to 'culture' and 'society'): Kealiinohomoku, Joann. "An Anthropologist Looks at Ballet as a Form of Ethnic Dance." What Is Dance? Readings in Theory and Criticism. Eds. Roger Copeland and Marshall Cohen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983. 533 - 49.

"the tyranny of distance: audiences and performers/texts in high and low art forms" was posted in the category academia and djing and lindy hop and other dances and music

August 7, 2006

the researcher in their work: natural passions

Posted by dogpossum on August 7, 2006 10:10 AM

I really need to get on and do some work, but I did want to write a tiny bit about how our own interests and passions motivate our research. So, for example, I'm a keen lindy hopper, and this lead (eventually) to my writing about lindy hoppers.
This point was brought to my attention in class last week when a student blushed and declared embarassment for his passion for an 'uncool' film star. I took this as a neat opportunity to talk about people like Matt Hills and Jenkins and other fan studies doods, pointing out the idea that much of audience studies research - fan studies in particular - begins with the author's own interets. In the simplest terms, our attention is caught because we give a shit about the topic. And is kept because we're passionate about the things and people we are writing about. So being dismissive of someone's interests simply because they're 'low brow' isn't terribly productive.

But I do think it's a strength to write from what you know, or rather, from what you care about. Whether you're writing about a favourite telly program or about women and capitalism. I feel that bias is a strength, if only because it serves as sufficient motivation to get us through a massive research project like a PhD or a book.

I don't have time to go on into detail about this, but there's a chunk of lit talking about the ethical and methodological issues which attend writing from 'inside' the community you're studying.

Some of the most interesting is from dance studies. Check out this nice quote:

I am an anthropologist, but I am also a dancer and I begin my investigation of gender in ballet by using my dance experiences as a case study… I adopt this approach because it allows me to shift between my memories and comments as a dancer and my analysis as an anthropologist, in a sense using autobiography as fieldwork data.

The researcher…is an essential component of all research. …It is important to take account of the fact that I (the researchers/interviewer) was an active agent in the research setting, attempting to make sense of and contributing to the dancers’ discussions about an activity that is not bound by verbal language. I would contend that my intervention in the … process was enabling rather than, as an objectivist approach would argue, a hindrance to the research. … the idea inherent in an objectivist framework that the researcher is an invisible being who drops into and reveals the practices and ways of others (the researched) becomes redundant, in favour of a reflexivity of accounts. …this does not mean that the project should be full of ‘soul searching’ or ‘navel gazing’. It entails, rather, that the researcher reveal or uncover his/her grounds for speaking; that he/she should be reflexive on the context, methods and procedures adopted and at the same time, enable the voices of the researched to speak (35 - 76).

(Novack, Cynthia J. "Ballet, Gender and Cultural Power." Dance, Gender and Culture. Ed. Helen Thomas. London: Macmillan, 1993. 34-48).

I've written in greater detail about this in my thesis, combining fan studies stuff and dance studies stuff, with an emphasis on feminist and African American writers in the latter. In fact, a significant portion of my argument throughout my work is devoted to the notion of participation in discourse, where dance is discourse, and participation is not only important, but non-verbal.

...ok, I have to run. I'll see if I can write more later...

"the researcher in their work: natural passions" was posted in the category academia

August 4, 2006

oh yeah

Posted by dogpossum on August 4, 2006 6:57 PM

And I had my paper approved for the CSAA conference (read about it here). I didn't unfortunately, score the bursary/grant thingy. Which means that it'll be next to impossible for me to get to the conference to give the paper. Got no money for airfares, no money for conference registration, no money, no money, o.

The scholarship ends on the 19th, which is ok, as the thesis is totally done (did I mention that? I'd like to say there's been some quiet triumph in our house ever since, but The Squeeze says it's more the fact that there's been a significant increase in shouting, carousing and declarative one-stanze (one-line) songs about how great the Ham is). But it does mean that I now, officially, have no income.

Oh, no, wait. I'm tutoring like total tutoring stooge instead. I am taking sixty million classes in a media studies subject (best not to name it, as the little darlings are a wee bit internet savvy, and google will get me in trouble... note to self: do not mention thesis topic ever again in class), so I almost have enough money to cover my PT tickets.

There are some good bits of this, and some crap.

I love teaching. I think it's a power thing. I goddamn LOVE being in front of an audience, and I LOVE to talk, so it's all good. But I have been practicing Shutting Up this semester, which is hard, but rewarding: we have dialogues rather than monologues.
I love teaching media stuff: who doesn't have something to say about telly or books or magazines or the internet?
I learn a lot. Ask me about CD next time we meet. Your brain will be blown.
It gets me out of the house.

It costs a lot to get there.
I can't ride my bike and I miss it.
I'm overworked and exploited.
I'm really really tired.

Anyway, I'd like to go to the conference, but can't afford it. Looks like academia is for rich kids, huh?

"oh yeah" was posted in the category academia

July 30, 2006

"Emma Dawson: Left out of debate by convoluted speaking"

Posted by dogpossum on July 30, 2006 1:24 PM

Is this headline more than a comment on Emma Dawson feeling excluded, or the Left's irrelevence to public discourse?

In recent days there’s been an ongoing discussion about this article in the Australian by Emma Dawson. My responses to both the original article and the responding discussion on the CSAA list have been mixed. In that article, Dawson discusses her personal response to a notice for the Everyday Multiculturalism conference to be held at Macquarie Uni in Sydney in September.

First, my response to Dawson’s article was a little different to some of the comments on the CSAA list. While I did feel a little uncomfortable with the way Dawson’s critique of academic terminology, in the context of the Australian served as a critique of ‘the left’, I’m not sure this was how she intended her words be read. My first instinct was ‘oh, she’s not comfortable with acka talk.’ That she positioned herself as a Phd candidate encouraged me to sympathise with her, reading her feelings of exclusion as a result, perhaps of her inexperience with academia.

Listening to this ABC podcast on media ownership legislation in Canada today, my memory was jogged in regards to where I’d heard of Dawson before. I remembered this story on the ABC’s Media Report on the introduction of advertising on public broadcasters, featuring Dawson as a special guest discussing SBS in light of her Phd reseach and experience with the station. I remember thinking that Dawson was one of the ‘good guys’.

I decided to follow up some of my feelings about her article and CSAA discussion by reading up on Dawson a little further. I discovered that she’s written for the New Matilda, a lefty online magazine, and that she’s doing work on SBS, and had worked at SBS as a journalist.

With this in mind, I’m leaning towards the suspicion that Dawson’s article on lefty academic talk was perhaps read in context, by many on the CSAA list (and beyond), taken as one point in a series of critiques of lefty ideology and discourse, rather than as a distinct piece discussing the intimidating and off-putting nature of academic talk. This is not an unlikely response – the Australian opinion pages are rife with lefty/academic bashing these days.

This fascinates me as an example of the ways in which we take context – the newspaper in which an article is positioned, the recent articles on a similar topic, using similar terms and ‘buzz words’ (or making similar selections from a shared interpretive repertoire, to reference Potter and Wetherall), even the placement of an article on a page (or screen), in relation to other pieces – in our readings of meaning and ideological ‘intention’. In fact, this stuff fascinated me so much I wrote my MA on similar stuff.

Setting aside those issues of form and text and context which appeal to my critical discourse analysis side, perhaps it’s worth engaging with the issues Dawson actually raises in her piece – her opinion piece?

Perhaps Dawson was encouraging lefty academics to engage more thoroughly with everyday discourse by using everyday discourse?

As some posters to the CSAA list noted, that’s not such a bad idea. And yet, on the other hand, as others responded (and I myself feel), sometimes we need to use big words. Sometimes we need to get together and use big words. And academic conferences seem the most appropriate place for this sort of talk. After all, we wouldn’t expect a doctor to abandon the technical terms of their profession to discuss medical matters with their peers at a conference, would we?

Dawson, however, seems justified in expecting a conference on ‘everyday multiculturalisms’ to use everyday language. It’s unfortunate that the ‘everyday language’ of academia can be so impenetrable. Speaking as a (just about to submit) Phd candidate with quite a few years as a postgraduate researcher under my belt, I do actually think that it is a little naïve for a postgrad to expect an academic conference to use un-academic discourse. I mean, these are complex issues that we are dealing with, and at times we need complex language and conceptual tools to put them together or take them apart.

