All entries for Saturday 22 September 2012

September 22, 2012

On being a CPRA judge

Last week I spent two very enjoyable but very intense days in London, most precisely at Goldsmiths’ stunning – if dull named - New Academic Building to carry out my duties as jury member for the Cultural Policy Research Award. The award was instituted by the European Cultural Foundation (ECF) and the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond in 2004 and since 2008 is run in partnership with ENCATC, the network that brings together organisations that offer training in arts management and cultural policy, of which the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies is a member. The prize consists in the award of €10,000 to a young researcher to conduct a one-year research project of an applied nature on a topic of great significance for Europe.

Historically, the decision of setting up the award was the result of the observation made by senior staff at the ECF that research in the field of cultural policy was still patchy; that, as a foundation involved in policy analysis and advocacy, they felt that the available research was not sufficiently robust and that academically rigorous research that was also relevant to the policy process was paltry. Hence the decision to create a scheme to facilitate the emergence of new researchers with an interest in the type of cultural policy research that can positively contribute to the development of original scholarship in the field whilst also providing crucial new insights to policy makers.

Nine editions of the award on, and the landscape of cultural policy research has dramatically changed: the bodies and institutions – within the academy and beyond – which produce research in the field that we can broadly refer to as ‘cultural policy’ have grown significantly in number, and so have the available training opportunities. The field now has a number of dedicated publications: academic journals such as The International Journal of Cultural Policy and Cultural Trends, professional publications in most countries, and so on. Interestingly, the nature of the competition is also following suit and changing slightly and broadening its scope: for instance, this year, a significant proportion of the shortlisted applicants (including the one who eventually was awarded the prize) had entered the competition with projects that claimed (rightly) to address topics of key importance to Europe but whose focus of analysis and fieldwork was located in other geographical areas, often in the developing world, and shared an interest in questions of policies for development seen as contiguous to cultural policy.

This trend has led to some really vigorous and intellectually really stimulating discussions among us jury members as to what ‘research relevant to Europe means’ and on other equally intriguing issues such as: how to understand the notion of ‘applied’ research in relation to rigour and scholarship, and most notably what the criteria of ‘policy usefulness’ means for the proposed projects. Reaching a decision was actually a rather lengthy process of detailed analysis of the project ideas, candidates’ oral presentations and their ability to front questions and objections from the floor. This year’s winner, in the end, was Christiaan de Beukelaer, a 26 years old PhD student from Belgium enrolled at the University of Leeds. He will be spending his €10,000 doing ethnographic fieldwork in Africa, with a view of challenging our (very European/Western) faith in the UNCTAD-sanctioned model that sees the creative industries as key to economic development.

The CPRA winner, shortlisted candidates and the jury

In these years of austerity, €10,000 are not an insignificant amount of money and, as a researcher and a teacher, it is such a great pleasure to be able to offer a young researcher (often mid-way through a PhD) much needed cash to carry out precious fieldwork, or develop his or her own research agenda. However, if I’m honest, this is just part of why I love being a CPRA member… The CPRA shortlisted candidates present their projects not to the jury alone, but to a fairly substantial group of peers, who attend the Young Cultural Policy Researchers Forum. This is an ENCATC initiative established in 2006, which aims to offer young and early career cultural policy researchers the opportunity to meet fellow researchers and develop a personal network of colleagues with whom to share projects, experiences and good chats at the pub once yearly, when the Forum is convened just before the opening of the ENCATC big conference. The Forum coordinators at ENCATC put together various activities for the Forum participants, ranging from methodological sessions, to more pragmatic forms of training (for example, last year I led a session on ‘how to get published’ that was full of tips and very practical advice). The jury members are always involved in these activities, and this means that – in my second year as a CPRA judge – I’m starting to get to know some of the ‘Forumites’, and I love it!

YCPR Forum participants 2012YCPR Forum participants - group photo

I really, really enjoy my time at the Young Cultural Policy Researchers Forum. I am so impressed by these young researchers, and how bright, motivated and determined they all are. Also, they are great fun. The Forum usually takes place in late summer/early autumn, when your average academic (well, at least me!) is worn out by an exhausting summer writing schedule, or by dissertation marking & teaching, and the morale is low. Yet, two days at the Forum suffice to stimulate and invigorate me: these young cultural policy researchers are so articulate (very often in a language which is not their native one), so lucid in their thinking and original in the projects they are developing. If these young scholars are representative of the work being developed in the field, then there is a bright future ahead for cultural policy research. And the feeling that, at least in some little part, by being a CPRA judge and helping out at the Forum, I am supporting this burgeoning research community makes that load of marking so much easier to bear!

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