18 more reasons to like working at CCS

Sibi Arasu

MA Cultural Studies Course, 2011

Age: 24
Nationality: Indian
Undergraduate degree and course: Bachelor of Science in Visual Communication
Previous job before MA: Correspondent, Panos Radio South Asia
Current Job: Senior Correspondent, India Today

“I chose the Cultural Studies course for the potential it held in widening my knowledge base, especially in media and media theory related ideas, which I hoped would help enhance my career prospects in journalism.

The course stood out for me. It was unlike other courses I had looked at, and because I had already acquired a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism, I felt the knowledge that I would gain from a course in Cultural Studies would be more relevant to me.

The course has taught me how to read philosophical and theoretical texts in a structured manner, research and write in detail on subject areas of my choice and interest, and in particular, develop a meticulous reading habit.

My favourite part of the course was organising the seminar called Unfinished Business—Undoing Cultural Studies, along with other peers from my department. The seminar dealt with a wide array of issues regarding cultural theory and how it is practiced. I was primarily involved in the making of a short-documentary which involved gaining opinions from a large spectrum of people on the question of culture. The process was a student-initiated affair, and it was a great learning experience organising the event itself.

I believe the course has helped me to develop a more analytical framework, which I can apply when possible during my work as a journalist. The theory I learnt has also helped me form more coherent arguments.

Throughout the course, I was really inspired by works such as Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari, and the theoretical texts of Michel Foucault, which I was unfamiliar with before the course commenced. A wide range of South Asian texts, including works by writers like SH Manto, also provided me with a new perspective.

In the future, I would like to have a job which enables me to produce journalistic reports and features on a consistent basis, and on a wide-array of subjects within the South Asian context.

I think for perspective students interested in this course, it would be good to know exactly how you would like to apply theory, to learn, and get informed about your chosen field before enrolling on to the course.”

Interviewed by Claire Shaw

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Bryony Beynon

MA Culture Industry, 2010

Age: 26
Nationality: British
Undergraduate degree and course: English and Cultural Studies at Sussex University
Previous job before MA: Public Relations Executive
Current Job: Programme Officer at Arts Council England

“I had been looking to further expand on my interest in cultural theory and was uncertain if PR was really for me. This opportunity to study at Goldsmiths came along at just the right moment.

I was interested in the focus on production and organisational critique, and the fact that it brought together theory and practice in a meaningful way with the scope of the final projects.

Throughout the course I was constantly challenged in my thinking and forced to consider multiple angles by our tutors Matthew Fuller and Josie Berry Slater. The opportunity to attend seminars with Angela McRobbie hugely informed my thinking and illuminated the path for an intersectional radical feminist critique of the culture industries.

A particularly memorable moment was walking through the land that would become the Olympic park. Walking from Stratford to Mile End with cultural critic Anthony Iles completely upturned everything I thought I knew about the Olympics. It’s a walk I’ve taken many friends on since, a public footpath route that has become smaller and smaller as the Games preparation has progressed.

For my major project I spent a month at the office of a volunteer-run magazine based in San Francisco, mapping the knowledge exchange, working hierarchies and modes of production at play. This experience taught me the value of reflexivity when it came to any kind of ethnographical work.

The knowledge I gained from my MA has been absolutely invaluable to me in my current job. My position involves running a pilot programme that offers advice and loan funding to creative businesses. It’s ultimately about balancing creativity and life under capitalism, the very same debate that struck at the heart of so much of what we debated on the MA course.

I am currently working on a community project to create an autonomous creative space in South London that will link up independent musicians and artists with learning disabled adults and other social groups that have trouble accessing the arts. My goal at the moment involves getting that off the ground with successful fundraising and grants, and creating a sustainable proposition for that space to exist on a permanent basis.

I would advise prospective students to be ready to think critically and look beyond your own world when it comes to what we mean by ‘culture.’”

Interviewed by Claire Shaw

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Cristobal Bianchi

PhD in Cultural Studies, 2010

PhD Project title: Bombing of Poems: Poetics of a Plural Event
Nationality: Chilean
Undergraduate degree and course: Licenciado in Psychology at Universidad de Santiago de Chile
Postgraduate degree and course: MA Interactive Media at Goldsmiths, University of London
Current Job: Member of the Casagrande art collective (www.loscasagrande.org)

“The Centre for Cultural Studies was an interesting place to develop my PhD. It gave me the opportunity to consider that it was possible to write a thesis about the Bombing of Poems in the first place. I found out, for example, how the Bombing of Poems can be thought of as a practice that deserves research because it can bring out ideas and relations between concepts and different fields. It made me think of it as the tip of an iceberg, with most of its structure hidden. My thesis perhaps illuminates a crack within this hidden geography.

