Friday, 25 November 2011

Thanksgiving Abroad

Yesterday was my fifth Thanksgiving in England. Each year, I've celebrated it differently, so I'm not sure what this says about my culture mediation efforts...

2007--Went to London for the day, did some sightseeing (first trip to the British Museum) and some Christmas shopping. When I got back to Bath, I went to an American friend's house in the evening and had pumpkin pie and Carlsberg with a mixed international group (mostly Germany and Wales).

2008--First Thanksgiving in Leeds. After lecture, my classmates and I went to the Library pub as usual, then my Venezuelan friend and I went out for pizza at La Besi next door.

2009--Went to an American friend's place for dinner. I brought my mom's cornbread stuffing, a pumpkin pie and a pecan pie. Her French housemate loved the pecan pie and he even asked me for the recipe.

2010--Hosted my first Thanksgiving for a mixed international group of friends. I stuck to traditional American dishes (including two Paula Deen recipes-- Ol No. 7 yams and green bean casserole), although we did serve my favourite real ale (Brains). They loved it--one of my English friends asked a lot of questions about the history of Thanksgiving and what we traditionally do.

2011--Quiet dinner at home for just the two of us, although I did make a spare pecan pie and bring it into the office.

One of the questions I ask the Fulbright students is how the chose to celebrate (or not celebrate) Thanksgiving. It seems pretty innocuous, but their answers really do reveal a great deal about culture learning & mediation. Both Thanksgiving and Bonfire Night come relatively soon after the American students have arrived in the UK, so they present two early opportunities to engage in cultural mediation. If they go to a bonfire or fireworks display, do they go with host nationals or other internationals? If they have a Thanksgiving dinner, do they invite other Americans or a mixed international group? Do they make an effort to teach others about Thanksgiving, and to learn about Guy Fawkes Day? The way they choose to celebrate these holidays can tell us quite a bit about their overall attitudes towards culture learning.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Critical Theory

Once again, I'm struggling with theory--but this time, I actually have to teach it.

Last week was a general overview of theory--what theories communications scholars use, and how & why they use them. My seminars went surprisingly well, and it gave me a chance to think more about my own issues with theory.

This week, we got down to the side of theory that I really don't like: critical theory. Now, my understanding is that critical theorists one pursuit in life is to criticise everything. They question everything, 'challenge the mainstream' as the lecturer put it. I can respect that, up to a point, but I hate it when people argue for the sake of it. What's the point? Why be so miserable about everything?

Here's an example from the lecture: celebrity relief work, with the case study of the "Everybody Hurts" single for Haitian earthquake relief. Zizek is against this type of activity, because it perpetuates the system of inequality--the 'haves' giving to the 'have-nots' just reinforces the fact that the 'haves' have it to give.

Ok, so I understand his point. The system is bad. But my beef with this view is simply this: what would he have us do instead? He offers no alternative suggestions. He's just criticising charity, but I don't seem him doing anything to help (apologies if he actually does perform any aid work that I haven't read about...).

Why do I support the celebrity relief work phenomenon?
Because it actually does work.

Because it makes people pay attention--something that mainstream journalism often fails to accomplish on its own.

Because it's better to do something--even something small--than to just sit back and criticise others for not doing enough.

Academic research on celeb relief:
Goodman and Barnes. 2011. "Star/poverty space: the making of the ‘development celebrity’ " Celebrity Studies 2(1), pp. 69-85.

Samman, McAuliffe, and MacLachlan. 2009. "The role of celebrity in endorsing poverty reduction through international aid." International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing 14, pp. 137-148.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


For the past couple of months I've been juggling a lot of different things, and as something's gotta's been this blog.

What's been on my plate?

~Teaching: leading seminars for 80 first-year students. I really do love it--they're a great group, most are really switched on & eager.

~Placements: I've taken on an admin job this year where I help arrange work experience places for ICS's Television Production students. I also take care of the paperwork for the other programmes (they arrange their own placements). It's turned out to be pretty demanding, but I like it. There's something very cool about calling up people at well-known media companies like the BBC (even if they're just admin like me...)

~Conference planning: the conference in memory of Phil Taylor is coming up very quickly, so most days I'm chasing something up on it. It's great to see the enthusiasm people have for Phil, though, so I really enjoy that work, too.

~Conference attending? I'm putting together an abstract for a conference and it's due this Friday), so fingers crossed--I might have my first conference presentation in May! Very exciting stuff...

~House-hunting: We might be moving next month before Christmas (right about the time that the Phil Taylor conference is...). Richard's doing all of the actual work with the various realtors/surveyors/mortgage lenders, but it's another thing to think about. And once we've moved in, there's a lot of work to be done--looking forward to painting!

~Wedding planning: Ten months to go, but we've already got ceremony & reception venues, the photographers & the dress. So efficient!

~Christmas shopping: finished in October. Another amazing feat.

And last but certainly not least: my PhD research.

Pros: I passed the upgrade and was granted ethical approval, and I presented my work to the first-year PhD students (first time presenting it--so exciting!)

Cons: I'm still sorting out access to interviewees for the fieldwork that should be taking place right now...But it's coming along, and I'm very grateful for the ones that I do have.

Looking over that list, it's amazing that I've been able to keep it together...Will post more research-related content in the future, time permitting!