Category Archives: Academia

Editing a Special Journal Issue – Chat with Liz Harvey-Kattou

In June 2018, my friend Dr Liz Harvey-Kattou (@lizharvey99), a lecturer in Hispanic Culture at the University of Westminster, tweeted about the publication of a special issue of Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinemas on the topic of Central American Cinema, edited by herself and Amanda Alfaro, (a PhD student from Costa Rica). When I saw her tweet, I messaged Liz to ask about her experience of editing the journal issue. I was intrigued to know more about the whole process, not having embarked on such a project myself in my academic career to date. Liz replied with really interesting and helpful advice about the venture. We decided to have a Skype session to talk about it in more detail as I felt that Liz’s recent experience and excellent insights would make a very useful blog post for anyone interested in pursuing such a task. I have edited our conversation for clarity.

 

Liz, firstly, thanks for agreeing to chat with me about this! Your insights will be valued, I’m sure. First off, what gave you and Amanda the idea for the special issue? Why did you think it was important there be a publication dedicated to the topic of Central American Cinema in the 21st century?

No problem, I’m happy to share my experience! My PhD dealt with national identity in Central American literature and cinema and there is currently not much scholarship on this topic. In fact, Amanda and I are the only two people looking solely at Central American cinema in the UK! Though there are a number of individuals in Costa Rica studying this topic too. We became aware of an emerging interest in Central American cinema more broadly, with Guatamalan film Ixcanul winning a host of awards in 2015, a couple of Central American films appearing on Netflix for the first time and a growing awareness in the cinematic production of various Central American nations on film festival circuits. We felt well-placed to complete this project given the centrality of the framework of Central American cinema to our work, although it was not an ideal time to embark on such a venture: I had just finished my PhD and was precariously employed at that point and Amanda was in the process of undertaking her PhD.

 

Sounds like you both invested a lot of time and effort into the process! Why did you opt for an edited special journal issue rather than another format, an edited book for example?

There were two main reasons for this: 1) we wanted to get the issue out quickly and knew the book process would take a bit longer; and 2) we wanted to make use of the journal’s infrastructure in relation to peer review, for example. Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinemas was our number one choice due to its significance for the field.

 

That makes sense! How did you approach pitching the idea to Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinemas? What factors influenced this choice? Was there a formula/template to follow for pitching the issue or did you have a bit of freedom as to how you did this?

Our first choice was Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinema due to its significance for the field of Hispanic visual culture. They had previously featured a special issue on Cuban cinema and it seemed like a good fit for our project. Our experience of the process was somewhat informal. We initially contacted the editors to establish whether they might be interested in receiving a proposal for a special issue on the topic. We then sent the proposed Call for Papers, which in the end formed the basis for our jointly-written introduction to the journal issue, to the editor. Her response was positive and we worked out a timeline with her.

 

You mentioned the Call for Papers there. How did you go about soliciting articles for the issue? How did this process pan out? Were there any particular hurdles at this stage? What would you do differently, if pursuing a similar project in the future?

We wrote the Call for Papers and distributed it widely. We were particularly keen for scholars based in the US and Central America to contribute. We asked for the submission of a 300-word abstract initially and were completely shocked at the number of submissions (around 24 in total)! We realised, with hindsight, that we should have made the Call for Papers more specific. We had deliberately left it as open as possible because we weren’t sure how much interest there would be! We had an array of really interesting proposals on documentary filmmaking, for example, but decided to focus on feature-length productions as that is where our interest lies.

In terms of narrowing down the submissions, we thought about how the different proposed articles would fit together. We were keen to have a film from every country in Central America though that ultimately wasn’t feasible. In the end, we had an article with an overview of the field, one on distribution, film festivals and the effect of these elements on the aesthetics of filmmaking and the remainder of the articles focused on specific films from various regions. We looked for a coherent narrative across the different contributions when trying to narrow it down. There were so many interesting proposals we had to reject that just did not fit, for example one on sports figures in Central American film. But it just didn’t work well with the other contributions and so we had to reject it. That bit was tough!

 

In addition to narrowing down the contributions, what else were you responsible for as editor? How would you describe your role as journal issue editor? How did you divide the labour between yourself and your fellow editor?