The bombing of poems is a symbolic intervention, and as such makes references to other acts of air bombardment – indiscriminate death raining from the sky – and in this way confirms the brutality of total war. The use of such bombing oscillates between being proscribed by international treaty to being used for ‘just war’, as well as for pedagogical purposes in which the waging of war against civilians becomes legitimate. My thesis takes these air bombardments as critical background for the research, but also points to a different type of air bombing – that is to say, one realized using poems. The Bombing of Poems takes place in cities that have experienced aerial bombing during military confrontations and has so-far been carried out in Santiago de Chile, Gernika, Dubrovnik, Warsaw, Berlin and recently in London.

Following one of Umberto Eco’s ideas, the Bombing of Poems, in my understanding, is an open act (Eco, 1989), and as such is located in an intermediary space that permits it to be studied from different perspectives. For example, the Bombing of Poems is situated within a tradition of practices that use the sky to form an image through movement from high places, without it mattering whether these projects are defined as artistic works, literary scenes, cinematographies, psychological warfare, political propaganda, or marketing strategy. In their own contexts these interventions are both inside and outside of art, politics and publicity. Obviously our work recognizes this ambivalence and plasticity, but it also tries to situate itself as a public intervention and a performance – which is to say in the terrain of the poetic.

The papers that are dropped from the helicopter are poems printed on bookmarks. The bookmarks are suspended in the air before they become gifts – that is, before they arrive to the streets, the people and the buildings. They are a reference to the pamphlets used as propaganda and in psychological warfare to demoralize the enemy. This image comprises the act of bombing and constructs the visual effect of rain or snow falling from the sky. The poems are written by authors who are younger than 42 years-old and who are from Chile and other countries where the event occurs. Poetry is important precisely because it speaks for itself. In this way, poetry is located in the Bombing of Poems as an instance of the poetic, and for this reason there is no specific theme to be found in the particular contents or messages of the poems.

The helicopter over the city poses a dichotomy to the public. On the one hand, it creates a sensation of fear due to the impossibility of escaping from the omnipresence of this machine of war. On the other hand, and in the opposite sense, it gives a sense of rescue and liberation that comes from the sky, partly due to the helicopter’s ability to land in difficult terrain. In between the tension of fear and relief, the Bombing of Poems relocates not only the audience, but also urban space. It does this by means of a symbolic intervention that extends a violent event in order to change its meaning within a radical opening of the memory (Opazo-Ortiz, 1997).

CCS gave me the chance to outline a research project, not only as an academic question but also a biographical one related to the past thirteen years of working with poetry in public space as well as experimenting with publishing through different technologies. My classmates made the experience of the PhD much more real, productive and friendly.

I have had the chance to present the Bombing of Poems and share this research at cities in many countries. I did presentations at the New School in New York, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Prague, Wales, Dresden, Guernica, Belfast and Göteborg. In London I presented at Middlesex University, Central Saint Martins Design School, The London School of Communication and This is not a Gateway Festival (2009). This year I will present a paper at Yale University in the symposiumArchitecture and Performance and at the cultural week in the University of Bristol.”

For further information about the Bombing of Poems project you can e-mail Cristobal atcristobianchi@gmail.com

Interviewed by Leila Whitley

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James Burton

PhD Cultural Studies, 2008

PhD Project title: Machines for Making Gods: Mechanisation, Salvation and Fabulation in the Works of Henri Bergson and Philip K. Dick
Nationality: British
Undergraduate degree and course: BA English (1999), Cambridge University
Postgraduate degree and course: MA Cultural Studies (2002), Goldsmiths, University of London
Current Job: Humboldt Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Ruhr University, Bochum (Germany)

“After I finished my undergraduate degree and started working, I found I wasn’t very happy sitting in an office, and was increasingly feeling dissatisfied with the politics and culture of the world around me. I didn’t think I had the personality to go into politics, but I thought I might have the characteristics of someone who could research and write about it and maybe hope to help change it that way. So, I thought, how can I pursue that further? And I did the MA and PhD in Cultural Studies.

I had previously studied English literature, and the people who taught me were brilliant and very open-minded, quite politically minded and so on, but by the end of that degree I had begun to see traditional disciplinary boundaries as quite rigid and somewhat arbitrary. If I was going to pursue postgraduate study, I wanted something that would let me combine my different interests in philosophy, literature, politics and other fields, and let me experiment with different media and cultural forms. CCS turned out to be just what I was looking for: in the anti-disciplinary cultural studies tradition of figures like Richard Hoggart and Stuart Hall, but with an openness and sensitivity to a wide range of contemporary cultural and political trends, as well as modern continental philosophy and cultural theory (which was particularly important for me).

Studying at CCS can be a bit of a chaotic experience at times, but to an extent that just reflects how much there is going on in terms of seminars, invited speakers and other events. There’s a sort of intermingling of theoretical, academic, but also social and activist, activities. We used to organize a lot of things among ourselves, just the students, like reading groups, and the journal (or noctournal)Nyx, which is still being produced by students and ex-students. I think overall it’s a lot less of a lonely experience than most people describe as characteristic of doing a PhD. I never felt alone or isolated, and if anything I had to carve out space to be alone to finish writing my thesis.

