on the academy, weeknotes

Year Note 4 – Fit the Second – Rituals and Institutions

Having just come back from a graduation ceremony the fact that being an academic is not just a job is apparent. All the pomp and ceremony and hanging out in a big, breezy cathedral are not the normal aspects of a regular job.

When I graduated I thought universities and their ritual were a bit of an anachronism, and probably still did a little when I started out at UWE. They were cute, but past their time. It took me a couple of years, and some of my own students graduating, before I actually attended one. But I think the rituals like graduation highlight two very important and seemingly undervalued aspects of universities. There is the position of the academy as a social/cultural institution and the position of the academic as a role (or station) in society. Both of which I don’t think I particularly, or fully, appreciated when I started out, and also both of which are being every more quickly eroded ((especially under the new UK corporate management, though it is not just them that are to blame)).

Now though, rather than this being something vestigial, I actually think there is too little ritual and ceremony around university ((The only things we seem to have are freshers week/end and then graduation. Nothing else really fills the roll.)). Not that I think there should be some quirky oxbridge snobbery, strange handshakes and weird underwear. No, these need to be events, happenings, spaces and place that help the university fit into the city and the community. Also when I say university, that is the whole shooting match: the students, staff, academics, campus, branding, strategy, etc. Ground up, top down. One of the reasons that graudation is nice, and actually rather unusual, is that a lot of us are all together at the same time.

And the reason for needing more ritual, events, I think, is that universities are, and should be social institutions, not just businesses who churn out students and commodifiable knowledge. So they need rituals, events, activities and places where they can interact with the various communities in a variety of ways. Not just big flashy stuff, but little events too.

UWE’s position as “the partnership university” is good. And it does come through by partnering with communities outside itself. Not that I have any experience of other universities, but I think it does do it better than most.

I went into this graduation today, a bit glum, mulling over some of these thoughts about ritual, universities as social institutions and community relationships. But the talks from both the honorary PhD and the Pro-Chancellor were quite uplifting in that they really pushed home the relationships between the university, graduates and industry, as well as the wider community. They both described the university in the way I think it should be.

Plus I got to eat cupcakes with excited graduates.


Bodies, rhythm and digital games @ Gesture, Play and Technology

Next week I’m giving a talk at the Play Research Group’s annual symposia.

Start Date: Monday 17th May, 2010 – 09:30
Location: Pervasive Media Studio, Bristol

Bodies, rhythm and digital games.

This talk will cover Henri Lefebrve‘s rhythmanalysis technique and discuss how it may be applied to digital, non-digital and pervasive games. As well as his methodology, his work on bodies, gestures, traffic, exchanges and daily rhythms all bring insights to the practice of game playing.

Rhythmanalysis, in its original formulation, can be used to describe the way games fit into society and the larger patterns of how play fits into everyday life. It is also well suited to explore the lower level detail of gameplay itself in a physical and embodied manner. Because of this it gives a tool that can describe gaming from the second to second button-mashing dance of gameplay, though game structures, to play sessions and ultimately how games fit into the wider, cultural and societal cycles of our lives.

Many discussions of gaming describe it as a break in the everyday or an escape into an alternate world of fantasy and the virtual spaces of digital games make this separation appear more stark. However the fundamentally physical, repetitive and rhythmic characteristics of games are intrinsically a reflection of their quotidian nature. Exploring the interactive eurhythmia that games create through the specific linear and cyclic rhythms of gameplay opens up these cybernetic texts to a physical and embodied analysis. It provides a way to understand certain game patterns in ways that narrative and ludological approaches cannot.

UPDATED: Slides available here.