This Thursday, I complete my last day at UWS before I move back to France to start a permanent job as a Lecturer in Geography at the University of Amiens. As I have been a member of CCSE over the last two years as a Postdoctoral Fellow on the FESTSPACE project, I thought that it would be a good time to pen some reflections on my time here. In this post I’ll discuss the role it has played in my trajectory as a researcher and share some of the outcomes of the work that I undertook with the CCSE team.
Before joining UWS in August 2019, I had spent my early career in France, primarily at the University Paris Est, where I completed my PhD in 2016. I had developed a specialisation in the study of urban cultural practices that I explored in my doctoral thesis – on the rooting of rap music in French and American cities – and in a few collective projects – including one on the cultural outreach activities carried out by theatres located in the socially-deprived neighbourhoods of the Parisian ‘banlieue’. However, despite some fieldwork in the US for my PhD, I never had the opportunity to work extensively in a non-French academic environment. On this level, the first benefit of my time at UWS has been to experience British academia, and its commonalities and differences compared to the French system. These include research (such as the importance of public engagement and of evidencing the impact of research) and teaching (for example the attention granted to student-centred approaches, and to the diverse profiles of the students). My time UWS allowed me to be involved in tasks that have improved my knowledge and understanding of UK research and teaching by delivering guest lectures, supervising two Masters dissertations, and obtaining my status as an Associate Fellow of Advance HE.
In addition, my role as a postdoc has provided a unique opportunity to work at the heart of a large international research project. Since 2019, FESTSPACE has been funded by the European Commission, through the HERA programme, to explore the role of festivals in making urban public spaces more or less inclusive for populations from various cultural, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. In addition to the daily work with the researchers at UWS, working on FESTSPACE has allowed me get to know, exchange and work collectively with colleagues based in London, Dublin, Barcelona and Gothenburg. This has helped me to develop a variety of new skills (such as the coordination of activities with teams working remotely) and knowledge (for example: on the different conceptions of urban spaces, and the role of festivals play in them, in various national contexts). Of course, the progress of the FESTSPACE project has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns as they led to the cancellation of most festivals in Europe. This unexpected circumstance necessitated adaptation and flexibility to ensure that the project could continue. Gradually, however, it transitioned into an opportunity to explore the strategies developed within events and urban policies when facing such unforeseen situations. From the digitalization of events to social distanced installations in public spaces, I was able to observe evolutions that will probably affect these sectors over the long term.
Finally, working on the FESTSPACE project has also been beneficial on a thematic level. While I was already familiar with issues linked to cultural practices in urban space, the postdoc enabled me to extend this understanding to the specific debates linked to festivals and events in cities, and to the major question of urban public spaces. Above all, it allowed me to develop a first-hand knowledge of two models of ‘eventful cities’: Glasgow, one of the most emblematic cases of a city that has used culture and events as a tool for urban regeneration, and Edinburgh, a city whose local development and international reputation has become strongly intertwined with the presence of its summer festivals. On this level, I am grateful to the various platforms of exchange that CCSE has generated, such as the CCSE Seminars. Following discussions held within them has been crucial to the discovery of new fields of research – such as Critical Event Studies – and new debates in public policies – around event-led regeneration and cultural inclusion – in which I hope to stay involved for a long time.
Overall, it has been a fabulous experience to be part of the FESTSPACE and CCSE teams for over two years. Even though I will move to another role, I will continue to work collaboratively with researchers at UWS, at least for some publications linked to FESTSPACE, and hopefully on other research opportunities in the future. Finally, a summary of my involvement in UWS wouldn’t be complete without mentioning some of the numerous outputs I have contributed to (with many more to come soon!):
- A blog post presenting the debates taking place in Glasgow – an archetypal eventful city – and the way that they are approached by FESTSPACE researchers: http://festspace.net/glasgow-an-eventful-city/
- A blog post dealing with the adaptation of commercial events in parks during the pandemic, with a study of GlasGLOW, a sound and light extravaganza held in 2020 in Glasgow’s Botanical Gardens: http://festspace.net/glasglow-parks-commercial-events-and-the-pandemic/
- A contribution to the organisation and chairing of a one-day symposium on ‘Festivals and City: the Festivalisation of Public Space’. Originally organized as a series of sessions for the annual conference of RGS-IBG, this event was turned into an online symposium available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUMzSLIxJHA
- A paper in Urban Planning, exploring the controversies linked festivals and events held in Edinburgh’s public spaces, and the role of digital media in reinforcing the visibility of the campaigns carried out by local organisations. The paper is fully accessible in open access: https://www.cogitatiopress.com/urbanplanning/article/view/3406
- A book chapter to be published in the following months about the role of events in public squares. It will include an overview of the participatory planning process adopted for the transformation of the Glasgow’s iconic landmark, George Square.