I wonder, though, if Dawson is a journalism student, rather than a cultural studies student, and has perhaps run into one of the most irritating stumbling blocks in world of ‘media studies’? I remember a one-day conference I attended in Brisbane in the early days of my MA (1998? 1999?) called Media Wars where I first ran into Keith Windshuttle, and was infuriated by his nasty attacks on my (then and now) hero Graybags Turner – it wasn’t the nicest introduction to the tensions between journalism and cultural studies. Though my impression that journalism (as the old kid on the block) seemed particularly threatened by media and cultural studies remains (or perhaps that was just Windshuttle’s problem with Turner… threatened by his gentle manner? His friendliness? Or perhaps his stone-washed jeans?*). It seems to me that there are many journalists and journalism academics who have a great deal of trouble with the methods and language of cultural studies. Not trouble in that they don’t understand it or aren’t capable of understanding it, but trouble in that it signifies a profound deviation from traditional quantifiable approaches to the media that sits so uneasily with many workers in the field.

So perhaps Dawson was thinking that a conference titled ‘Everyday multiculturalism’, would be using the everyday language of an academic discipline with which she was familiar? And when she read the call for papers, felt uncertain of her ability to participate in the discourse (though I do think she has a great deal to offer the discussions, particularly in regards to multicultural television). She wrote:

The call for papers started like this: "Papers ... will engage with the quotidian dimensions of living with diversity. Quotidian diversity has variously been described as togetherness-in-difference (Ang 2000), and inhabiting difference (Hage 1998). We take the term to mean those perspectives on cultural diversity which recognise the embodied or inhabited nature of living with cultural difference."

The elite intellectual language discouraged me from proposing a paper, and the very idea was firmly quashed by the suggestion that: "Papers which take an embodied approach, such as through frameworks such as affect or Bourdieu's habitus are also particularly welcome."

I am a PhD student in the field and have published several (admittedly non-academic) articles on cultural diversity. However, this sort of gobbledygook leaves me cold.

And then she wrote:
Lest I be sternly rebuked by fellow students and researchers, let me make it clear that I fully support rigorous scholarship and will vigorously defend the right of academics to contribute to the intellectual development of the human race at the most theoretical level. The apparently abstract and often obscure work by researchers in social sciences and cultural studies is essential to the development of ideas.
Followed by:
But this is a conference entitled Everyday Multiculturalisms, and one of its stated aims is to reflect on last December's riots in Sydney's Cronulla shire. There's nothing particularly "everyday" about the language used to invite participation. Nor is there much focus on creating work that resonates beyond intellectual circles.
(all quotes from the article referenced above).

I think Dawson makes a point. The sort of hard-core academic language in the call for papers is hardly in the vernacular of the un-university world.

But I do suspect that Dawson wrote with very little knowledge of the planning behind the conference, and that she wrote quickly without exploring the conference in any great detail (understandable for a journalist writing to a deadline).

Take this comment from Ien Ang in her post to the CSAA list:

It is a pity that Emma Dawson had chosen to single out Amanda Wise's call-for-papers text to make her points. Ironically, Amanda is one of the few people amongst us who has consistently engaged beyond academia in her work, either through public discussion or through collaborations with government or community groups. I therefore completely understand that she is upset.
(Ien Ang, email to CSAA list RE: Another attack on CS, sent: 29 July 2006 2:58:38 PM)
To explain, Wise raised the issue on the list with this email:
Any CSAA-ers want to write a letter defending us?

Another anti-left, anti-theory attack in today’s Australian, attacking the ‘Everyday Multiculturalism’ conference we are holding here at Macquarie University which a number of you are presenting at.,20867,19933096-7583,00.html

(Wise, to the CSAA list, Another attack on CS in the Oz, sent: 28 July 2006 11:11:28 AM)

I can imagine Wise’s frustration and upsetness, reading Dawson’s critique in the paper. As someone who’s in the middle of organising a massive event for my peers, there’s nothing as frustrating as mis-informed, negative criticism of your efforts when you’re working as hard as you can, not only to plan an excellent event, but to make that event as accessible and inclusive as you can. I can imagine it’s particularly trying for Wise, who’s working to produce a conference that will bring people together to discuss and workshop ideas to reduce injustice and exclusion and so on. Her email to the list was, I think, not only an interesting poke to a fairly quiet group of readers, but more importantly, a “Goddamn! Surely I don’t suck that much?” call for emotional and professional support from her peers.

Indeed, she writes:

Thanks for all this input. I was furious this morning, but have calmed down substantially! Softly, softly, I promise.

I think Greg (and others) make important points. I'll synthesise these arguments and write to her and something for the oz. Indeed; I might just invite her to give her a paper!

Its always the problem writing about the 'everyday' as you've all pointed out.

Another point to be made is that ED is quite patronising towards non-academics. We have lots of non-academics coming to this conference. They come in droves because they enjoy the stimulation of hearing fresh ideas which are theoretically informed. They are quite capable of understanding the work we present. Indeed, we deliberately pitched the conference CFP at attracting 'grounded' work; esp based on ethnographic and/or interview based approaches - so it's a conference full of accessible work.

But as Greg says; theory or otherwise, we have a perfect right as academics to congregate and discuss academic ideas in an academic forum. It is quite a separate question as to whether and how we subsequently communicate those ideas to the wider public.

Many of the speakers at our conference (including myself) are engaged in public debate through the media; through consulting with local, state and federal govt; through working community groups. We are quite capable of working at different registers. Ien Ang and Greg Nobles work (who are keynotes at the conf) is a case in point.

Thanks for the input. Lets see if the oz publishes my rebuttal op ed. I Hope you're all ok if I quote some of your emails


(RE: [csaa-forum] Another attack on CS in the Oz Sent: 28 July 2006 2:27:08 PM)

That Wise did respond so defensively is not only an indication of her own feelings as the event organiser, but of cultural studies’ researchers’ familiarity with such comments from the main stream media – “God, why don’t they understand how important my work is?” And while that might sound like a fairly snarky comment on my part, it’s a feeling that I sometimes have to stifle: why is it that we have to continually justify our work in terms that feel so limited and simplistic, when we’re working on ideas and relations that are so complex, and really do require such big words and ideas?

That’s the sort of question that various academics in our field continue to ask ourselves. Laknath Jayasinghe pointed out in their email:

In fact, this is something that Graeme Turner alluded to in a paper he delivered in 1999, arguing that--apart from the academic stuff we do--we should be doing more work in the 'public sphere', the broad public sphere, that is. I take my cue from him. I believe that we should build academic bridges, not remain on separate islands. The mass media here in Oz, from both my professional and academic experience, are open to articles and letters that take new and exciting ideas to the public--from all political positions. Of course, language must be modified and the ideas recrafted and tailored to the audience; very few allusions to Bhabha, Butler or Bourdieu here!
(Re: [csaa-forum] Another attack on CS in the Oz, sent: 28 July 2006 1:07:37 PM)

Graybags himself wrote, only minutes later:

For what it’s worth, I share Mark’s reading of it. There are real differences between attacks such as this one and that provided by Windschuttle. I think this person genuinely wanted to be informed by the conference and found that its language was alienating – and therefore suggested that maybe this is something we should think about if we want our work to have a social function. Given the topic of the conference, and its objectives, that’s not an unreasonable position. It is damaging to have it published in the Australian, and it may well be the case that its inclusion is motivated by rather less sympathetic considerations than its author’s, but we need to think carefully about this kind of stuff, take it one piece at a time, avoid characterising it as motivated by a particular pathology or orientation, and be alert to the possibility that they may actually have a genuine point with which we can engage.

A response could well admit the distance created by such language, while nonetheless defending the need for people to work through these issues in their own way and at the highest level, and suggest that while the context of the topic might be the everyday, the capacity to deal with these problems so as to fully understand them is quite clearly not something that is part of the everyday life of most people. That is where academics come in.

It might also be useful to take the lead from this piece and consider if there could be some more publicly accessible outcome from the conference that even a columnist for the Australian would not find alienating, but would find informative.

And, finally, given the regularity with which this kind of issue is raised – particularly by those writing in the Australian—it is probably helpful to be reconciled to the fact this comes with the territory of working in a critical discipline and we are always going to be called to account by those outside it. I think we can wear that responsibility.

(RE: [csaa-forum] Another attack on CS in the Oz. Sent: 28 July 2006 1:08:57 PM)
I won’t quote the emails sent by ‘Mark’ and ‘Greg’ (and others), but you get the point.

So, I think, at the end of a couple of days posting, I’m left with the following conclusions:

  • It’s crap to have your hard (community-focused) work slagged off in a very public and influential forum by someone who doesn’t appeared to have researched it properly
  • Cultural studies talk is fairly exclusive, and makes the uninitiated or unfamiliar feel dumb and excluded
  • While the previous might be the case, complex ideas need complex language tools, and then forums for their practice
  • Perhaps cultural studies researchers and writers need to do a bit of work on producing accessible descriptions of their work and ideas for the general public?