One of my main tasks as editor was translating reviews into Spanish for the Spanish contributors. I also had responsibility for editing the language used in the articles while Amanda did a lot of the communications. Amanda and I have known each other for some time as we both worked with the same supervisor at UCL. We were able to work well together because of this. We both read all of the articles numerous times and were very familiar with them by the end of the process. In effect, most things were done twice by both of us! It was great working with someone else on this as I think I would have questioned myself a lot if I had embarked on such a project on my own. It was really helpful having someone to check stuff over, especially when a lot was done in Spanish. We would often meet up and read the articles together, going over them with fine tooth comb. We also wrote the introduction together. It was very much a joint venture!

 

I’m a real fan of collaborative projects for this very reason! What about the peer review process? What was that like? Would you do anything differently if embarking on a similar project in the future?

Prior to peer review, we collected in the final articles. The peer review was organised by the journal, rather than by us as editors. It was a long process and a few of the articles had to go through double peer review, in the end. What we should have done was an initial informal peer review ourselves, swapping the various articles amongst the contributors, for example. Had we done so, we would have realised that there were some incongruities in terms of style, in part due to the translation of some of the articles from Spanish into English, and in terms of the preferences of the journal’s editorial board, for aesthetic analysis over historical overviews for example. This is definitely something we learned from the process!

 

What was the timeframe of the whole process?

It took about 2 years in total. It should have actually been three months short of that. I think that’s pretty good going!

 

I’ll say! That’s amazing. What did you most enjoy about the process?

For me, the most enjoyable thing was getting the actual journal out. That was really exciting! I also enjoyed the networking, making new contacts and getting to know people’s work. We were aware of some of the contributors and their work prior to this but there were others who were new to us, particularly ECRs and people moving into the field.

 

And what did you least enjoy?

The peer review process – especially being the go-between between the contributors and the journal. You feel like you’re on the side of the contributor and it was awful having to pass on negative feedback as you don’t want to knock someone’s confidence. There was also a lot of going back and forth in some cases which involved a lot of work for us as editors. It was all worth it in the end though!

 

Any final points of advice for anyone wishing to pursue a similar project?

I guess, this sort of thing that we are doing now with the chat and blog post! Try and talk to people who have done this and can give advice – especially at a similar career stage and/or who’ve done it recently.

 

Thanks, Liz! It has been so great to chat about this process with you and I do hope this blog is useful to anyone interested in pursuing such an editing project. Your experience and advice should certainly prove valuable!

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WISPS 2017: Virtual Shut Up and Writes

Today (Saturday 11th November 2017), I presented virtually on the phenomenon of virtual shut up and writes as part of a roundtable on Digital (R)evolutions in Academic Writing. I was honoured to be asked to participate in this panel by Niamh Thornton (you’ll find her on Twitter at @enortee) and delighted when she accepted my suggestion that I present something virtually. If you’re interested in viewing my presentation, it’s on YouTube and I’ve embedded it here:

 

Reflective Response to Diana Taylor’s Performance

As I’ve already detailed elsewhere on this blog, I’ve not currently got much time available to dedicate to research. In spite of this, I do have a work schedule to uphold as I have a monograph, on performance and politics in contemporary Spanish cinema, under contract (if interested, you can read the proposal here). The monograph is based in part on one of the chapters of my PhD thesis but it radically reworks and expands that material, also incorporating new research. The manuscript is due to be submitted in April 2018. Of late I’ve been trying to spend any research time I have reading as I have a wealth of sources I’m keen to work through prior to getting down to some serious writing. That said, I’d also ideally like to keep up something of a writing habit if at all possible. Inspired by a conversation on Twitter with Dr Nathan Ryder and Dr Helen Kara last week, I thought I’d write a wee reflective blog post on the source I most recently finished reading: Performance by Diana Taylor (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).