On the surface, my PhD was about philosophy and science fiction – specifically, the philosopher Henri Bergson and the science fiction writer Philip K Dick. More thematically speaking, it developed a theory about the relationship between mechanization and salvation in modernity, how modern culture is beset by contradictory imperatives, caught between immanence and transcendence, materialism and spiritualism, and the way fictionalising or fabulation, might function to mediate those difficulties, to enable what I termed a form of ‘immanent salvation’. On another level though, it was just a reading of two thinkers/writers who I love and think have a lot to say to each other.

Now I’m doing a postdoctoral research fellowship in Germany at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. My research here is geared towards producing a book on the concept of metafiction as a central category in contemporary cultural theory and experience. I’m also rewriting aspects of my PhD for publication as a book called The Philosophy of Science Fiction.”

Interviewed by Leila Whitley

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Federico Campagna

MA Cultural Studies, 2011

Age: 28
Nationality: Italian
Undergraduate degree and course: BSc Economics at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy
Previous job before MA: Rights Manager at Zed Books in London
Current Job: Rights Manager at Verso Books

“I chose this course because I wanted to complement my studies in economics with a more philosophical approach. I felt the course could teach me how to contextualise my work in the publishing industry within a critical interpretation of culture and cultural production, as well as improve the theoretical foundations of my writing.

I particularly liked the department of cultural studies and how it provided a truly interdisciplinary approach, while at the same time creating strong connections between philosophy, cultural theory, anthropology, sociology, art and even business studies.

I gained a deeper understanding of the various theoretical and critical approaches to cultural production during the course. This has helped me contextualise both my work and my position as a cultural consumer. I also met some very interesting people during my studies, who I hope to stay in touch with.

The course allowed me to understand the industry I work in as a field of cultural production, and how I can interact with it and with all its philosophical and political implications.

I enjoyed the courses’ scope for independence, which meant I had the time and the resources to explore and research, which was a great asset to the writing I am doing now.

During my studies, Franco Berardi ‘Bifo’ really inspired me through his writing and through our friendship, along with writer Mark Fisher who I still frequently discuss ideas with. In terms of more contemporary journals, I have found Wilful Disobedience a very worthwhile read.

The knowledge I have gained from the course has definitely made me a lot more familiar with the concepts behind the books that Verso, the company I work for, publishes.

My dream would be to live well while writing, as well as having free time to travel.

I would advise prospective students to read as much as you can and try to meet and talk with people, not just the ones on your course, and try and have a mentor/friend that you can discuss your work with.”

Interviewed by Claire Shaw

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Christine Checinska

PhD Cultural Studies, 2009

PhD Project title: Colonizin’ in Reverse! The Creolised Aesthetic of the Empire Windrush Generation
Nationality: British
Undergraduate degree and course: BA Hons Fashion and Textiles University of West of England
Postgraduate degree and course:MA Fashion and Communication, University of the Creative Arts Epsom
Previous job before MA:Fashion Design Consultant
Current Job:Freelance Exhibitions Researcher/Curator and Fashion Design Consultant

“I became interested in doing a PhD whilst I was completing my MA at Epsom. I realised that academics and artists with a Goldsmiths connection wrote many of the texts that I was reading and being inspired by, for example, Gilroy, Mercer, Jefferies and Shonibare. Goldsmiths has always had a reputation for creativity, for robust critical debate, for the breaking down of boundaries and that to me was really exciting. I think it is this ability to embrace a cross-disciplinary approach that makes Goldsmiths unique – CCS typifies this way of working. Speaking as someone who doesn’t really fit into a neat pigeonhole, Goldsmiths CCS seemed to be the right place for me!

Much of my work was and still is underpinned by Stuart Hall’s writings and I knew of his connections with CCS. I was specifically interested in exploring post-colonial studies; no other centre offered expertise in this area.

As a creative practitioner, it was important to me to have a supervisor that also had a practice background as well as someone rooted in post colonial studies. CCS made this possible through it’s links with the then Visual Art department. The relationship with the supervisor is key to doing a research project; they become almost like personal trainers – they have to push you when you need pushing! They also need to inspire. I was very fortunate.

At CCS my eyes were opened to so many different things. I remember being encouraged to present papers and publish articles. The first conference that I spoke at was in St Kitts – exciting and scary in equal measure as this was during my first year as a research student! One of my first articles was published in “Kunapipi: The Journal of Postcolonial Writing”; again, this opportunity came directly from one of my supervisors suggestions.

Since graduating, I’ve worked on a number of freelance projects with INIVA – The Institute for International Visual Arts. Second Skins: Cloth and Difference brought together a dynamic group, working in the fields of textiles, cloth and fashion exploring the role that cloth plays in the re-fashioning of identities in geographical and symbolic border crossing. Similarly, Social Fabric is an exhibition examining the role of textiles in social and economic processes.

