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University of Nottingham Researching Culture, Film and Media

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 Semester Two Workshop Descriptions

Use the descriptions below to decide which workshops to attend in semester two. You must choose one workshop in each group. Sign-up will take place on Moodle.

Group A — Interacting with People as Research Practice: (Participant) Observation, Interviews, Focus Groups, Questionnaires and Surveys

A1 Participant Observation

Participant observation is a useful method for studying the working practices of media industries. It helps researchers to capture a range of data whilst taking part in a media-related activity. It is a valuable method for recording how media participants think and talk about their work, to observe unspoken practices, and to uncover formal and informal relationships between members of a media ecology.

You will learn the advantages of participant observation and how to select a suitable media network to research. It addresses issues of gaining access, ethical considerations and writing up your findings as ‘written photographs’.

 A2 Virtual Ethnography

A range of digital technologies permits researchers to embed themselves in and study communities that exist in virtual spaces. Here, researchers rely on observing and analysing textual representations of the ‘online self’ as opposed to face-to-face interactions especially where data may not be possible to access in other ways. Moreover, virtual spaces provide opportunities to research interactions and phenomena that may not occur in physical spaces. By the end of this session, students will have a better understanding of how to make effective use of this research technique, of what counts as data, and of related ethical and contested issues.

A3 Approaches to Screen Criticism

Film reviews, social-media postings and other print and online discourse constitute valuable evidence of how audiences engage with film and television programmes. These sources help us to understand, situate and interpret media reception and its mechanisms – for example, taste formations and cultural discourses informing the classification and assessment of media texts. But how do we locate, categorise and analyse this evidence? This workshop will, firstly, address various aspects of reception study, thinking about the venues in which screen criticism appears, and the formal and informal criteria writers and users abide by in producing that criticism. Secondly, this workshop will investigate the terms on which we can deploy such evidence, and what we can learn about media users, texts and more as a result.

A4 Practitioner Interviews

This workshop will introduce students to the practice of interviewing professionals about their work. It will examine when this method is appropriate to use (and not to use) and what the pros and cons of practitioner interviews are. Through practical exercises students will learn how gain access to, contact and approach media professionals. The workshop will also examine how to draw up and devise interview questions. The second workshop will build on the first and approach how to conduct the actual interview. Using practical exercises students will gain experience of what makes a good (and a bad) interview. The workshop will

also address how to analyse interview materials, drawing on recordings and transcripts of actual practitioner interviews.

A5 Focus Groups

Focus groups provide the opportunity to gain detailed insight from a selected group of participant informants. They can be used in combination with surveys to provide detailed, interactive, information about particular questions. These workshops will introduce students to the basics of how to design and conduct focus groups and the key pitfalls to avoid.

A6 Designing and Analysing Questionnaires

This workshop will explore how to design, run and analyse a questionnaire. In the first workshop, we will discuss what makes a good (and bad) questionnaire and you will work in small groups to design a questionnaire on a topic that interests you. You will then have a week to recruit participants and collect data. The second workshop will focus on analysing questionnaire data. It will explore various tools that can help with the analysis and guide you through the first steps of turning questionnaire data into an argument.

A7 Social Media I Studying Twitter and Weibo

In this workshop students will learn the basics of conducting research into two of the world’s most popular social media platforms, where hundreds of millions of users engage in everything from media fandom to personal brand building to political activism. Our everyday use of social media can make these sites an appealing and seemingly simple grounds in which to work, yet in an academic context, this deceptive familiarity hides many issues. In addition to practicing effective data collection and the essentials of platform, social network, and online discourse analysis, we will discuss issues of privacy and ethics, highlight the problems of datafication, algorithms, bots and fake information, and censorship, and learn to critically engage with popular narratives about social media and big data.

