Anarchy on an Accordion, or lessons in throwing a great conference

Sophia Deboick and I spent last weekend having great fun at a British Cultural Studies conference on the British Monarchy at the Ruhr-Universität, Bochum. Although we were there as representatives of Republic, rather than in an academic capacity, it did throw up some interesting comparisons and made us both think about the way conferences are – and could be – done.

First, it was a collaborative event, organised by a pair of neighbouring universities (Bochum and Dortmund), primarily by the Cultural Studies departments but also drawing in other academics. Rather than gathering scholars on the basis of a common interest, it asked those who already work together to bring their different interests to bear on a common theme. Previous conferences (and books) by this group have explored James Bond and the interweaving histories of the Mini Cooper and mini skirt. The sense of a shared project was very clear and seemingly made for productive relations between colleagues.

Second, the conference actively involved students, who displayed the results of the semester’s work on the conference theme – as collaborative presentations, visual exhibitions and even musical performances. Linking teaching and research in this way seemed to be really fruitful, both for the students and for their tutors.

Finally, it was fun! As well as being housed in a cultural centre and advertised to the general public (with free entry), it also incorporated a “Show” in the evening – with royal impersonators, a quiz and punk performances from both students and staff. The atmosphere throughout was irreverent but unpretentious. The sight of a group of academics and students sharing their interests and their talents, being prepared to be silly and enjoying one another’s company was refreshing and inspiring.

Of course things always look more appealing from the outside. But this looked very appealing indeed.

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