Publications include Social Fabric (Iniva Publications, 2012) and Every Mickle Mek a Mockle: Reconfiguring Diasporic Identities in Beyond Borders (Pavement Books, 2012), drawn directly from my research project and examining the notion of dress as a creolized non-verbal “Nation Language”.

My aspirations have certainly changed. My interest in curating came directly out of my time as a research student. Similarly, I now view writing as part of my creative practice.

It’s important to find the right department/centre and the right combination of supervisors that meet your academic needs, your style of working and aspirations. Doing a PhD is a long process and can sometimes feel a little isolating – you have to really connect with your topic; it’s the “spark” between you, your topic, your supervisor and your peers that keeps you going.”

www.iniva.org/exhibitions_projects/2012/social_fabric/

www.iniva.org/events/2009/second_skins

Interviewed by Lee Mackinnon

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Saoirse Fitzpatrick

MA Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy, 2011

Age: 24
Nationality: British
Undergraduate degree and course: Social Anthropology and Development at The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
Previous job before MA: Internship at World Development Movement NGO
Current Job: Social Enterprise Consultant in Mozambique

“I wanted a course that was really critical of development, and there was definitely not a similar course around. I knew Goldsmiths was pretty left-wing and open minded because whenever I had heard lecturers from Goldsmiths on the radio, they were always on a really interesting programme and often quite outspoken.

It seemed like a natural progression from my undergraduate degree – going more in-depth and questioning what I had learned before. I had also heard that Bhaskar was an entertaining professor.

The course taught me to question my own position in terms of picking out when I was positively discriminating against things. The policy lab lessons were especially interesting, because at the time when I was studying, it was all about the rise of the tuition fees. It was a real movement we were in – we were part of something historical. It was great that we did not look at global issues in a passive way, but were encouraged to actively talk about it.

I learned to be more of a realist and look at the world in a different way, especially by getting away from the romantic tendency to see cultures foreign from your own as beautiful, amazing and unchanging, and to actually see that there are so many lines where things converge and diverge. It is when you see history repeating itself again, that forces you to question why we are going through the same mistakes again.

The course gets rid of your assumption that in global development or charities something needs to be done, and therefore doing anything is reasonable. It teaches you to question yourself and your own goodwill, and to question where your own anthropologic attitudes come from.

The most important thing the course taught me was that development does not really work if it is not for profit. I think for me, now working with social enterprise, development is about giving people business opportunities to make a living, because meritocracy is a myth, as we do not all start off in the same playing field, and some people do not have access to the same opportunities, so I think it is about recognizing those differences in class, in privilege, that people have, and try to narrow that gap.

I would advise prospective students to get stuck in and reflect on what the course teaches you on a day-to-day basis.”

Interviewed by Claire Shaw

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Richard Iveson

PhD Cultural Studies, 2012

PhD Project title: Thinking Encounter with Animals
Nationality: British
Undergraduate degree and course: BA(Hons) Design, University of the Arts London (Camberwell School of Art)
Postgraduate degree and course: MA Writing, Middlesex University
Current Job: writer, tutor

I work mainly at the intersection of Continental philosophy and Animal Studies, which is set to become a key area of radical political change over the next few years. I have a number of articles published or forthcoming, and am involved with a number of action groups concerned with the mutual articulation of apparently disparate oppressions (how speciesism underwrites racism & sexism, for example), and with ending the exploitation and oppression of nonhuman others. At the moment I am working on my first monograph, based on my PhD dissertation, which is to be published next year.

I wanted to do a PhD to prove something to myself, I guess, and because it would give me space and time to study whilst at the same time providing a structure and a goal of sorts (I’ve never been a fan of the “taught at & take notes” style of study). This latter too goes some way to explain my choice of Goldsmiths, which I applied to for two simple reasons: radical politics and creativity.

After an unorthodox interview with John Hutnyk (the main thing I remember was the brooding b&w portrait of Marx on the wall), I started in Sep 2006. The influence of Continental Philosophy and Theory was immediately evident in the seminars, and this immediately inspired me to begin an intensive course of reading that is still continuing today (well, maybe not immediately – during most of the first year, I often felt to be somewhat adrift, that I’d been accepted by mistake, although I guess this was a combination of lack of confidence and of not having the right supervisor). Yeah, so even though I was adrift in the first year, I still read a great deal of Nietzsche & Marx in particular, it was still a productive time. Eventually, at my first panel Bhaskar (who was not connected to my study) basically gave me another list of books to read, which was (no irony intended) incredibly important. In my second year I changed supervisors and, although it was unnecessary for us to meet often, these were the two major events which changed the course of my study for the good.

Doing a PhD revolutionised every aspect of my life, although upon completion it does turn out that old habits die hard. It enabled me to understand and articulate a great number of those things which previously I had perceived only in a vague sense as problematic or unjust, as well as provide ways for trying to change things. At the same time, it made me realise that universities are not bastions of truth and free discussion (an illusion all too quickly dispelled), but both suffer and inflict injustice and reactionary politics.