Group B — Human Traces I: Text, Document, Content

B1 Ethnography

Ethnography involves participant observation in real-life events and among ordinary people, with the aim of coming up with a ‘thick description’ (Geertz, 1973) of and critical reflection on social life. The method also has serious personal, political and ethical concerns, not least demonstrated by the need to gain ethical approval before one conducts fieldwork. This workshop will introduce students to the complicated but fascinating method of conducting ethnography, with a focus on doing participant observation in cultural events. Film festivals, art exhibitions, theatre premieres, music festivals…these events play an increasingly important role in contemporary social and cultural lives. Analysing them as ‘texts’ does not do justice to the complexity of the social relations involved in these events; nor does it tend to the richness of the participants’ experiences. The best way is to go to these events and experience them as they are. This is where ethnography can be useful.

B2 Video Games

As the past two decades have witnessed the increasing economic as well as socio-cultural relevance of video games within our current media landscape, game studies has grown into a highly dynamic and thoroughly interdisciplinary field of study that bridges theory and practice, combining critical approaches informed by game design theory, literary theory, and media theory with empirical approaches from sociology, psychology, and education. The first session will introduce students to the in-depth analysis of video games as aesthetic artefacts, with a particular focus on “indie games.” During the second session, students will present their own contextualized “close readings” of selected “indie games.”

B3 Visual Analysis

How is an image read? What can visual composition tell us about the function of an image? And how do the formal qualities of imagery affect the viewer’s response? By learning the methods of visual analysis and applying them to examples, this workshop will allow students to develop the skills and understanding needed to answer such questions. Examining a range of image-based representations, including traditional compositions, conceptual installations, and popular visual media, the workshop will familiarise students with important elements of how images are made, before considering how their making affects their meaning.

B4 Film Texts, Contexts and Paratexts

These workshop sessions are designed to highlight some of the ways in which we can conduct research into film at the historical moment of its production and circulation. Looking at specific case studies of British cinema, we will explore how film can be studied in relation to the social, political and cultural currents of its time. We will be looking specifically at the study of paratextual approaches to film research by examining the various texts which surround the film text, such as marketing and publicity materials, reviews, and interviews.

B5 Quantitative Content Analysis: Objectifying the Subjective

Quantitative content analysis (QCA) is a useful method of describing individual media texts (films, TV programmes, music, games), as well as spotting trends in groups of media texts (box sets, TV series, film franchises, albums) that might not be apparent through other methods. QCA objectifies the (often subjective) attributes of media texts.

This workshop discusses the benefits of QCA. Using examples, you will learn how to identify, measure, categorise, and prioritise elements of media texts.

In the second workshop, you will learn how to analyse your data and create visual representations, charts and graphs in order to support persuasive arguments.

B6 Magazines

These workshops will offer students an introduction to using magazines as a research tool. Magazines are excellent source material for many of the questions, both historical and contemporary, that arise in media and cultural studies, including, but not limited to, constructions of gender, body image, lifestyle and domesticity, as well as the circulation and reception of film and television. The workshops will help students to identify what kinds of magazines might aid their research questions and how to locate specific magazine titles, both online (where available) and in archives and libraries. The workshops will discuss how to select appropriate source material from magazines, including how to collate samples from across a wider collection. We will discuss issues of interpretation, including how to contextualise the source material from the magazines and how to recognise their limitations as evidence. By the end of the workshops, students will have a working knowledge of how to integrate source material from magazines into their own research projects.

These workshops will offer students an introduction to using magazines as a research tool. Magazines are excellent source material for many of the questions, both historical and contemporary, that arise in media and cultural studies, including, but not limited to, constructions of gender, body image, lifestyle and domesticity, as well as the circulation and reception of film and television. The workshops will help students to identify what kinds of magazines might aid their research questions and how to locate specific magazine titles, both online (where available) and in archives and libraries. The workshops will discuss how to select appropriate source material from magazines, including how to collate samples from across a wider collection. We will discuss issues of interpretation, including how to contextualise the source material from the magazines and how to recognise their limitations as evidence. By the end of the workshops, students will have a working knowledge of how to integrate source material from magazines into their own research projects.

B7 Newspapers

Newspapers can be incredibly useful resources when conducting research, and these workshops will help you to understand how you can access a wide variety of newspapers using digital resources through the library, such as LexisNexis and other archives. It will demonstrate how to conduct searches for specific newspapers, time periods or topics, and how to filter results in order to ensure they are relevant. The workshop will also train students in how to approach newspapers as sources, as they have particular agendas that need to be taken into account when used in academic research.