I’m not really sure how I feel about that last point. On the one hand, I do feel, very strongly, that there’s no point doing all this research if we can’t share it with everyone – not just other cultural studies stooges. Nancy Fraser has said most of the things I’d like to say about public discourse and access and exclusiory practices. She’s also made a point about feminism and theory – that we need pragmatic feminist theory to make positive feminist change in the world. I personally feel, that if we are to see more of the work and ideas of cultural studies represented in the mainstream media beyond those of a few (somewhat scary and not terribly representative) voices, we need to get scribbling.

Yet I can’t help but think: Dawson herself sounds like she’s doing the sort of work we should dig. But when she wrote what was, in itself, a fairly ‘harmless’ comment on the terms of discursive participation, she earned a serve from the Gang. Really, how useful or possible is the ‘accurate’ representation of the diversity and depth of ideas and research in cultural studies in the mainstream media?

*This was in the days before stone wash made a comeback – in that interim period between fashions.

==EDIT: Here's the first bloggage on the topic that I could find (even after scanning the CS stooge network): Tseen comments on Ivory Towers and the Everyday. I have a great deal of respect for Tseen and her work, so I might change me mind on this some time soon...==

""Emma Dawson: Left out of debate by convoluted speaking"" was posted in the category academia

July 17, 2006

Grants to Grumble

Posted by dogpossum on July 17, 2006 1:07 PM

No area was so associated with bullshit as cultural studies, where sociology and anthropology met literary criticism and produced prose that repelled the lay reader like a mouthful of Mace (Haigh The Nelson Touch: The New Censorship)
And while I find the thought of a mouthful of mace kind of interesting (I'm thinking of the Christmasy spice I use in Indian cooking and interesting baking), I can see Haigh's point.

This is a quote from an interesting article by Gideon Haigh in The Monthly - you can read it here. The article discusses the recent ARC funding fisticuffs, something I remember mostly as a fairly painful moment in academic funding where the then-Education minister Brendan Nelson apparently crossed a few applications off the funding list for having the words 'feminism', 'gay' or 'postmodern' in the title. Haigh's article The Nelson Touch The New Censorship adds a tad more detail to my memory and is well worth a read. One of the most interesting comments in the article is this one:

McCalman observes that the ripple effects are still to be reckoned with: “What this has done and will do for a long time to come will bring about self-censorship. You watch: young academics will sheer away from gender, because of the perception that it’s being monitored. The fact is that in this country we have no other form of research advancement apart from the government. And it gives them a power like no other country.”

A point which is certainly true in my case - I consciously chose not to position myself as a 'feminist researcher', despite the fact that my thesis is riddled with the words 'gender', 'sexuality', 'power', 'resistance' and so on. It simply seemed a sensible move to position myself within a different discourse. And perhaps to get all subterfuge-ey, exploiting the notion held by some male cultural studies academics, that if it's got woman in the title, it should be in women's studies rather than cultural studies.* It's actually far more exciting to think of myself as sneaking a little illicit Sisterhood into the mix.

I'm not really clued in enough to comment critically on the article, but if it quotes Gray-bags, it's worth a glance:

College of Experts member Professor Graeme Turner recalls:
At the end of 2004, there’d been a bit of an attitude from the other disciplines of: “Well, humanities people are wankers, Nelson was probably right.” But the second time, when the social sciences as well as the humanities were questioned, there were rumours that science would be scrutinised as well. Other people started saying: “What’s going on?” In fact, the position I took with people in science was to say: “What’s the position going to be in a few years on stem cell research? All you need’s a shift in the politics to be in the same position.”

*Is that bitterness you sense? Oh no. Not at all. Not one bit.

"Grants to Grumble" was posted in the category academia

June 24, 2006

recent reading

Posted by dogpossum on June 24, 2006 10:18 PM

Ok, so I haven't read that article, yet, but I have read most of this:

It's one of the most recent contriubtions to dance studies work on African American vernacular dance history, edited by Tommy DeFrantz, who does some interesting work on queer black masculinity in dance. While there's a little more emphasis on concert dance than I'm really interested in, there are also some neat articles, especially one on ring shouts which is really worth reading for a discussion of African slaves' experiences with christianity, as represented in dance.

"recent reading" was posted in the category academia and lindy hop and other dances

June 22, 2006

man, i have to lie down

Posted by dogpossum on June 22, 2006 2:43 PM

hellooooo HECs debt. Smaller than I thought, larger than I'd like, and with nasty added on bits they call 'indexation' but that I call CRAP.

Hello 189 pages of thesis for editing. Oh yes - it's back, and the supes is off, out of the country tonight so I can't get her back for all the annoying editing jobs she's give me. It's not her fault, though I don't think I could cope with any more it's-my-fault guilt.
Yeah, so anyway, she thinks it rocks, and this is the penultimate draft (penultimate draft #5 or so). Basically, I'm going to ditch the intro she got me to write a couple of weeks ago, revert to the earlier version of chapter one (pre-reccommended changes), fix up my crap intros and conclusions on each chapter, and sort out the gross conclusion to the whole thing. I'm obviously terrible at beginnings and endings. Despite all that, there are dozens of pages without any scribbles on them at all.
Basically, I'm looking at about 3 weeks of work (as predicted), then the 'final' copy will go back to her.
Thankfully, I'm a quick writer, and I'm now kicking arse at producing new stuff that's decent quickly.

We each know every word off by heart now, and are heartily sick of the whole thing. Every now and then we remind ourselves that I rock, and so we're not wasting our time. I say we, because neither of us could continue without the other to bolster our flagging spirits. Even calling each other a cocksucker didn't help.

Meanwhile, MLX6 planning continues (drupal sucks dogs' balls btw - avoid that piece of shit. we are exploring other options (including a wiki and plone), so any suggestions for easy-to-use document management/threadable discussiony type things would be appreciated).

It's cold as fuck, I haven't slept enough lately, owing to mild thesis anxiety, and I need a nap.

I'm also waiting for a cd to arrive from amazon. I can't remember what it's called, but it's a 2 or 3 cd set of remastered ellington stuf. I'm quite excited. Not that I've listened to ANY music AT ALL in at least a week. I simply haven't had time. What with all that Buffy to be watched.

On other fronts, I've lined up some tutoring for next semester, which is neat, as the scholarship ends in August, but also means a bit of work coming my way. Right when I'm ready to just Stop. But I'm very happy to be keeping in the game.

I'm also DJing Friday night, which is nice, as there's been very little of it about lately. Seems a bunch of new young guns have cottoned on to the caper. Sigh. Best be getting on with pimping myself about before I lose all of the few skills I've gained this last few months. It's kind of annoying, as I've not had a chance to test out my new headphones situation. And I'm not sure I will for a while. Oh well.

Man, I have to lie down. Even Lionel Hampton isn't keeping me alert.

"man, i have to lie down" was posted in the category academia

June 20, 2006

that big fat bottomless pit of uncritical critical theory (wherein Buffy, ibooks and a horde of cyberdykes take on The Man)

Posted by dogpossum on June 20, 2006 5:10 PM

I think this series of entries is really me logging in my reading process, as I go through an article in a journal. Tedious stuff if you're looking for a coherent, sensible argument. Interesting stuff if you're into active readership... dang. Did I give away the punch line?*

If you've already read my last entry (who am I kidding?), you might be interested in reading this - it's the McKee text I quoted. Interestingly, McKee notes that

I'm trying to encourage people to break out of their normal habits, to think about the culture they consume. I'm thinking that maybe we shouldn't just do the same thing, every day week in, week out.
....a global campaign encouraging people to boycott books for one week and to challenge you to explore new ways of passing time.

You could try talking to friends, or dancing to some music. You could even watch some television!'

Do you like the way McKee lists some of my most favourite things there? And how, for me, these are the cultural practices in the forefront of my mind? Will I dance? Will I stay home and watch telly? Will I talk with friends while watching telly? Will I read? Oh, dilemma, dilemma.

I still feel, even though I love telly and understand all those arguments about high/low culture, loving mass culture for its own goodness, that perhaps encouraging people to 'turn off their telly' for a week is not a bad thing. And not just because it saves power.**

Look, I'm getting off-track now, and I still haven't read that article, but really, why am I so bothered by McKee's comments? Surely it's not just because it seems to have toppled into that big fat bottomless pit of uncritical critical theory which seems to dogg me at every conference***?