Choose a subject you are passionate about, and read, read, read – widely, slowly, and in-depth. If you have the passion, you will never get bored. If you simply want to be a Dr., or think you will earn lots of money then don’t bother – there are much easier ways of doing both.

Interviewed by Lee Mackinnon

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Alexandra Sofie Joensson

MA Interactive Media, 2010

Age: 27
Nationality: Danish
Undergraduate degree and course: BA Art History, Copenhagen University Denmark
Current Job: Self employed media practitioner and researcher

“I was interested in more practice-based research methodologies and in the critical approach to media history and technology, which seemed to be at the heart of the Centre for Cultural Studies research production.

The main difference from the other programs I looked at, was that the Interactive Media course offered a Free and Open-Source Software lab environment to support research through practice. I remember thinking that I did not really understand what it was all about in the beginning — but it was worth taking the risk to try it out.

The course enhanced my openness and curiosity, my critical thinking skills, and skills in conceptualizing practice-led research projects.

I think this course is a potential space where practice-led research can spring out of collaborations. Every year is very different, but during the year I attended, the most exciting questions where produced collaboratively. For example, the award winning project (http://xmsg.org.uk/) initiated by Cliff Hammett and myself, saw us creating a low cost DIY telephony server together with sex workers activist group x:talk.

Today the project is a platform for critical reflection on how communication practices and structures materialise in the sex industry — a space where new collaborations and knowledge ecologies can take form as a mutual exchange.

I think doing this course can raise ones awareness of how questions can be critically investigated through collaborative environments. The Flee Immediately (http://fleeimmediately.co.uk/), by former student Renee Carmichael, is yet another initiative investigating forms of practice-led collaboration through production and publication, bringing attention to the frameworks in which co-productions can materialise.

The course has led me to many new research areas and pushed me to work with practical projects in technology that I did not have previous experience with.

I work as a full-time mum, practitioner and researcher, and in most of my activities the skills that I have acquired during the masters course including, critical thinking, learning by doing, and project management, are all operating in the back or foreground of my life.

I would advise prospective students to be open, ready for plenty of failure, and to make sure you have fun.”

Interviewed by Claire Shaw

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Olga Mascolo

MA Creating Social Media, 2012

Age: 28
Nationality: Italian
Undergraduate degree and course: BA Literature, Padova
Previous job before MA: Web-editor

“I needed a decisive change in my life. The Italian Government did not, in my opinion, adopt a proper employment policy towards young people, so I decided to take the time to invest money for my education.

After working for a while as a journalist, proofreader, and web-editor, I realised that my interests were increasingly focused around social media.

What I liked about this course was the opportunity to learn something useful about coding, developing and build websites, web-scraping, and digital search tools.

The course offered a critical approach to social media and how to use it, as well as learning about new ethics in the use of digital research tools, and building aptitude from source code.

During the course we went to Unlike Us in Amsterdam — a conference about alternatives to social media monopolies. I met many interesting academic personalities from all over the world who were involved in critical research on social media. It made me aware of a lot of avant-garde and provocative art projects in the social media field.

The course’s critical approach to social media really inspired me and made me think differently. I particularly enjoyed the course in mediating the social, and the concepts of online and offline communities.

We also got the opportunity to collaborate with Mozilla developers, who helped us with coding and using our creative side to make interactive videos. I was inspired by their project Mozilla Popcorn, and in March went to a workshop held in the centre of London to learn more about the project. This was a fantastic opportunity to network.

My ultimate goal is to be a community manager, and also win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

I think prospective students need to get ready to manage their time really well, and be willing to take part in all the events that are on offer, not only at Goldsmiths, but in London as well.”

Interviewed by Claire Shaw

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John McKieran

MA Culture Industry, 2010

Nationality: British
Undergraduate degree and course: Business and sustainable innovation at the Open University
Current Job: Founder of Platform-7 – a micro events company that hosts live performances in everyday spaces

“I wanted to find an MA that made sense to what I was trying to discover. Of the three courses I looked at, I felt Goldsmiths was perfect for me and what I was thinking about.

I set off with a plan to mess up my own thinking in the first term, rebuild it in the second term, and find out something interesting in the third term. I was interested in the performer and audience, and what that audience was. But as I got into first term, I realised there was a third part, which was space – so I decided to focus on the relationship between audience, performer and space.

I had an absolutely fantastic time and met some amazing people who have become great friends since. The course took me on a journey that I was really wanting to go on. I was not really interested in grades, but more on comments, and talking to people and doing stuff.

The course has helped me to contextualize things better. It gave me a whole new set of thoughts, and opened up a whole different line of threads. I think the course makes you braver, so as not to be scared of not knowing.

What most people agree with who go to Goldsmiths is that it is like nowhere else. People think quite abstract at Goldsmiths, and you are always being challenged by what you think. People do not shut you down, but challenge their perception as well as your own.