Group C — Human Traces II: Discourse, History, Archives

C1 Critical Discourse Analysis

Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is a methodology for examining language, ideology, and power in 'texts'. Texts can refer to any number of socially produced items, from news media articles to advertising, from social media to political speeches. Researchers analyse the linguistic features of texts to draw out what an author says, how and, importantly, why they say it, with the text being considered in its broader context. For example, a government minister might say that ‘The NHS will be improved by making efficiency savings’, whilst opposed activists might say ‘The NHS is being forced to make damaging cuts’. In these workshops, we will consider how meaning is created in and by texts and apply this to a number of examples.

C2 Oral History (Confirmed but amended outline to follow)

The past is a rich terrain for research in film, media and cultural studies. What role did the press play in generating attitudes to race in the Second World War? How and why did the miniskirt become iconic in the 1960s? These are examples of historical research questions asked by previous students in their dissertation projects. These workshops will offer hands-on training in doing historical research, focussing on the different kinds of primary sources which historians use and how to find them.

C3 Film Consumption and Cultural Value

Notions of value permeate our understanding of the consumption of media texts. Oscars (and their nemesis, the Razzies) and film festival awards, for example, provide us valuable clues on an economy of prestige that regulates audiences’ reception practices and taste regimes. How do researchers approach this subjective notion of ‘cultural value’ to study film consumption? Addressing this question, the first part of the workshop gives students the opportunity to familiarise themselves with key terms and concepts around cultural value, and how these can be used to investigate film’s circulation and cultural contexts. During the second part of the workshop, students will apply these concepts to discuss reception and consumption of particular filmic texts.

C4 Material Culture

These workshops will introduce students to some of the various approaches for studying material culture. Firstly, the workshop will provide students with theoretical frameworks for exploring material objects and their role in our everyday lives, thinking about how objects accrue meaning through their social uses. This will include thinking about how media objects, in particular, are ‘domesticated’, i.e. brought into the space of the home. Secondly, it will discuss methods for researching material culture, including what potential sources could be used in this kind of research, such as photographs, advertisements, and oral histories.

C5 Using Archives

This workshop will introduce students to the ways in which historical and contemporary experiences intersect as researchers extract meaning from sources in archives. Students will learn how researchers can make effective use of archives to pursue supplementary information and additional perspectives about their data from people, objects and artefacts

that existed in the past. By the end of the session, students will not only have a better understanding of what archives are, how they come into being, and why they are useful, but also appreciate the huge significance of being attentive to unexpected leads or chance encounters and fascinating discoveries in archives that can enrich a research project through rendering it more interesting, robust and convincing.

C6 Trawling the Net: Temporal issues in Internet Research

They say that the internet never forgets, but how do you know where to look for the material or data you need? This workshop deals specifically with temporal complexities of internet research, with two particular focuses. The first session deals with searching for material which have seemingly disappeared from the internet, whether due to the sites no longer existing or if the content has been removed, banned or censored. The second session relates to social media and chat apps data, using a mixed-method approach into researching into specific past events or for longitudinal study purposes. The workshop will also cover issues surrounding surveillance, ethics and consent.

C7 Narrative Analysis

Narratives are everywhere. Whether we are looking at an advert, visiting a museum, reading a novel or a comic, at the cinema, watching a TV programme, or playing a video game, we are being fed narratives - even in the most benign and unexpected places. This workshop will introduce students to certain key terms and concepts for the analysis of narrative across different media; it will explore the sheer range of narrative forms by addressing their reach into more or less every aspect of our day-to-day lives (as the foundation of individual, cultural and commercial identity, and the basis of history); and it will allow students to familiarise themselves with an array of essential theoretical writings concerning both the construction and deconstruction of narrative, encouraging them to apply the critical reading skills acquired towards popular pieces of literature and media. These are timeless discussions that seem all the more urgent in the face of the emboldened political narratives of the early twenty-first century. As historian Timothy Snyder writes in his advisory booklet On Tyranny, under the machinations of political propaganda ‘we are hit by wave upon wave but never see the ocean [and yet we must]’.

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