Geez. I wonder if all this confusion and brow-furrowing on my part is really just a result of watching too much Buffy and Angel, where there seems to be an eternal tension between 'old knowledge' and 'new knowledge', namely in the persons of Willow (read: Witch/feminist/lesbian/macslut****/hawt young thing with irritating approach to slang English) and Giles/Wesley (read: Watchers' council/patriarchy/booknerds)?***** Probably.

and CRAP, where is the INTERNET in all this book v telly crap? I mean, geez, hasn't anyone read that thing about media convergence yet?****** Or is that as totally uncool as globalisation/global media now?*******

*this was meant to be a joke where I linked to a post by a local Aussie acblog, but I can't find the link now. Sorry. It was funny and clever. Was.

**this is where I link to what I'm thinking of as the 'sequel' to the save water campaign in Melbourne. I'm kind of interested in the ramifications of this power campaign. I like the whole 'you have the power' plug (so to speak) - it makes me laugh to think of how this switching off unnecessary power soures is kind of functioning as an incitement to quit consuming... vig gov goes socialist? I wonder how origin feels about all this?

*** Hell if I'll name names - these doods seem to be so online I'll totally get busted. But you know who I'm talking about. Don't you? They tend to be a bit slow to engage in any satisfying way with issues of race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc, beyond glib book titles and throw away lines. And they love that new media.
Though, frankly, who doesn't love that new media?

****Go on, tell me you didn't find Willow's steady progression to the world of macdom just a little bit signficant to her appeal as thinking-woman's-hero/hawt-young-dyke/Wicced-kewl young thing? Go on, admit it - you just love to see a slightly-undernourished-young-academic-sexually-ambigious-mildly-androgenous-gingah sporting those sexy safety-corner apple products. you bet your i-life you do! know that we've been sitting here on the couch the past few months quietly noting her progression from ugly, clunky pc desktops in Ms Calender's class to her clunky oldskool macbook, and now are waiting (somewhat breathlessly) for her ibook to appear. But be assured - I will blog it as soon as it appears.

*****off-the-top-of-my-head reference: Blind Date in Angel season one, where Cordy scoffs at Wesley's slooow old school bookteck, while kicking his arse in the research stakes with her computer, and yet also spending 1 hour and 40 minutes on the phone to Willow who has also been decrypting files all day (ref for the Buffy parallel eps where that goes down - the Yoko Factor and Primeval). Though, really, if I was Cordy at that moment, and considering Willow's recent Outing at that point in season 4 of Buff, there's plenty to talk about - at least 1 hour and 40 minutes' worth.

******Wait til you read my thesis. It's right there in Chapter 5:DJing as the convergence of media forms and practices in embodied dance discourse

*******Chapters 2 through 6.

Post Script

You might be interested in this issue of the CSAA newsletter, three articles down, where Greg Noble writes about "A cultural studies anti-canon?" Speaking as someone who did an MA on newspapers (how uncool! how ...analogue of me!), this caught my attention...

NB the whole mac thing - you know that I'm making a joke about how mac has so totally scored with its marketing towards my demographic with the whole white/safety corners/block colour thing, right? Right?

"that big fat bottomless pit of uncritical critical theory (wherein Buffy, ibooks and a horde of cyberdykes take on The Man)" was posted in the category academia and books and clicky and lindy hop and other dances and television

go read this, too!

Posted by dogpossum on June 20, 2006 3:03 PM

Yesterday my latest copies of Continuum came yesterday. They're part of my CSAA (or is it ANZCA?) membership deal. I tend to be slack keeping up with latest journals, but this whole posting-of-journals to me has meant I'm a little bit more up to date than I usually would be.
Last night I was reading through the tables of contents, and came across the article Social Capital Theory, Television, and Participation by Steven Maras. Now I've only skimmed the abstract and first couple of pages (and I must go back to it), but my attention was caught by this text quoted in the article:

Viewing and reading are themselves uncorrelated - some people do lots of both, some do little of either - but 'pure readers' (that is, people who watch less TV than average and read more newspapers than average) belong to 76 percent more civic organizations than 'pure watchers' (controlling for education, as always). Precisely the same pattern applies to other indicators of civic engagement, including social trust and voting turnout. 'Pure readers,' for example, are 55 percent more trusting than 'pure viewers'.

In other words, each hour spent viewing television is associated with less social trust and less group membership, while each hour reading a newspaper is associated with more. (Putnam, 1996)

Provocative, no? Now, before you fly off and rumble out a counter/supporting argument, keep in mind the fact that Maras' article actually begins with a bit of talk about Alan McKee and his reponse to 'turn off a TV week':

But why only television, and not books? When I first heard about the campaign to 'turn off TV', I tried to work out the logic behind it - but any reason you come up with for encouraging people to turn off TV works just as well for books, or many other parts of our everyday cultural lives. (McKee, 2002)

Now, I actually have more problems with McKee's points than Putnam's. Firstly, I think that the idea of 'turning off the TV' for a week is not so much an argument (in my mind, as I'd use it) for literally saying 'no!' to telly or to a particular cultural practice, but an argument for encouraging us to think more creatively about the things we a) do for fun, and b) do, cultural practice-wise.

There are many arguments which support this sort of reading of the phrase, from 'get some exercise' to 'read a book' or 'quit consuming, stooge!'. I agree, turning off the TV isn't such a great end in itself (I'm all for telly and its social and cultural uses), particularly when I think of all the dancers I know who spend their time either in front of a screen (watching telly or playing on the computer) or on the dance floor. In my opinion, neither is particularly conducive to excellent interpersonal skills in immediate, embodied social interaction. Nor are either in themselves bad. I think my point is that we need to get diversity up us.

But Putnam's comment is kind of problematic as well. 'Reading' is kind of a blanket term, as is 'viewer', let alone pure (in either case). No one is a 'pure' reader or viewer - we are totally into diversity in our media consumption. Again, I think Putnam's point (working just from this initial quote) should perhaps be countered with a bunch of questions about 'what sorts of newspapers did they read?' and 'did they read them online, or are you just talking paper?' (to be fair - his article does predate the internet thingy) and 'what sorts of telly do they watch?' and 'do they watch alone - what is the context for their viewing?'. The latter is particularly imporant, especially when you keep in mind people like Galaxy, who is both a prodigous reader and viewer.

But I'm running on ahead of myself. I haven't read the article yet, nor do I proof-read my blog entries or work on them for ages before publishing. I'm just pointing out the article, noting the bits in the first 2 pages (literally) that caught my eye. I will, however, be reading this very soon. After (my increasingly late) lunch, perhaps.

But this article caught my eye because I'd just been thinking about doing television studies as an academic. Frankly, I'd be crap at it, simply because I don't watch enough telly. My previous post on my media consumption kind of points that out - that I'm writing about my sudden increase in telly -viewing points that out (I think I was also trying to say something about cross-media ideology and patterns of consumption in reference to the ABC, but I didn't quite manage to articulate it). Mostly because I spend a lot of time doing other stuff.

But then, this argument also applies to dance. If I spent more time practicing and working on dancing, I'm sure I'd be much 'better'. I'd certainly be fitter, which helps. But, you know, there are these other things to do. Television to be watched and all. I wonder if, to be truly good at something, you need to totally submerge yourself in it?

And then, of course, there comes the issue of whether or not an obsessive interest in a particular cultural practice is conducive to community-mindedness. Well, yes, it's possible (esp in the case of dancing), though your notion of 'community' might be quite specific. And when I watch a lot of telly (esp the ABC), hell I get some politics up me, what with actually knowing what's going on in the world.

So it's an interesting idea. Perhaps, rather than saying 'don't watch telly' (which is how McKee seemed to have interpreted 'turn off the TV week', rather than as 'hey, try some new stuff this week'), we should say 'don't turn off your brain'. Which of course brings us back to one of the oldest stories in the cultural studies book. Can you say encoding/decoding or Stuart Hall? We aren't passive consumers of media. I like to think of us as media users and I definitely like the phrase 'cultural practice', because it suggests that we do stuff with media, rather than just stooging it up.
Which I guess is McKee's point, ultimately.

So, with these initial (and obviously circular and somewhat misinformed) comments, where am I going with this? Heck, I think it's time to read the article.