Diana Taylor Performance Book Cover

Originally published in Spanish in 2012, Performance (2016) constitutes not just a translation but rather ‘part introduction and part reflection on some of the uses of performance that interest [the author] most – the power of performance to enable individuals and collectives to reimagine and restage the social rules, codes, and conventions that prove most oppressive and damaging’ (xiv). The original volume was, in the author’s own words, ‘a little glossy book on performance’ and won a design award (xiii). The reworked volume is also very visually appealing, a textual and visual performance in itself due to its layout. Rather than being presented in a conventional format, the book has an engaging textual interface that combines distinct fonts and font sizes alongside bold and capitalised text. There are in addition a plethora of images throughout the work. These images interact with the text in interesting ways, offering illustrative examples of the theoretical frameworks and ideas under discussion. From a disciplinary perspective, Performance presents a playful and innovative means of academic engagement with image and text.

 

In terms of content, Taylor focuses primarily on performance in the context of performance art though she does also consider other activities under this rubric. While my book project concentrates more specifically on cinematic representations of performance, Taylor’s interventions are still of interest to the material that forms the core of my analyses. Her first chapter, ‘Framing [Performance]’, offers an analysis of how she understands and defines performance. She begins by pinpointing the role of the body in art from the 1960s onwards (1) before stressing the wide-reaching character of performance: ‘PERFORMANCE is not always about art. It’s a wide-ranging and difficult practice to define and holds many, at times conflicting, meanings and possibilities’ (6). She offers an overview of how performance has been defined by various people including artists and theorists. She suggests that performance ‘is not limited to mimetic repetition’ but also ‘includes the possibility of change, critique, and creativity within frameworks of repetition’ (15). This therefore reserves a certain potency in performance. It is a mode that challenges existing paradigms precisely through the manipulation of those same paradigms. She also charts the value of performance as ‘vital acts of transfer, transmitting social knowledge, memory, and a sense of identity through reiterated actions’ (25). She glosses Judith Butler in a discussion of the relationship between performance and gender (32) before defining performance as ‘a practice and an epistemology, a creative doing, a methodological lens, a way of transmitting memory and identity, and a way of understanding the world’ (39). At the same time, however, she acknowledges the importance of context: ‘Performances are neither universal nor transparent; their meanings change depending on the time and context and framing of their realization’ (40). This introductory chapter serves as a succinct and yet detailed overview of various definitions of performance and will be of interest to those seeking a way into thinking about performance in its diverse iterations.

 

Chapters 2, 3 and 4 are all of notable interest for my book project. Chapter 2, ‘Performance Histories’, surveys the history of performance art. Crucial for my purposes is her assertion of a strong historical link between performance and politics: she defines performance art as ‘anti-institutional, anti-elitist, anticonsumerist’ and contends that it is in this way that performance ‘came to constitute, almost by definition, a provocation and a political act’ (49). Again of interest to my work is her third chapter, ‘Spect-Actors’ in which Taylor unpacks the significance of spectatorship in relation to performance. She charts theoretical paradigms of spectatorship in the works of Plato, Aristotle, Artaud, Rancière among others, reaching the conclusion that ‘Performances ask that spectators do something, even if that something is doing nothing’ (86). Taylor’s fourth chapter is titled ‘The New Uses of Performance’ and surveys contemporary deployments of the rhetoric of performance with a particular emphasis on the political: ‘Political advisers know that performance as STYLE (rather than ACCOMPLISHMENT) generally wins elections’ (90). Through these chapters, the author charts both the emergence of performance as concept via the history of performance art and its contemporary deployments.

 

The middle section of Performance concentrates on the current status of performance art and performance more broadly. Chapters 5, 6 and 7 deal with distinct modes of performance. Chapter 5, ‘Performative and Performativity’, engages with the paradigm of performativity in relation to gender and the body, unpacking the role played by language with regards performance. Chapter 6 explores two key concepts, the scenario and the simulation, and analyses the ways in which performance facilitates the garnering of knowledge. Finally, Chapter 7, ‘Artivists (Artist-Activists), or, What’s to Be Done?’, provides detailed consideration of key works that subscribe to the notion that ‘Performance […] is the continuation of politics by other means’ (147). Read together, these three chapters outline the main conceptual paradigms at work in contemporary understandings of performance.

