RESCON14 – Birmingham City University Research Conference 2014

This week began with ‘RESCON14’ – Birmingham City University’s (BCU) annual Research Conference 2014. In the five years of my research, I have attended this only once for various, no doubt out of the country in China, reasons, so thought as the opportunity was there, it would be good to present my work. It was a day of triple scheduled, back-to-back, short ten-minute presentations about current research from BCU, where I presented the practical outcome of my current PhD research – ‘The Temporary: Curating China’s “Architecture of Change”‘ (I’ll speak about this later on). It was a great opportunity to find out the now of “contributions to new knowledge” across all faculties, departments and disciplines…also, a chance to show support for fellow PhD colleagues, who are at very different stages of their research. So good to see Karen, Anastasia, Ed and many more speak. Here are notes on the sessions that resonated with me-my research interests-my wordgirl-worldgirl daily habits…where some made my research brain very, very happy.


RESCON14 Richard Kenny

After an introduction by Cliff Allan (Vice Chancellor at BCU), the day began with a keynote address by Richard Kenny from Birmingham City Council who spoke of ‘Urban Science: A Vision for Birmingham’s Future’…

Future is Cities: Cities – connectivity, density and complexity:

  • By 2050 the world’s urban skeleton will be set up for generations;
  • Over 75% of the world’s 10 billion people will live in cities – about half now and 3% 1800;
  • Challenges for existing cities is new cities – already 1,000 cities with over 5000k people;
  • Cities are the new business sector – UK Government estimates UK market at £250 billion;
  • New York creating an estimated $100 billion market in smart cities through applied urban science.

Future is Cities: But do we need more than one to make a country?

  • Look at world map, only one dot – London;
  • London – a giant multiple monopoly – centre of national, administrative, economic, financial and political power;
  • Prevailing view London at all costs – agglomeration – and £94 billion public expenditure to unlock diseconomies;
  • Spreading jam too thinly doesn’t work – concentrate on places that have biggest potential – Capital and labour flows to London?

Birmingham as a “hotspot” world city by 2025…it has the foundations for a unique “game-changer”…multiple strategies and plans ahead for its development and sustainability. He spoke of existing city-university collaborations that currently/largely focus on public services; science; economic impact, intelligence and LEP-land; data and evidence; workforce development and skills; applied research and development relevant to local people. He introduced the ‘Birmingham Institute of New Urban Science’ (BONUS – what is it with research centre acronyms?! There should be a PhD researching this!) and his involvement…”Birmingham’s future comes from it becoming an urban research laboratory…How do we translate this research to impact and make changes for the citizens, people and communities in our city? We need to get to know those citizens through research…through collaboration and networking.” A question from the audience raised the issue of the huge differences in inequality across the city, to which Richard responded, saying that it came down to the funders and what they want to fund, a skew from them…

“Birmingham is a tale of two cities for sure…where inequality here is unacceptable in today’s century…without going into a new paradigm I don’t know what the answer is. We are in a multi-disciplinary world…it’ll be interesting to see how other universities play into this space.” – Richard Kenny

Next was ‘Delivering Change through Interdisciplinary Research’ by Mark Reed looking into how BCU, and as research individuals, we can reap rewards from this landscape. He coined “trans-disciplinary” after examining mono-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary research practice (making me and my PhD land of “transcultural” curating very happy)…we don’t produce knowledge for knowledge sake, it is for impact and the importance of this impact agenda. Mark mentions the theory of ‘Paradigm Shift’ as a way to create impact…not something I am familiar with so I have asked him for more information.


Impact starts with:

  • Design – design a knowledge exchange and communications strategy;
  • Represent – who do we actually want to engage in the research? Who do you want to benefit from the research?;
  • Engage – The most important word for Mark, of empathy…putting yourself int he shows of the people who can benefit from your work…building long-term relationships based on trust, respecting the sources of knowledge equally with our own academic knowledge;
  • Impact – Delivering tangible results as soon as possible that can be valued by as many of your stakeholders as possible;
  • Reflect and sustain – monitor and reflect on your knowledge and how you can take it farther and wider, beyond your research circles…sustain your work for longer.