"go read this, too!" was posted in the category academia

June 16, 2006

weekly round-up

Posted by dogpossum on June 16, 2006 2:39 PM

Today is a kind of day out of time for me. The thesis is with the Supes, to be looked at later on (and to be talked about next Thursday). Next week I'm going to get into all the annoying administrative bits of submitting a thesis - cover sheets, descriptions, forms, etc. But this week (ie the last 2 or 3 days, incuding today) I've given myself leave to do whatever I like. That means:

  • obsessing about the MLX6 site. I have some neat stuff from our Arty Team (ie Kylee and Scotti - designer and scribbler respectively), and a good plan for the site. But this week was all about designy stuff - trying to make the logo work with the practical functions of the site. Or, in other words, laying it all out on the page in a pretty and yet usable way. Eek.
  • finishing off some sewing jobs that really needed doing (PJs for The Squeeze - bad wobot, altering my lovely plum stretch needle cord trousers so they're not mega bags, finishing off a neat black (with white arm-stripes, red wrist-cuffs and big red cross on the front) fleece jumper - fleece is neat. I promise to post some sort of pictures at some point. This last jumper was black, white and red in an attempt to be Serious and Grown Up (esp after my pink and red fleece hello-kitty lined hood fleecy cardigan thing), but ended up looking like something Dennis teh Menace would wear:

    I like to imagine that I am, in fact, a comic book hero when I'm burning down Sydney Rd, dodging cars and yelling "BAM!" under my breath* like Frida: Frida.jpgShe does actually yell "BAM!" and she's probably shouting "YEAH!" in a loud, Swedish-American accent in that photo.

  • discovering last-minute thesis jobs and FREAKING out about them
  • actually submitting my Intention to Submit form (yes, I know - it's madness. But you have to give them 3 months to find you 3 markers or else you delay the return of your thesis post-marking), with abstract, thesis title (what? you mean I have to name this thing before it's even finished gestating? what?!). I can't remember what that was. No, wait, I've found it:

    Hepfidelity: Swing dance and the role of digital media in embodied practice


  • And... what else have I done? Oh, I went to see Dave Chappelle's Block Party, where there were 4 of us in the cinema - me and 3 teenage/first year boys. I laughed at the Huxtable jokes, they laughed at the hip hop references. Cultural capital for all.

So it's been an ok week. I feel a bit lost, but still. I've also been looking for work. Yeah, right. Let's not talk about THAT.

Anyhoo** here are two interesting things to read:

  • this blog called avant game, which is a far more interesting games studies blog than any I've ever read before
  • and B's entries on meditation, starting here which are quite a lovely read.

I especially like this bit:
Upon returning to Alice Springs, I kept up my practice, and found other people to meditate with from time to time. One group that met on Sunday afternoons was a small Sangha group. It was held in the artist’s workshop out back of the house of one of the members. Although I was not really studying Buddhism, they were always welcoming, and it was a pleasure to sit with them for a half hour in that quiet room, and feel their energy.
I really like this idea of being part of a group while meditating. Meditationg, martial arts and other inwards-looking practices like yoga or Thi Chi can often be seriously inward-looking, or in-the-body. To such an extent that they can affect your outward-looking interactions with others***. I am really interested in the idea of being-in-the-body and inward-focussed, and yet to still be aware of and part of a group or partnership. It's an idea I'd like to explore a little more. Particularly when you keep in mind that African American vernacular dance - vernacular dance is about being part of a group, about social context, and about call-and-response between dance partners, between dancers on the floor, between musicians and dancers, and between dancers and audiences. Being seriously inwards-looking is kind of not so great in a social dance situation where the dance is all about conversations with others...

* I'm brave, but not that brave.
**that was for you, Galaxy - I'm crazily aware of it now. But I think of a friend called Dave who says it a lot. He's probably referencing the Simpsons, but I'm referencing an insanely good dancer who's also a Thai Chi master country boy.
***it's not uncommon for hardcore martial arts people or yogis to be quite terrible partner dancers because they're so focussed internally, they are so good at responding with their bodies, they're not so good at responding with their bodies in relation to others, as a partnership.

"weekly round-up" was posted in the category academia and lindy hop and other dances and people i know and yoga

May 5, 2006

taking a cat for a walk: DJing and phenomenological media studies

Posted by dogpossum on May 5, 2006 2:48 PM

I'm addressing some interesting points Brian raise in the comments to the unexpectedly entry from a couple entries ago.

Brian writes in that comment:

That of course leads on to the big question is: “Is playing a small amount of non-swing music at a swing event a major problem.” The smarty pants answer would be, just play some Neo. My real answer is I don’t know. What I to know is that to put a non-swing song in your set and for it to go down will with all the dancers takes a lot of skill. I find you must first make sure all the classic hard core dancers are happy and maybe even some of them left (gone outside) the room. Play some hardcore classic songs in a row of upper tempo and you should achieve this. Then it’s a matter is checking if those “non-swing mood group are in the room and ready to dance. You then need to make the transition and then comes the non-swing song. And hey the songs selection is like bringing a cat for a walk.

This section really interested me. That's a really clever approach. I'd been thinking "there's no way I'm every playing neo because I hate it". But this scheme offers me a new approach. It reminds me of Trev's comment here on Swing Talk where he says:

Yes, the 'wave'!

I was using it last night (will post set soon) - although lately i've been more brutal with my tempo changes - it's great for shaking things up, and avoids things "sounding all the same".

Don't be afraid to drop in a fast, high energy one when you have the floor full at medium. I'm not talking crazy fast, but something around 190-210bpm. The folks that are into it will be hanging out for it, and if you keep the tempos too low (to keep the floor full) they will get bored/lazy. Even if you only get 2 couples dancing to a fast song, you get the benefits of:
a) lifting the energy/enthusiasm of the room even if they don't dance; b) inspiring others to get better go they can do it too. It's not the same for everyone, but when I was new watching a high-energy dance motivated me to keep at;
c) sending people to the bar to spend their $ on the venue!

If you do it right, the room will be buzzing, and you can follow up with something at around 150 and everyone will be right back into it.

I generally wouldn't play more that 2 fast tempo songs in a row. People start getting pissed if they don't want to/can't dance fast, and tired if they've been dancing to it.

(NB the setlist he's referring to is here, though I'm not sure which setlist he means)). For a description of 'the wave' check out this thread on swingdjs.

... ok, so now to address the point.

Basically, both Trev and Brian are suggesting that the DJ use the 'wave' - which is a way of describing the general 'flow' of mood in the room, to provoke a particular response from dancers. It's hard to explain how it works with dancers, but

I've just been reading some fascinating articles referring to David Seamon's book A Geography of the Lifeworld where he describes exactly this phenomeon - people making a space 'place' by repeated actions and social interaction. So, everyday a man makes a coffee shop 'place' by rising at 8, walking to the coffee shop, buying a paper, ordering a poached egg and coffee, eating and reading til 9 when he walks on to work. The man comments that he is only made aware of how 'comforting' and 'warm' this cafe space is when the series of actions is interrupted by something like the paper being sold out.

Seamon talks about this as people becoming aware of their 'precognitive' behaviour only when it's interrupted. In other words, he's interested in what happens when people are made conscious of the stuff they do habitually in particular spaces to make those spaces a 'place'.
This phenomenological stuff really makes me laugh, because they write like no one has ever thought to investigate what happens when you make people aware of their unconscous habits. When of course, any physiotherapist, yoga instructor or dance teacher spends all their working hours helping people develop a 'body awareness', where they become conscious of the things they do habitually with their bodies and muscles.

but anyway...
That theory seems particularly relevent to this discussion of DJing, because DJs are basically people who develop the skills to manipulate the mood of a room full of dancers so as to get them all dancing. I've been absolutely fascinated, as a noob DJ, by the way the choices I make in playing songs and combining songs can affect the mood of a crowded room. While, as a dancer, I respond unconsciously to the music, either getting really 'high' with uptempo, upenergy music, or getting really 'low', and moderating my dancing (my unconscious movements and social behaviour), as a DJ, I've had to become conscious of this process and figure out how it works.
It's important to note that 'precognitive' behaviour is essential to skilled partner dancing. I'm frequently reminding myself 'stop thinking!' and 'just follow!'. It's like driving a manual car - you suddenly reach a point when you're learning where the combination of accelerator, clutch, gear stick, etc becomes unconscious. And when you're suddenly made conscious of this process, it often stuffs up.
Leading, however, can be more comfortably 'cognitive' than following as you are planning and determining the course of the dance. I have found, though, that the best dances, the most effective ones, where I really use my centre to move their centre, are the ones where I relax and 'just move my body' naturally, rather than 'trying to lead' in order to effect weight changes which in turn move the follow's weight - effecting their weigh changes.

So when Trev talks about manipulating the wave (ie developing a 'mood' or 'vibe' in the room, or, to use Seamon's approach, making a space 'place' through playing music which will provoke particular social responses through dance), Brian talks about exploiting the wave/dancers' response to the wave to sneak in songs which are potentially going to 'break' the wave. So he plays 'risky' songs (like neo) after a couple of faster, old school swinging jazz traacks, so that he can exploit the old school fans' taking time out for a break to slip in some neo. So the potential 'risk' of playing the neo stuff is ameliorated.