Cumulatively, there were a lot of things that challenged my thoughts. I came across a lot of philosophy which I had never heard of before, and I learnt how to read it. Production of Space was a particularly important book to me, as well as Foucault’s Discipline and Punish - it is truly a fantastic piece of writing, and you cannot help change the way you think after reading it.

The course has influenced me hugely. At the end of the MA, I allowed myself three months to make a decision to see if Platform-7 was a viable idea. What I got out of my MA, was that it was viable. We now do big cemetery events around Remembrance week in November, which is likely to go national this year. The idea is to have fine art, poetry, contemporary dance, and classical music situated around a large cemetery in the evening,  with people walking though it and coming across these small pieces which are displayed and performed for one minute at a time, to inspire people to keep moving on.

This course is for people who want to be challenged, and also want to challenge themselves and question their own thinking – you just need to throw yourself into it.”

Interviewed by Claire Shaw

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Joel McKim

PhD Cultural Studies, 2007

PhD Project title: Memory Complex: Competing Visions for a Post-9/11 New York
Undergraduate degree and course: BA English at McGill University and MA Media Studies at Concordia University (both in Montreal, Quebec)
Previous job before you started the course: Senior Research Analyst at iPerceptions
Current Job: School of Arts and Sciences Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh

I was interested in the interdisciplinary openness of Goldsmiths, the college’s emphasis on the study of political and aesthetic theory, and its overall focus on issues of contemporary visual culture. The Centre for Cultural Studies appeared to foster creative research approaches, while also maintaining a high degree of scholarly rigour.

The college’s close connections to galleries, institutions and discussions across London also made the course very attractive.

It may sound somewhat grandiose, but the course helped me better conceptualise the large-scale patterns of cultural, political and economic change that are affecting our contemporary world. Goldsmiths does not shy away from addressing big societal issues and it encourages students to make meaningful links between subjects and disciplines that are often held at a distance in more conservative academic settings.

I was particularly inspired by Professor John Hutnyk’s reading group on Karl Marx, Professor Scott Lash’s seminar on cultural theory, and Professor Howard Caygill’s seminar on the history of contemporary thought. I also greatly enjoyed the camaraderie of my fellow PhD students and the various reading groups and conferences we organised together.

The interdisciplinary research skills I gained at Goldsmiths helped me both obtain my current position teaching and researching at the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh, and work within it. I believe I was granted the fellowship because the faculty at Pittsburgh recognised that I brought an unusual perspective to architectural studies, one informed by political theory, cultural studies and contemporary philosophy.

For perspective students I would recommend being prepared to take advantage of all of the resources Goldsmiths offers that are of interest to you, regardless of what department they reside in. This can require having the courage to knock on a professor’s door or request to be enrolled in a seminar outside your home discipline. The many points of connection between departments at Goldsmiths is one of the college’s strengths.”

PhD description: (My PhD considers the intersection of memory, politics and aesthetics at five distinct architectural sites connected to the events of September 11. These sites range in size from the spontaneous memorials that surfaced in places like Union Square only hours after the attacks to the landscape urbanism project that is converting the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, where the World Trade Center debris was deposited, into a public park and wetlands conservation area.  Drawing from architectural theory, political thought, and media and communication studies, I try to explore how memory functions given the scale of international conflict and urban reconstruction involved.)

Interviewed by Claire Shaw

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Junko Theresa Mikuriya

PhD Cultural Studies, 2010

PhD Project title: Intimations of Photography
Nationality: Japanese/ Taiwanese
Undergraduate degree and course: BA Honours French, University College London
Postgraduate degree and course: Maîtrise en lettres modernes, University of Paris IV – Sorbonne
Previous job: Photographer (fashion editorial/ album covers); Lecturer, School of Creative Media , City University of Hong Kong
Current Job: Lecturer in Photography, Department of History and Philosophy of Art, School of Arts, University of Kent

“I was working as professional photographer in Taiwan and although I had a successful career, there was a part of me which really missed academia. I was invited to teach as visiting artist at City University of Hong Kong. I had always wanted to do a PhD. However, like most people, it was a matter of financial costs and time, which had made it seem difficult and unrealistic after having finished my masters degree at the Sorbonne.

I chose Goldsmiths and CCS because of its excellent reputation, interdisciplinary approach, and also knowing that I would be working with the top scholars in the field. My project could not have happened elsewhere.

The whole atmosphere of CCS was stimulating and exciting. My classmates came from different disciplines. Within the peer group, there was a wide range of projects; we shared ideas and problems- – you get to know one another very closely. There was a real sense of camaraderie. I loved the fact that after the seminars, lectures and talks, the discussion often continued and eventually ended in the pub as the night went on!

There is the opportunity for students to organise conferences and workshops and to meet leading thinkers in their field- you can always discuss ideas with other staff who are very welcoming. There is an inspiring breadth of knowledge from staff members. Every year, students are asked to submit their written work to a summer panel. I found the experience amazing- although it was also terrifying! The annual summer panel was something to look forward to and it provided a wonderful opportunity for students at the end of the year to have three experts giving feedback; staff read your work so thoroughly and give such invaluable advice. It helps you to formulate your thoughts. This is very unique to CCS. I really appreciate the dedication of staff members who support and encourage students to pursue their individual projects.