 

The final two chapters offer a nod to what awaits both performance as mode and performance studies as a discipline. Chapter 8 considers the future of performance, but of course to invoke the future is also to invoke the past. Taylor explores the significance of the archive in relation to performance and performance art, paying particular attention to the Marina Abramović’s The Artist is Present as an instance of how both past and future are imbricated in performances. Chapter 9 continues with the notion of the future in relation to performance by surveying the discipline of performance studies. She proposes that ‘If the norm of performance is breaking norms, the norm of performance studies is to break disciplinary boundaries’ (200). After examining distinct ways in which performance is thought of within the field, she concludes that ‘What they have in common is their shared object of study: performance – in the broadest possible sense – as a process, a praxis, an episteme, a mode of transmission, an accomplishment, and a means of intervening in the world’ (202). Ultimately, Taylor contends that ‘performance constitutes a means of communication, a doing, and a doing with and to’ (208) and that ‘Performance is world-making. We need to understand it’ (208).

 

In sum, this is an engaging and insightful volume that offers a reflective overview of the concept of performance in contemporary society. Taylor does focus on the field of performance art specifically which, for my purposes, makes the work less relevant to my book project on performance and its representations in contemporary Spanish cinema. That said, the author does also provide an original take on the theoretical paradigms governing understandings of performance both historically and nowadays.

 

Book Proposal: Subversive Spanish Cinema: The Politics of Performance

My main research project at present is the production of a monograph entitled Subversive Spanish Cinema: The Politics of Performance. The book takes inspiration from one of the chapters of my PhD thesis, but significantly reworks this material alongside new research. Inspired by a recent post by Ellie Mackin, I have decided to share the book proposal I submitted to I. B. Tauris last year to give an overview of the project and in the case that it should be useful for others currently working on a book proposal. I was offered a book contract and I am currently preparing the manuscript for submission in April 2018.

IB TAURIS BOOK PROPOSAL – The Politics of Performance in Contemporary Spanish Cinema

(The) Power (of) Walking

(Image taken from: http://www.active.com/walking)

Due to a change in personal circumstances, I am not currently working in the academic sphere nor am I able to dedicate much, if any, time to my academic work. This is not to suggest that I’ve given up on academia. Far from it. In the last few months, I have edited and submitted the final version of a journal article following peer review (I wrote about this here), peer-reviewed three articles and I’m at present completing a book review. I have also very recently signed a book contract for my first monograph. With limited protected time for academic work, my usual working processes are no longer an option. Instead I’m having to find new ways and means of carving out valuable thinking and writing time.

One of the main ways I’m doing this is through walking. I’ve always, or at least for as long as I can remember, found walking both therapeutic and productive. I’m clearly not alone in this given the recent attention paid to concepts such as walking desks, walking meetings and the like (you can read about these phenomena here and here). When I was completing my PhD, I went for a walk every day. It was sometimes only a brief 10-minute stroll around the block, sometimes slightly longer. The main purpose of this walk, which I usually took after eating lunch, was to get out in the fresh air. But I also found the act of walking coupled with time spent not consciously thinking about whatever I was working on would often lead to breakthroughs in terms of my thoughts and ideas connected to my research. The act of allowing my mind to wander unanchored in conjunction with the physical exertion demanded by walking facilitate, for me at least, the emergence of new synergies.

To give a concrete example, earlier this year I was working on an article following peer review. The article contains two main strands of argumentation and one of the peer reviewers had commented that I should explicitly connect these two lines of thought and that this would reinforce my argument. Though in agreement, I could not see, in the little time I had to spend working on the edits, how I might do this. I spent a good few hours puzzling over this during some elusive #acwri time. I got nowhere. It was only when I went out for a walk, during the sleepy mid-afternoon period, that things clicked into place.

I am very lucky to live in an area with beautiful walks on my doorstep. I particularly enjoy walking away from roads where possible. I’ve recently devised a route around the village that takes me along a disused railway line which backs onto fields and then into our local country park before heading along a wooded path back home. There is something very relaxing about being surrounded by nature and away from houses, cars, roads, people. My plan is to keep walking in the hope that the thoughts, ideas and inspirations continue to flow in spite of the limited time I have available to act upon them.