Trev also talks about 'breaking' the wave constructively by making quicker transitions between tempos - dropping in a fast one, even if the floor was full at slower tempos, then dropping the tempo down again to 'recover' and pick up the dancers who've stepped off the floor for that fast song. And, incidentally, giving those who danced the faster song a break.

This is fascinating shit, because it all reveals how important it is as a DJ to be a dancer, but perhaps more importantly, to consciously recognise how dancers respond to combinations of songs and musical moods to manipulate the mood of the room, but also to 'please everyone'. I adore this approach because of the way it contrasts with the comment "you can't please everyone" a DJ (whose work doesn't impress me at all) said to me recently. This comment 'you can't please everyone' seems (in the case of this DJ) to serve as justification for not attempting to work the room and 'wave'. Or rather, to me it seems like this DJ made this comment because they are simply unaware of these issues. Which holds true with their dancing, where they are similarly 'unaware' of other dancers in the immediate vicinity, unable to 'feel' their partners' weight changes, and have a propensity for rough leads.

In my own DJing, however, I've recently discovered that I can actually keep the floor full for the entire set, at a 100% strike rate. This usually means playing mid-tempo songs, and not taking any 'risks'. Yet one of the results of this approach is that some of the dancers (mostly that hardcore, experienced group), while they're dancing every song and enjoying themselves, really want me to play some faster songs as well.
I've been a bit tentative about doing this, as the numbers on the floor immediately drop when faster songs are played (though I have noticed that they pick up or don't drop if the song is very swingy and good quality). One thing I have learnt, as Trev has pointed out, is that it's ok to drop the numbers for a song or two. I've also found that if the floor does empty (for any reason, whether the song was fast, or you've played a dud) there are ways to fill it again - I have a few 'safety songs' which will always fill the floor. So it's ok to play fast songs, empty the floor, and then fill it again. As Trev has pointed out, playing the odd faster song will, while people stand out for a song or too, actually pump up the energy in the room. And, as Brian points out, it also gives you an opportunity to play something that group of experienced, old school faster dancers wouldn't dance to anyway, even if they weren't standing on the sidelines strugging to breathe.

Another trick that Brian has noted before, is that if you do take the tempos up really high, you can actually raise the overall tempos when you play the next song. So if you find the room is stuck at about 140bpm, playing something at 200, while it may clear the room for those 3 minutes, will actually make it possible for you to follow up with something at 160 or 180, because it feels so much slower, comparatively, people get out there and dance. So allowing you to up the general tempo of the room, and change the overall wave.

I have noticed, however, that while you can raise the tempos generally, you will have to bring them down again eventually, as people's energy and stamina wears out. I had previously been obsessed with getting tempos up and keeping there, as if 200bpm was my ultimate goal. Now I realise that it's about varying tempos over the course of the night - the wave is a wave, and not just an incline. The trick is, of course, managing these crests and troughs without dropping the energy and tempos prematurely.

So DJing is a really interesting way of putting into practice that phenomenological approach to media use in everyday spaces.

NB when we say 'bpm', we mean 'beats per minute'. The average speed of house or 'dance' music is 120bpm. The average tempo for dancing lindy in the 1930s was 180bpm. I can follow comfortably up to 180bpm, then I have to work harder. I can lead comfortably up to about 160. 20s Charleston, however, requires faster tempos - over 200 is average. Over 300 is 'fast'. We can dance to such high tempos in lindy because the music 'swings' - it doesn't feel like you're rushing, and in fact really swinging songs feel slower than they are. Which helps to keep you relaxed, as you can't dance fast if you're freaking. 20s charleston, however, is usually danced to 'dixie' or jazz from the 20s, which predates swing, and has a different timing - 1-2, 1-2, 1-2 rather than 1-2-3-4, 5-6-7-8.
FYI: 180bpm is more than 3 steps per second, as we actually make 10 weight changes (or steps) in the basic lindy rhythm and Swing Out (fundamental step of lindy).

"taking a cat for a walk: DJing and phenomenological media studies" was posted in the category academia and djing and lindy hop and other dances and music and yoga

April 21, 2006


Posted by dogpossum on April 21, 2006 5:47 PM

Look! It's Frowy!

I like the thought of John Frow attacking anyone (though if anyone could provoke a gentle lefty acka to the offensive, it'd be our Fearless Leader).

Go read that article. It's interesting. And it demonstrates why Howard could have done with at least one humanities subject under his belt: my first years could see how he's exposed his ignorance.

"hey!" was posted in the category academia

December 6, 2005

busy busy

Posted by dogpossum on December 6, 2005 10:46 AM

and because I have plenty to blog about, does that mean I'm doing any blogging...?

I have, however, been busybusy with the thesis (I've probably jinxed it now) - the first two chapters have now been re-edited (come on down draft #3!), I've written a first (craptastic) version of chapter six, and I'm now going through chapters four and five, re-editing. I'm finding it tricky keeping the whole thesis in my head - I keep losing track of what the whole thing is about. I do need to go through and make it all answer this basic question:

How do swing dancers use electronic media in their embodied practices? It's actually a pretty good question, and one I can answer. I just keep forgetting - I get caught up in the details.

chapter 2: Afro-American vernacular dance in the 1930s and before.
Electronic media isn't really used in embodied practice. I talk about embodied dance as discourse, and vernacular dance as being in every part of everyday life - so it is a medium in itself. I introduce the idea of cultural transmission in dance.

chapter 3: contemporary swing dance culture.
I take up the idea of cultural transmission in dance, positioning contemporary swing dancers as on the receiving end of transmission from the Afro-American vernacular dance tradition. I introduce the idea of the recreationist myth and its use in swing culture. I discuss the various ways swing dance today is mediated - by studios and classes; by electronic media. Then I discuss specific examples of the way certain moves and traditions in swing dance have been taken up by contemporary swing dance communities around the world, in different ways. In these moments, I take issues of gender and sexuality as case studies. So I'm introducing the idea of local difference within a global culture.

This chapter is good, and kind of important, but as you can see, it's also kind of a mess.

chapter 4: AV media.
I haven't gotten to this one yet. But I do know I'm looking at three stages in the development of the contemporary swing dancing community, defined by three types of media. This suggests that particular media forms and their use are central to and also indicative of social and cultural change within a community.
So, we have the first stage - archival film and its use in the 1980s revivalist moment. Then we have the second - 'official' videos (instructional; mementos for camps, etc) and the development of local community identity. And finally we have digital clips and the rise of a localised global community.
I also discuss gender and sexuality in this chapter, but not to a great extent.
It's easy to answer the question 'how do swing dancers use electronic media in their embodied practices?' in this chapter.

chapter 5: DJing
This is a bit of a big mess, but I have lots of things to say. I talk about the increasing complexity and diversity in cultural practice within a community as that community gets older, and develops inter-community networks. So I'm paralleling cultural diversity with global community participation, yet still emphasising the essential nature of embodied practice and (consequently) local community practice and identity. I use discussions of the SwingDJs board in this, as well as some references to Swing Talk and other discussion boards.
I talk about the professional development of individual DJs within the Melbourne scene, and parallel that with the development of the Melbourne scene as an increasingly globalised community. I also discuss the role of gender and class and other identity markers in the rise of a professional DJing role, and also in individual DJs' experiences as DJs in local and global swing culture.

Again, it's not difficult to answer the question 'how do swing dancers use electronic media in their embodied practices', it's just that the chapter is kind of busy....

chapter 6: Dance schools and other institutions
This was going to be a chapter about camps and exchanges, but I found I had very little to actually say about camps and exchanges that was actually addressing my Question, but that I did have a lot to say about the role of institutions in swing culture. I'm not sure if this chapter will stay here, at the end, or if it'll go back to the beginning somewhere. I kind of like it here, because it sums up all the other chapters, explaining the way DJing, AV media and embodied dance practice are all managed discursively by schools. I emphasise the commodification of swing dance in contemporary Melbourne swing culture, thus indicating its mediation by schools. I also discuss the role of emailed newsletters, school websites and other 'official' discourse and texts, and the ways in which they mediate embodied dance practice.
This is perhaps the most interesting chapter of all, and also the most obviously political. Here, I'm attempting to address the conflicts between profit-oriented, old-school captialism and a communitarian rhetoric. I'm also interested in the way the revivalist myth (ie the idea that swing dancees have to be revived at all) is employed by schools and other institutions as justification for their activities, particularly their business activities.
I also make a clear argument about the way a school-as-a-business employs pedagogic principles - the significance of institutional heirarchies and heirchical orderings of knowledge; the neglect of alternative teaching and learning practices; the encouragement of heirarchies within a body of students which encourages them to consume - to buy - more classes, rather than to explore experiential learning. In other words, I'm interested in why schools are bound to push classes as the most valid form of learning, and congruently neglect the learning opportunities presented by social dancing.
I'm facinated by the role of emailed newsletters and websites (where there is no dialogue) in this process (developing and securing a market for a product), and the alternative offered by Swing Talk as an institution. I do not suggest that Swing Talk is necessarily any 'better' than the schools, as institutions go, but I do argue that it employs different strategies, has a different 'dominant' ethos or ideology, and functions in different ways than the schools. It is still, however, a site where ideas about dancing are managed cooperatively and in reference to existing social and cultural heirarchies within the community.
I get so close to talking about public spheres here, it's not funny.