“Interdisciplinary teams work when the are based on trust…cultivate direct relationships…you need to invest time and energy into building capacity for the interdisciplinarity…the tools, models and language used.” – Mark Reed

This concluding statement by Mark resonated deeply with me as this is how I negotiate my professional practice every, single, day…and what I try to instil in my students, my colleagues and those who surround me. I truly believe this is how many of the crazy things in my life have happened…through the simplicity of honesty and trust.

After a short morning break facilitated by the strangest automated coffee and tea machine I think I’ve ever come across (tea was in small vacuumed sachet bottles), it was time for the main series of presentations to begin. I chose the second presentation room as that was where my presentation was to take place later that morning. First up was Ursula Lutzky and Andrew Kehoe‘s presentation on ‘Discussing dissing and cussing: a corpus linguistic analysis of impoliteness in blogs’. Their work originally began with work on ‘apologies’ (which I would have liked to have heard more about to set the context for this research)…then moving onto ‘swearing’…in the future to look at more ‘expressive’ terms. The research focussed on many methodological strands including:

  • Corpus linguistics – the study of large portions of electronic texts to discover and analyse new language…naturally occurring (‘real’) language data, form frequency and sequences and distribution;
  • Pragmatic Analysis – Close study of small amounts of data in context…naturally occurring (‘real’) language data and the study of the function of language;
  • Why blogs? Blogs are an interactive media, “interaction-at-one-remove” (Nardi et al. 2004) asynchronus means of CMA, graphic and communicative immediacy, current language trends.


Variation of labels and inventories…not restricted to singular words. Using a swear word might not equal swearing…used in a metalinguistic way. Context in use in vital in determining the meaning of the word and text…collocation analysis (co-location, two words appearing side by side…meaning determined by context of use)…they examined shared and unique collocates. Swears are often used in clusters….intensifiers “such”, “complete” and “total”…also collocate with “like”, quotative “I was like”. There is application of this in refining profanity filters. More information can be seen here I recently came across this article on the history of swears/swearing – The first uses of the filthiest words in the English language – so I sent it onto them.

For my ten minute presentation, I spoke about ‘The Temporary: Curating China’s “Architecture of Change”‘…a topic that I am now very used to talking about as it has been over six months since the project happened. Still yet to post about it here on the blog. I introduced ‘The Temporary’ and the inaugural exhibition by citing statistics about China and Shanghai’s rapid urban growth, ghost cities such as Ordos left in the wake of rapid urbanisation, then leading into how this gave me a focus of transcultural experiences of “architectures of change”.





During my brief Q&A session afterwards, and I mean brief, one audience member stated that ‘The Temporary’ became permanent the more it developed, then asking whether China was thinking about its history, or more destroying its history – “is it ahistorical” as such? To which I responded saying that China is not familiar in the same way as the “West” with history and heritage, certainly not at the moment in terms of saving an urban history and architecture. However, they are now very conscious of creating a criticality of contemporary Chinese art where my research contributes to creating this history. He said my work is really “a history of the future rather than a history of the past”…which I’d actually agree with…

Christine Lloyd followed, talking of ‘Analytical Network Processing Methods in Bioenergy Research versus Life-Cycle Analysis Models’…where she noted the use of “Fuzzy Logic” as a methodology, implemented when there is a degree of uncertainty and for understanding complex systems. I’d never heard of “Fuzzy Logic” before so I had a little research as to what it was about…shown below.

Fuzzy Logic RESCON14

“Fuzzy logic can be conceptualized as a generalization of classical logic. Modern fuzzy logic was developed by Lotfi Zadeh in the mid-1960s to model those problems in which imprecise data must be used or in which the rules of inference are formulated in a very general way making use of diffuse categories. In fuzzy logic, which is also sometimes called diffuse logic, there are not just two alternatives but a whole continuum of truth values for logical propositions. Fuzzy logic can be used as an interpretation model for the properties of neural networks, as well as for giving a more precise description of their performance.” – Rojas (1996)