You have to be very passionate about your research project even though it may be quite nebulous in the beginning. CCS enabled me to realise my project. I guess doing a PhD allows you to learn about yourself- and how far you can push yourself intellectually. Once you have done a PhD, anything is possible! You learn how to analyse various phenomena and discourse; you understand how your mind works.  The writing process is fascinating; it is intensely cerebral as well as physical. The experience opens up new possibilities regarding how you understand your being in the world. I really miss those years, even though there are always worries (financial pressure, being an overseas student, producing work) but to have that support and a critical voice is a great luxury.”

Theresa’s book ‘The Spell of Photography: A Philosophical History of Photography since Plato,’based upon her PhD research, will be published by IB Taurus in 2013.

Interviewed by Lee Mackinnon

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Paul Mills

MA Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy, 2011

Age: 26
Nationality: British
Undergraduate degree and course: French and German Studies at the University of Warwick
Previous job before MA: Researched and wrote educational modules about climate change
Current job: Journalist and filmmaker

“Postcolonial Studies provides a way of thinking that can be applied to a range of issues I am interested in, from domestic issues such as multiculturalism, to more anthropological studies on culture and identity, and wider phenomenons such as globalisation and neoliberalism. I felt the course would help me hone a set of theoretical tools that would give me more nuanced and complex understandings of the issues that interest me, whether at home or abroad.

I was intrigued by the approach of this course, that seemed more contemporary than certain more traditional anthropology or development courses in other universities that lead you through a history of the classic works of the discipline. Whilst studying highly theoretical perspectives on issues such as culture, globalisation, development, diasporic culture, subaltern studies and feminism, the Policy Lab encouraged us to bridge the gap between theory and action, discussing how these ideas affected us activists, writers and campaigners.

The course taught me to try and decenter myself from a trained way of thinking, critiquing our own identity and philosophy in order to understand how we got where we are. I think a key challenge is to try and understand the many different worlds that exist our Western one, which can be relevant whether thinking about history, religion, politics, development or philosophy. I ended up applying this approach to urban studies, where I studied how African cities, specifically Douala in Cameroon, have developed in different ways to our own and are generating new ways of living that should not be understood simply as failed or underdeveloped versions of our own cities.

Since the course I have become more confident in my understanding of certain key socio-political terms of our times. I have gained a criticality and set of perspectives which I will take with me whatever I do.

My advice to prospective students is to just do it! I felt it was a real privilege at this stage in my life to have the time to stop and think and read about issues I care about. I think it helps if you know what you are looking for; approaching the course through the lens of a particular issue you care about can make it easier to navigate way through what can sometimes be a dense and difficult theoretical jungle!”

Interviewed by Claire Shaw

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Susan Schuppli

PhD Cultural Studies, 2009

PhD Project title: VOODOO SPACE: Event Machines & Media Entanglements
Nationality: Swiss-Canadian
Undergraduate degree and course: BA Visual Art at Simon Fraser University
Postgraduate degree and course: MFA Media Arts at University of California, San Diego
Previous job before PhD: Director/Curator of the OR Gallery ― Vancouver
Current Job: Projects coordinator and senior research fellow in Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths College

“It was always my life ambition to do a PHD. I was living in a somewhat isolated city in Canada, so I wanted to move somewhere that was a nexus ― a city where interesting people from around the world would move through on a daily basis ― this is what initially attracted me to London and consequently Goldsmiths.

Goldsmiths is very progressive. The way in which it tackles its objects of study is very innovative, and that was hugely important to me. The demand to think differently about the world is always present, and I do not think I would have had that at any other university.

As a researcher or artist, it is very easy to follow your own interests. But when you come into a programme of study, you have an encounter with people who insist that you engage with ideas that you might not have naturally encountered. And when you do, everything changes ― you are transformed by that. I can quite candidly say that I am a different person having spent my time here.

The programmes in the Centre for Cultural Studies and CRA (in which I was based) allow you to be promiscuous about your research project. Of course you need to be rigorous, but eccentricities of imagination are also always encouraged. The experience gave me a whole new set of tools for thinking.

In London I was also able to hear a lot of people speak whom I had only previously read, including Isabelle Stengers. Her work played an important part in my dissertation, so that was great for me.

With a shift in geography, come new opportunities to mobilise your work in other cities and other situations. Through Goldsmiths I met all kinds of people who created opportunities for me to develop artworks, projects and writing. I also went to lots of conferences and presented my work in the UK, Copenhagen, Zurich, Barcelona, Frankfurt and New York.

This is crucial to assessing your own work outside of the immediate context in which it was developed, to see if it can perform in the way you claim it can without relying upon the specifics of the environment in which it was developed to attain its legibility or coherence.