So the thesis is going well. It's all interesting. It's kind of a mess, but I'm working on that. I aim to get through all these chapters, then send them to my second supervisor to get her to read through it all. Then I write chapter 1 (the introduction) and the conclusion.
Then I begin rewriting all over again!

"busy busy" was posted in the category academia

October 27, 2005

peanuts or pistachio nuts?

Posted by dogpossum on October 27, 2005 12:36 PM


Right now I'm reading this book - What Made Pistachio Nuts? by Henry Jenkins. It's about vaudville aesthetic and the shift to narrative in early comedy-musical Hollywood film (1930s or so). Sorry, that sounded like I can't speak or write English.

Anyway, it's by Henry Jenkins and it's interesting. I was reading it on the tram Tuesday and did get momentarily distracted by the elephants (you can see them from the tram as you pass the zoo). And frankly, who wouldn't be? I hope I never cease to be distracted by real live elephants.
I'll report back when I've read more.

"peanuts or pistachio nuts?" was posted in the category academia

October 13, 2005

yeah, right. fat lot you know

Posted by dogpossum on October 13, 2005 6:37 PM

Sure, it looks like I'm wasting time while I should be thesising. And yes, I have downloaded and watched a bunch of dance clips, solved a few minor MLX problems, uploaded a page on the MLX site to plug the new Tshirts (only $22 each, btw and tres sexy), blogged like I'm avoiding something, altered a skirt and had breakfast today. And all after getting up at 12pm (it's this blocked ear: I'm sleeping like the dead, for hours and blissfully uninterrupted hours).
But that doesn't mean I haven't also written a draft of the paper I'm giving at the CSSA conference (complete with stupid jokes about Dancing with the Stars and comparisons between academic conference goers and lindy-crazed exchange punters). I've even inserted at least one clip of blues dancers to make a point (and a joke), and surveyed other clips, looking for the perfect bit of footage to open the paper with. Hence the interest in clips today: it's research.

It is quite lovely to be back on the insanely productive horse again. Sigh. I've had enough of thesis-blockage issues, and what seems to be an ever-increasing case of thesis-completion-anxiety. Something only those of us who've been at uni since 1993 (seriously - only 2 6month periods off!) can lay claim to.

Oh, I should note: I've been watching Firefly, because we finally got around to getting it, and because we saw Serenity and it galvanised us. We love Firefly. It's better than Battlestar Galactica even, because BG takes itself sooooo seriously, andFirefly is for clever postmodern people like us. And it has queer-friendly jokes which makes me happy and silly gun jokes which make Dave happy.

"yeah, right. fat lot you know" was posted in the category academia

October 7, 2005

man. do not let me be that type of writer

Posted by dogpossum on October 7, 2005 7:32 PM

I have recently read ths article and I have some issues with it.
Having read the blog entry to which the article referrs, and having read that bloggers' site for a while, I suspect the article's author has gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick.
Not one to pull my punches, I've no trouble with public scuffling. in fact, i quite like it. most of the time. the age article, however, seems misinformed. the blogger - who i don't actually know in person (though i think we've met), but who's blog i read and who i've 'spoken' to online in blog comments and other discussions, is one of the least confrontational and least stroppy bloggers i know. the article's author is kind of, well, wrong in the things she's read. down with her. up with everyone else.

to return to the age's article.
that piece is fairly sorry-arse in content and thought. i've only read through it once or twice (quickly) and am writing this entry quickly (i want to return to this topic, though), but i was struck by this bit: the article's author apparently sees the rise of blogging as part of the

democratisation of debate

i sigh.
i shake my head.
really: are we still buying that old line? i mean, really, who's believed that the internet and blogging is in any way a demonstration of democracy?
the 'internet' ... wait, ... the Internet ... is hardly a democratic place, with all voices of all citizens present in any type of equitable discourse. it's the territory of white middle class kids. and most of those are blokes.

i want to mention that i read that age article online.
i want to talk about journalism and blogging and blogging as 'journalism'.
i want to talk about public and private talk (and the bullshit myth that the two were ever different animals).
i have so much more to say about this article, but i have to go to a party and i don't want to go cranky. plus i have a new dress to go try on. priorities.

but if the slandered blogger is reading this, please: ignore that rubbishy article. it's a bundle of crap. and the clearest case of bullying i've read in a while.

"man. do not let me be that type of writer" was posted in the category academia

September 24, 2004

i just read a paper called 'the anti-political populism of cultural studies'

Posted by dogpossum on September 24, 2004 7:45 PM

by todd gitlin (in cultural studies in question, edited by marjorie ferguson and peter golding, 1997). i'm not really sure how i feel about it.
i mean, i've had troubles with the work done by quite a few people in cultural studies programs in the unis i've been at - they just seemed depoliticised in a worrying way. especially to me, whose always done feminist work where i've really tried to make my research practical, have some sort of political use-value.

and gitlin is echoing all that, but he seems fairly tough. and he's really getting into the cultural studies people of today. his key point is that they shouldn't pretend that they're doing 'politics' just because they're doing popular/populist stuff. that doing 'politics' is actually a bit more complicated (and he places 'politics' right over there in the activist camp, doing things like rallying and protesting and writing pamphlets and so on).

i'm a bit torn...

he's very critical of things like radway and modleski's work on women's romance novel reading, and pretty much says that we shouldn't treat that as political activism.

... i don't know. on the one hand i agree with a lot of the things he has to say. and on the other, i wonder if he's being too harsh.

either way, his concerns are very similar to the ones i have when i read the horrid wench's blog, and when i heard her speak about her work on bogans.

i'm not in that gang. i'm with the people who still want to politicise stuff (which she doesn't - she confesses that she has no interest in politics - stink of 'politics' much?). i also want to get feminist in this sort of work...

hm. dilemma. i need to find a response to this article.

"i just read a paper called 'the anti-political populism of cultural studies'" was posted in the category academia

May 20, 2004

Faculty grant. complete scam .NOT.

Posted by dogpossum on May 20, 2004 2:42 PM

I’ve decided that a trip to Europe to spend some time at a lindy hop dance camp hanging out with swingers is essential to my thesis. Admittedly, I went into this thinking a university funded trip to Herrang would be a total scam. Complete rort.
But the whole application for funding and ethics process has changed my tune.

Firstly, taking this amount of time off is a big deal. Going to Europe for a month will take me away from my work (and The Squeeze and everything else), and that's a bit of a big thing. Can I justify it? Will it take time away from my work, therefore putting me behind in the writing? It’s also going to cost a lot. Will I be able to get enough money? Do I have enough money to cover the other costs I’ll no doubt find while I’m away?

Ok, so I figure yes, I can cope with all that.

Next thing.
The application process.

The ethics application:
To actually go out into the world and do research on real, live people, you need to have clearance from the ethics committee in your faculty (or uni, depending. I modified my research so I could go with the faculty – less stress, shorter delays, etc). So you need to fill in an ethics application form. Here’s the guideline for the form. That’s 39 pages of instructions. And here ’s the actual form. That’s 23 pages right there. And with that you have to provide copies of all the questions you want to ask people, the ads you’ll put up to get people to fill in surveys, how you found people to interview, why you want to interview, them, etc etc etc. It’s a big, long process, and you have to know exactly what you want to do, and why. You have to be clear in the topic and focus of your thesis, as well as the fieldworky bit.
Once you’re done (and have the thing signed by about 10 different people), you submit it, then sit on your date til you hear back. Then they send it back and ask you to clarify things. “why Sweden?” what a stupid question. Sheesh. Then you send it back to them (having secured the relevant signatures, copies of things, etc). Then they send it back to you, just because. So you fix it again. Yes, Sweden. I know it’s an American dance, but Sweden really is important. And you send it back again. And finally you get the tick.