As the sessions in the lecture theatre where I was got shuffled around due to a non-attendee, I only managed to catch the end of Ed McKeown‘s presentation on ‘Why are there no music curators?’. I desperately wanted to see this presentation due to its resonance with my current work and the sound works produced as part of ‘The Temporary: 01’. He has just started his PhD research and runs the Third Ear. As I walked into the lecture theatre, he was talking about the denial of genre is in itself a genre convention…one field of practice is to make claims and contextualise them as what art might be, the other is to make just one claim. He went on to speak on the contentious issues between the terms ‘music’, ‘sound art’ and ‘sonic art’…music audience versus a contemporary arts audience…the potential of seeing different musics as different discourses and the relationship between theses discourses and practice…music as an aesthetic experience…the rituals and practices that are carried through, to experience and how these are taken on by the public. How we look at the relationship between subject and object, where listeners relate to music as an experience…moving away from the artistry of music being within music, but being produced socially. The social production of music is not just about creating homogeneous communities, it is about “otherness” (where this word is problematic in my research in terms of classifying cultures, but different here it is used as an aesthetic understanding). He also wants to look at material and anthropological systems…as previously mentioned, how genres construct discourses and how we talk about and identify the remainder or supplement that is not contained in the discourse…ultimately, it all relies on criticality and reflexivity.

After an extended lunch where I caught up on some wordgirl admin that never seems to diminish, I went to listen to Karen Patel, a research student who I have very recently got to know through the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media at BCU. She spoke of her new research into ‘The social media use of creative and cultural workers’ introducing her work through a 1998 definition of the “creative industries” from the DCMS (that is currently under review…and very much-needed, it’s been 16 years!):

“Those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property”. – DCMS


She wants to research the nature of social media use among creative and cultural workers, and to what extent it can inform the understanding of creative communities…through Twitter, community networks, strong and weak ties, social and other capitals, making reference to labour and precarity. Karen cited the “performativity” of expertise on social media (Twitter).

“An individual may style himself an expert and be penalised by nothing stronger than sniggers.” (Goffman: 1959,68)

She then made a clear articulation – Can anyone be an expert? How does Twitter and an individual represent themselves as an expert? Who are the cultural intermediaries involved in this process of acknowledgement? She mentioned “tastemakers”, who are they in today’s market place between culture and the economy? Karen is actually using me as a trial run for her research, a trial case study as such…and I’m quite looking forward to this process. Creative Economy, an approach via cultural political economies. Also interested in the blurring between personal-professional life at home through the use of these social medias. Her research questions are:

  1. What is the nature of Twitter use in the everyday lives of creative and cultural workers?
  2. How is expertise performed on Twitter?
  3. What can both of these tell us about the workings of the creative economy?

Birmingham is to be the focus chosen because of its distinct social media scene, where more research will be done into the cultural political economies and cultural intermediaries. Her methodology will use “Tweets” analysis using Fairclough’s Critical Discourse Analysis, a qualitative history mapped through interviews with creative and cultural workers, then relating back to the wider context of the creative economy through ideas of cultural-political economy. Karen documents her research, much like I do, on a research blog that you can read here –

Next up was Anastasia Nikologianni, one of a handful of students who I share the research office with…she was speaking on ‘Low Carbon as a critical element to landscape regional infrastructure’. She referenced the use of overuse and multiple understandings of the words in field, such as climate change, environment, low-carbon, sustainability…the idea of “Garden Cities” as a main area of research, then questioning:

  • How do we think about zero/low-carbon in regional areas?
  • What does sustainability/low-carbon look like in an urban form?
  • What do expect (green spaces? Water?)?
  • How would you deliver a new “Garden City” which is visionary, economic and viable?


Through case studies she would look at low carbon’s representation in master-plans, open spaces, use of water, bisecting space, connections in and between space including transportation, water strategies, city extensions and “snowflakes”. There was a huge focus on words and terminologies in Anastasia’s work. How does this all fit with the topology of the lands? See the role of drawing into master-plans. A question from the audience, well more of a statement, asked are we locked into a geometric world too much? Should we be looking at the space of flows not a place of shapes? After this presentation, it was time for wordgirl to move on to write and type…so I missed the final part of the day (apologies to Sian as I really wanted to hear about your research!).

Key thoughts, ideas and actions from the day, showed that research and the process of research, needs to:

  • Be trans-disciplinary;
  • Be collaborative;
  • Have a clear voice;
  • Question, question, question;
  • Think visionary and into the future, as much as identifying and acknowledging a past;
  • Be risky…and take risks;
  • Be shared, needs to breathe, needs to be reflected upon, as much as you can, as far and wide as you can;
  • Be a catalyst and not always a place of resolution(?).


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