20 April 2016

Day 2 of my new departmental premises. It’s a bit isolated, but I’m enjoying the views from the 6th floor and the smell of solvents as the workers do the final snags. The floors squeak pleasingly and the subsidised bar downstairs is even closer than the pool.

I joined University of Bristol in 2001 as a postdoctoral research associate on a project about practice-as-research. I think I got the job because my PhD focused on archaeology and the media (from museums to TV) and because I drew on theories of cultural performance and performativity through Goffman and Victor Turner and Foucault and Judith Butler. At that point, the project was based in the Department of Drama: Theatre, Film, Television – a lovely baggy space where everyone was welcome. At exactly the point that I joined the department a joint MA in Archaeology for Screen Media was launched between my department and the Department of Archaeology. When I told a colleague about my PhD research, he said ‘oh good, because we don’t have anyone to teach the MA’.

All of that was a long time ago. Three years ago my department was split into a Department of Theatre and a Department of Film & Television. There have been numerous performative moments of that split, materialised through minutes of meetings, resource reconfigurations, managerial restructurings, passive-aggressive comments in corridors. The latest event is the opening of the new Department of Film & Television at the top of Bristol’s Student Union Building. Purpose-built and light. No leaks and a steady temperature. Decent equipment store for our technician. And, appropriately enough for this blog, a magnificent daily view of the changing seasons from my desk – although clearly I need to ensure precisely identical framings on a daily basis.

Today’s work involves running a research workshop for staff in the School of Arts, which comprises the Departments of Archaeology & Anthropology, Film, Music, Philosophy and Theatre. I’m the Research Director for the School, which is probably the best academic admin job to have in the world. I see my role as helping others to navigate the policies and structures and to encourage and support the wonderful research in my School, which embraces interdisciplinary, collaborative and practice-based research alongside disciplinary specificity, single-author monographs and archive-analytical research. Today I’ve organised a speed meet lunch and will ask colleagues to talk to as many people as they can in 30 minutes and to find out 1) something they didn’t know already, 2) something that surprises them, 3) a research interest they share in common and 4) a useful tip for securing research funding. Then our research development team, Valerie Aspin and Jean Pretlove, will guide us through the confusing world of who needs to see what and when and point towards under-utilised funding schemes. Lucy Cramp (Arch & Anth), Kristian Moen (Film & TV) and Havi Carel (Philosophy) will then tell us about their funded projects from their perspectives as early, mid and senior career academics working solely and in teams. Jackie Bishop and Phil Norman then take us through the Byzantine world of university finances and will try to make the rules and regs work for, rather than against, exciting research. We finish with an open discussion of what we might want to do collectively. While our disciplines are diverse, we share interests in practice and in ideas around live bodies and archive materials, in the messy material-discursive practices that world the world.

While this is all serious stuff, over the past couple of years I’ve been trying to resist my tendency to try to mimic the serious-discourse-face that we all know from meetings. I am trying to brazen it out by sometimes being funny, sometimes ribald and always trying to avoid being the cop. When it’s tempting to think ‘but why didn’t they follow the rules?’, it’s good to remind myself of Adorno and Horkheimer’s discussions of ‘the administered world’. I had a trial by fire in a previous admin role. I survived it (just) but vowed never again to lose myself in an administrative performance, because what is more important is to be human and humane and not fear my own deep fallability. I’ll try to remember that at the end of today when I return to my desk to respond to a senior request that I pair researchers and critical friends for the Annual Research Review Snapshot…..

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