Once you get clearance, you have to check out this form about insurance.

Then you start planning your trip – the mechanics of it all. Plane tickets, accommodation – the ordinary minutia of overseas travel (goddess bless my dual citizenship). And you have to fuss about planning your research – contact the interviewees. Get that video camera. Find out how to use the laptop. Etc etc etc.

The Grant Application:
And of course, to be able to actually go do this research, you have to have some money. So you apply for a faculty grant (and a Federation of Australian University Women grant, and whatever other grants you can find).
See the above list of shitjobs? The forms are shorter – less than ten pages – but the questions are harder. Budgets. How much will it cost to stay in Herrang? How much is a bus from Arlanda airport to Herrang? Go research skills, go.
And they send things back to you with queries: “why Sweden?” Aw, for fukk’s sake. Doesn’t matter how many times you explain, or draw diagrams, or write it down. No one can accept that a tiny town in rural Sweden is the centre of the lindy hop world for many swingers.

Eventually, you get the unofficial approval (ie, someone rings your supervisor, then they ring you). And then you wait for the official letter. And you wait. And you wait. And you wait. Meanwhile, the departure date creeps closer (30th June, thankyou very much), the airfares get more expensive, and you’ve got tasks that rely on the formal approval before you can complete them. Can’t book a flight without a confirmed amount of spending money. Can’t email for permission to do research in Herrang until you’re sure you’re actually going. Can’t confirm your accommodation in Herrang without being sure you can afford to pay for it. Can’t sort out a dress for the cousin’s wedding in Wales before you know for sure you’re going to Europe.

Any how, eventually you go off on your trip. Laden down with recorders and cameras and laptops and dance shoes and a backpack and a million tshirts for dancing. You go, you dance a very great lot, you work a lot. You get ill. You recover. You get broke, you email home for dosh. You take notes. You watch. You listen. You interview. And then you come home.

And you fill out the research grant report form . And you start writing the bugger up.

So it’s not much of a rort. You really have to work for the money. And hope it’s enough.

"Faculty grant. complete scam .NOT." was posted in the category academia

What’s a PhD?

Posted by dogpossum on May 20, 2004 2:05 PM

The short answer? A PhD is a big long essay. More like a book than an essay. An academic book. An academic book that has do fulfil a whole truckload of requirements, the biggest of which are a) contributing new knowledge to the field and b) demonstrating a clear and excellent understanding of the literature (stuff that's already been written) in the field of research.

The long answer?...

How big?
PhD theses are about 80 000 words long, down from 100 000, in the days when universities were adequately funded. Now we’re down 20 000 words (the length of an MA, pretty much), completion rates are WAY down in PhDs in arts. So they keep reducing the word length, instead of increasing the funding and resources to assist PhDs in their research, so they can produce longer, more useful and comprehensive research. Arseholes.
80 000 words is not enough. I think it’s actually 60 000 for people in our school but I don’t want to think about that.

How long?
It takes (on average) four years to complete a PhD thesis. The government will fund PhDs for only three and a half years. That’s three years official enrolment, plus a six month extension. The Department/Uni you’re in receives this funding only after you complete. So they’re taking a punt on accepting you into their programs. Most PhDs are on a scholarship of some type (as I am – a Latrobe Uni Postgraduate research award), or they have a partner/parents supporting them.

Ah, the life of a student...
Doing a PhD is a full time job. Overworking is common in research postgrads – you put in far more than eight hours a day in a five day working week. I would spend about five days in front of the computer a day, and it’s best to aim for about three or four good hours writing. I have no trouble writing – I can write far more. But I need to edit a lot. You spend a lot of time reading as a PhD – that accounts for more hours. You also spend time chasing stuff in the library and online, dealing with dumb administrative things (grant applications, fixing your enrolment, etc) and fussing over your bibliography.

Pgrad work makes you nuts.
Depression and anxiety are rife in pgrad communities – I’ve yet to meet a PhD or MA research pgrad who’s not had troubles with either during their candidacy. A large proportion of the pgrads that I’ve known (in three universities) have gone through periods of serious depression where they’ve been taking medication, been in counselling, taken to their beds or neglected themselves. Needless to say, this isn’t so good for your research. This depression and anxiety is, I think, the natural consequence of working for a very long time on a single project with inadequate professional and personal support networks.

And what makes it so hard?
We work alone, for the most part, and don’t get a whole lot of feedback from our peers on our work. supervisors are very important, but there are many supervisors who simply don’t provide the support necessary for pgrads. And let me make it clear: when you go into a PhD or MA, you don’t actually know how to do this stuff. You have never attempted a project like this before, you have only – comparatively – rudimentary research and writing skills. You need to learn how to read and write and research and network and plan and just plain do the thing as you go. Often on your own. So you make quite a few mistakes. See how important supervisors are?

What exactly do you do?
Being a PhD candidate (as I am) means that you write this huge thesis over the three years, you also give at least one paper a year at conferences, etc, you publish a couple of papers in journals, and you try not to die. Most PhDs also tutor, maybe give a guest lecture, do some research assistant work. This fills out your resume and serves as excellent distraction from the thesis. It also skills you up, professionally, and helps you learn the trade – being an academic in a university. I have taught a couple of courses (at La Trobe and Uni Melb), and am an RA for the supervisor on the lord of the rings project. I’ve given a paper, plan to write one for publishing this year, and might do some more teaching (for the money!).

Where do i stand in the scheme of university things?
I’ve done an MA (at UQ), where I also did my Bachelor of Arts and did received a first class Honours degree. I am collecting letters to put after my name.
I’ve been working on this PhD for about a year and four months, now. I’m right on target, which is unusual, for me or any other PhD. I’m fairly certain I’ll finish on time. So long as I don’t get ill, get pregnant, have a death in the family, get injured, have my computer blow up, break up with my partner, move too many times, get badly depressed, be abducted by aliens or have to work for more money.
Oh, right. So basically, as long as I put my life on hold while i'm doing my PhD I’ll be fine. Right. Ok.

The up-side.
All that negativity aside, it’s still a totally excellent opportunity. PhDs really weed out those who aren’t actually interested in being academics. You have to really want to do this, to really like what you’re doing. I’ve heard PhDs described as the only opportunity you ever have, as an academic, to work on a giant project, uninterrupted, for so long. And that’s how I think of it – I love what I do, I love reading and writing and thinking and talking. Having taken hiatus from the work before, I know I couldn’t not do it. Possibly because I’m an obsessive compulsive (though what pgrad isn’t?).
Now, so long as I can survive the next two years .

"What’s a PhD?" was posted in the category academia

May 19, 2004

my djing paper

Posted by dogpossum on May 19, 2004 4:04 PM

a revised version of the djing paper. Down load it here.

i'm going to keep editing it til it's in a more deliverable form - like 3000 rather than 4500 words. i could cut out the djing bit altogether and make it a paper about swing culture generally. or i could edit out the djing bit and start again. oh well, i've given it another bash, and i'll leave it for now...

"my djing paper" was posted in the category academia

I’m sure I had something clever to say

Posted by dogpossum on May 19, 2004 12:18 PM

I’m between work jobs.

The paper is done, the ethics application is granted, the grants application has been unofficially granted (but not officially granted, so I can’t begin the official gloating – or trip planning - yet), the blue form for requesting the loan of a digital video camera has just arrived, but I need to plan my approach, I need to borrow the dig cam and play with it before I begin trying to get the faculty to lend me one for my entire Europe trip (ambitious, I know), I’m between chapters and not sure where I want to start (though I think I might go with the chapter on video use)

The house is squeaky clean, though (thanks to the new vacuum cleaner, and a sudden rush of enthusiasm on my part), and the real estate agent (who is quite lovely – truly a shocking experience to have a good real estate agent now if only the landlord wasn’t such an arsehole ) was very happy.

I could go sand and redo the chairs (another coat of varnish, thankyou), but I can’t be arsed and it’s technically a work day, so no sewing and no fiddling about in the shed. Also, no trips to the gym, and no excursions to far more interesting places outside the house. No dancing tonight, and no dicking about in town.

It’s all business. But I’m really not feeling very businesslike. More dazed. And tired. In a mellow way.

This blog has really gone down hill – far too much personal blabbering, right broos? I need to get that southern gothic thing back shyeah, right.

But the blue form is waiting. And I’m quite looking forward to trotting about town videoing swingers, swinging now I need some nice editing software I shall put The Squeeze on the task immediately.

"I’m sure I had something clever to say" was posted in the category academia


About dogpossum

i live in melbourne sydney, australia, like jazz music and dance, swear too much, sew, drink a lot of tea and adore puns. ask me about my phd.