What about you? Does walking aid your thinking? Are there any other activities you find similarly productive? I would love to hear others thoughts on this!

Transnational Cinemas: Deborah Shaw Talk and Workshop, Durham University

Last week – amidst the chaos of A LOT of exam marking – I had the pleasure of attending a talk and workshop on the topic of transnational cinema delivered by the brilliant Deborah Shaw, Reader in Film at the University of Portsmouth. These events were organised by the World Cinema and Cosmopolitics research group, an interdisciplinary research cluster in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University, coordinated by Abir Hamdar, Francisco-J. Hernández Adrián and Dusan Radunovic. Having found these events particularly productive and inspiring at such a challenging and intensive time of year, I wanted to write a post to reflect on some of the topics of discussion that arose from Deborah’s talk and the related workshop. This post by no means accounts for the breadth and depth of the discussions that took place over the two events but rather focuses on what, at least for myself, were the salient points addressed.

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Childhood and Nation in World Cinemas Conference (Royal Holloway, University of London, April 2016)

 

RHUL-CNWC-Logo

I’m currently sitting in departures at Heathrow Terminal 5 having spent the last few days at Royal Holloway, University of London attending the Childhood and Nation in World Cinemas: Borders and Encounters since 1980 conference. With plenty time to kill before my flight, now seems as good a time as any to write up my experience of the conference – which, in short, was one of, if not the best conference I’ve been to in my academic career so far.

Continue reading Childhood and Nation in World Cinemas Conference (Royal Holloway, University of London, April 2016)

#AcWriMo 2015: Day 15

So today marks two weeks since the start of #AcWriMo 2015 and the halfway point of the initiative.  This is the first time I’ve engaged in #AcWriMo – short for Academic Writing Month – despite following the trend on Twitter for the past few years.  I signed up for it on a bit of a whim in the last week of October, thinking that I didn’t have much on the go.  November has conversely turned out to be an extremely busy month for me work-wise: I’m checking page proofs of a co-edited book on the avant-garde which will be published in Spring 2016; I’m participating in a Pecha Kucha event next week at the Belmont Cinema in Aberdeen; I’ve a book review due in at the end of the month; I’ve an abstract for a journal article due mid-December; not to mention all the other various publication projects I’ve currently got on the go in relation to my PhD thesis!  I also work part-time (three full days a week) which limits the time I have to work on academic stuff.  So signing up for #AcWriMo and pledging to produce the first draft of an article that I’ve not yet done a whole lot of research for was perhaps not the smartest move I’ve ever made.

Continue reading #AcWriMo 2015: Day 15

“I Will Survive” (The Viva): Part Three

This is the third in a series of posts (you can read the first two here and here) about the viva.  In this entry, I’m going to list the bibliography of resources I used, the list of questions I came up with to ask myself as practice questions, a handy checklist of equipment you might need and my final hints and tips, in the hope that it might prove useful!

Continue reading “I Will Survive” (The Viva): Part Three

“I Will Survive” (The Viva): Part Two

While my last post focused on viva survival from the perspective of preparation, in this post I deal with my experience of the event itself.  As I mentioned in my earlier entry, every viva is unique.  So while I anticipate this personal account might not be of much use to others, I think it’s important to share our stories – as Dr Nathan Ryder encourages in his “Viva Survivor” podcast series – about the examination in order to debunk some of the myths that surround the whole experience.

My viva took place at 10am on a Monday morning, which, for me, was ideal.  I am a morning person.  I work better in the mornings than in the afternoon/evenings.  I’m most productive and alert in the morning.  And I was also extremely nervous on the day of the examination, so knowing that it would be taking place first thing was definitely a plus for me.  In terms of nerves, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so nervous.  Prior to the viva I had been fortunate enough to have been interviewed for a few academic jobs, which had stirred similar feelings of anxiety.  However, the interview feels like less of an unknown, given that there is a host of material online about how to approach academic interviews, the sorts of questions you might be asked and so on.  The viva felt like much more of a mystery to me.

Continue reading “I Will Survive” (The Viva): Part Two