6 July 2018
This is the last day of the conference, and although it could have been nice to spend more time getting to know new colleagues, chat over delicious food and enjoy the sun, I feel I have already gained so much, found new avenues to explore in my research and forged some really exciting collaborations.
Keynote by William Walters who asks: What can the Ruins of an Atomic Weapons Research Facility Tell Us about the Multiplicity of Secrecy?
Walters tells us about the mystery of Orford Ness, a nuclear testing site in the east coast on England. For someone like me who used to live next to one such site in Hampshire, I am intrigued. It was interesting to live next to AWE, that’s the name of the place. Most people who lived in the town and around it were employees of this facility and everyone talked about it constantly – from the cleaning staff to the engineers. Walking around the multiple fence layers that surrounded the site, it was both unnerving to know we were sleeping on top of a nuclear research site, and at the same time, mundane. There were endless speculations on what was going on behind and below the fences. As Walters says in his talk, secrecy is constitutive of our relation, institutions, and subjectivities.
Secrecy is abundant everywhere, apparent in everyday news, probing the secret life of celebrities. For 18 years Orford Ness was an army site for 1st and 2nd generation atomic bomb experiment. This made the area a highly secured place. Today, it is managed by the National Trust opening it up to public visits during the summer. Although this is open to the public, it still has a duality of near and remote, open and secret.
A polymerous approach to secrecy affords to build a more qualitative understanding of secrecy in it morphology, borders, charms and allures, its geographies, visibilities and ontologies. For Walters, it is exposing the practices of secrecy rather than the secrets themselves that is of interest.
The site of Orford Ness has a 100 years of military secrecy. In 1913 the forerunner for the air force began to experiment with the airplane. By 1935 some of the early testing of radar began and then in 1950s the atomic bomb research centre was established, built along the coast line. Because the UK doesn’t have deserts or large, expansive “empty” areas, it explodes the bombs in Australia. The atomic centres are more like simulator centres, examining the safety of atomic bombs, which to me, is an oxymoron.
The second value of Orford has to do with the gatekeeping practices of those who took over the site – the National Trust, Europe’s largest conservation organization, who purchased the land in 1993. It was bought also due to its rare gestated shingle spit.
Walters goes on to discuss ways of thinking about secrecy in relation to socio-material practices on three levels: managing, memory work (the production of memory, recruiting people to talk about their experience of working in the place), and place hacking – which I found really interesting in relation to my own interest in anarchy. Place hacking is a different production of secrecy interested in breaking into secret places and posting them like trophies. The lurkers, that’s how place hackers in the area of Orford call themselves, are asserting their authority over the space that is counter to the curation of the National Trust.
Next, I have the wonderful opportunity to listen to Franco Zappettini’s talk titled, ‘The Official Vision for ‘Global Britian’: Free Trade between Liberal Internationalism and economic Nationalism.
Brexit means a critical juncture of historical and new discourses. Today Zappettini talks about what he terms ‘Global Britain’ as a drive for Brexit, looking at a website in which white papers, press releases and other documents are published by the department for exiting the European Union (DExEU) of the official UK government website. Zappettini examines the official British government standpoint, the split views inside the Cabinet, looking at the discursive construction of Global Britain and internationalism as a driver of institutional discourses of Brexit. Particularly, he asks which specific meanings of Global Britain have been discursively constructed to legitimise Brexit and which values underpin global Britain.
Internationalism, a very complex concept, has two key dimensions, as Zappettini explains. One one hand it is about the interdependence and cooperation between states and on the other, the inter-state governance and world economic policies.
What comes out of the corpus built for this study, is that internationalism is used as a tool for shifting legitimising contexts. Brexit is represented as both rupture and continuity of international narratives.
The talk ends with a question: Does Global Britain embody the potential paradox of Brexit as the imaginary of escaping from the negative consequences of global liberalism only to aim for more of the same? We will have to wait and see.
The last talk for the morning sessions I go to before lunch is Carl Emery’s on The politics of mental wellbeing and education.
Emery’s research aims to uncover how language works to construct meanings that signify people, objects and events in the world in specific ways. Today he talks about child mental health crisis.
In 1997 starting with the New Labour government pursued through the coalition government of 2010 now continuing with the conservative administration there has been a continuous worry and unease about the state of children’s mental health.
“If a child says they feel sad, is that a mental health problem?”
The current problem is that there is a perception that children and young people today are more troubled and badly behaved than previous generations. A green paper from 2017 aiming to transform children and young people’s mental health say that 1 in 10 young people has some form of diagnosable mental health condition.
So the current solution taken up is that schools should be the ones to solve this problem. And we can see a proliferation of in-school programs incorporating wellbeing, emphasising mental health discourse within classrooms. However there are many unanswered questions regarding this new practice: is this crisis real? If it is real, why has it arisen? What are the forces shaping it? Is it pathologising normal childhood behaviour? Who benefits from this crisis?
This research uses Fairclough’s intertextuality and interdiscursivity, bearing witness to negativity where we as critical discourse analysts must be critical secretaries.
The current crisis is a continuation of a series of child moral panics that has grown very quickly. It didn’t appear until 2014 at the same time as austerity and neuro-science began to be seen as a driver for solution. The location of the crisis moved from a societal concern to the inner world of the child. There is no relational context, only in the ‘brain’. There is no definition of what mental health is. There is no clinical within this situation for example – if a child says they feel sad, is this a mental health problem?
Emery leaves us with this last thought – Who benefits from this crisis? Is it possible that schools are using this crisis to push back against budget cuts and the performativity agenda?
It is now time for the last plenary session. It was a great great honour for me to be having dinner at the same table with Caroline Tagg and then attend her keynote on Analysing Facebook as a space for public discourse. Caroline was one of the writers of my BA coursebooks at the Open University, which I enjoyed immensely and which have helped shaped my future.
Caroline begins by asserting that there is a need for discourse analysis to investigate fake news. Facebook (FB), is said to have been borne out of radical transparency. However, FB’s commercial and social agendas go hand in hand, posing a question in relation to transparency.
Echo chambers and filter bubbles have an effect on many arenas of public life. Facebook is trying to filter out news that it suspects may be fake, but this entails two problems. First, that if news are not fake, they’re necessarily true. And the other that people, if they knew a news item to be fake, would not circulate it. Which is of course, not true.
How users choose to engage with news has as much to do with the construction of online identity as it does with the construction of news. So to tackle the spread of fake news, we have to understand how interaction takes place on FB.
The starting point for the research is the notion of context collapse, the way in which FB Friends (with capital ‘F’ rather than ‘real’ friends) are comprised of all people in your life, all in one place. “The flattening of diverse social relations into a monolithic group of Friends makes it difficult for users to negotiate the normal variances of self-presentation that occur in day-today life” (boyd and Mawrick, 2011).
But of course, in real life, offline contexts also are not demarcated very harshly as is often thought. So a new ways of thinking about it could be by the framework designed by Tagg, Seargeant and Brown (2017):
This could potentially be true for all communication, but is most relevant to online communication.
So to end this report, I will say that the last three days have given me plenty of food for thought which will no doubt result in more interesting writing and help shape my ideas and the way my project will develop.
Finally, I would like to thank again the organisers, Lise-Lotte Holmgreen and Julie Skibsted Larsen for the event that ran incredibly smoothly and in a timely manner. Thank you to Prof. Chris Hart and the academic committee for accepting my abstract and giving the opportunity to participate and present. And finally to the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures and my supervisors for their invaluable support.