I think the programme at CCS really helped me enormously in terms of giving me a different vantage point to try out new ideas. A PhD never replaces the knowledge you already had, but begins to solve the problems you brought to it differently.

To do a meaningful PhD, you need to embark on that adventure with total commitment. It should never be a means to a job or merely continuation of studies. You have to take the risk that everything will change, and be open to the potential that the ways in which you previously thought about the world will fundamentally be transformed. You should never come out the same person as you went in.”

Interviewed by Claire Shaw

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Craig Smith

PhD Cultural Studies, 2007

PhD Project title: Structuring Interactivity; Space and Time in Relational Art
Nationality: American
Undergraduate degree and course: BFA (1996) from the University of Oklahoma
Postgraduate degree and course: MFA (1998) from the State University of New York at Buffalo
Current Job: Associate Professor at the College of Fine Arts, University of Florida

“I completed my MFA in photography and visual theory about five years before starting a PhD. During the non-academic time I began teaching as well as continuing to work as an artist. What I realized when I started teaching (in 2000 at NYU and Hofstra University) was that I did not know the background of the theoretical models ‘imported’ by post ’68 art practices (minimalism, conceptualism, performance, video, some photography, …), nor did I understand the etymology of the terms being ‘applied’ to art practices. That was my incentive to seek a post-graduate program in which I could continue to work as an artist and to utilize my background as an artist, as well as interest in teaching, in my research.

My first conversation with Scott Lash was about all of this. He shared his sort of wild-eyed optimism about what I was doing. I don’t think he confused me with a scientific scholar or analyst, etc… I think he thought I would make art as PhD. But what I liked about the CCS is that I could use art practice as an element, but not final outcome, of my PhD dissertation. So my wife and I moved to England (for her it was a return home) and I started the program at CCS. At that time there were about 45 students, maybe 15-20 at the seminars, and no one really knew what a ‘practice-led’ PhD meant or how it should be assessed. I decided immediately that I would write a thesis as thesis, the same as my colleagues. This helped me to move my practice away from ‘representation’ and into a materialization of some theoretical modeling.

I had a great group of colleagues at Goldsmiths. All of us attended the CCS seminars weekly as well as seminars in “contemporary thought’ every other week. It was through the discourse with these colleagues that the combination of practice/theory developed. I think this might happen in other places as well, but our balance between CCS seminars and other platforms available in the college was a tremendous influence.

The CCS faculty (Lash, Hutnyk, Verges) gave me my first opportunity to organize conferences and invite internationally recognized artists and theorists into a single forum for presentations and discussion. Couple this with the access to so many lectures at Goldsmiths or in London and the influence upon my own language, objectives, and aesthetics of presentation were profound. It was at Goldsmiths where I was able to sit at a table with Eric Alliez or Bruno Latour, or sit next to Stuart Hall at a dinner and be ‘schooled’ about the local. It’s a rich, deep, do – it – yourself environment. You have to be self-organized (that’s all of the vitalism influencing the pedagogy i think!!) – there are innumerable opportunities and global influences all on that skinny plot of land in New Cross – but you have to be on top of the scheduling and ask for the time with your supervisors, etc.

My PhD thesis looked at the spatial and temporal criteria or forms used in group, participatory, socially-engaged artworks. I created an artwork integrating computer aided audience engagement, sound, cardiovascular training equipment, and weight training equipment and presented/ performed this work during the Frieze and Scope art fairs. The artwork itself became my demonstration of the spatial and temporal criteria of relational artworks. The audience engagement and successive form production created in the performance itself provided me with examples of both ‘participation’ and ‘interactivity’ with artworks. The key objective of the thesis became the differences in kind between ‘participation’ and ‘interactivity’

I continue to teach, to exhibit artworks (live and installed), and write/record. I’m currently working on an exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. with my colleague Colin Beatty. We are analysing the manipulation of market value and use-value in/of objects traded through the art market. We’ve created a corporate entity (“The Gun Club”) as well as a financial trust. Through the trust we purchase the weapons, disassemble them into their individual operating parts, and distribute these parts to individual ‘shareholders’ of the Gun Club. Exploring the systems of regulation, the networks of power, that not only are demonstrated by the firearm itself (and opinions of them) but also by government agencies is of key interest to Colin and I. I’m also working on a book for I.B. Tauris publishers (UK) that is on Relational Art. I’ll be looking at other artists rather than myself. It should be out in 2014.”

Interviewed by Leila Whitley

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Daisy Tam

PhD Cultural Studies, 2011

PhD Project title: A Taste of Ethics: Shifting from Lifestyle to a Way of Life
Nationality: Hong Kong
Undergraduate degree and course: BA Comparative Literature at University of Hong Kong
Postgraduate degree and course: MA Comparative Literature at University College London
Current Job: Research Assistant Professor at Hong Kong Baptist University

“I wanted to do my PhD in a human-sized department where people are committed to research, where both staff and students are involved, and not in a place where I would become anonymous. I changed disciplines from Comparative Literature to Cultural Studies as I wanted my research to be move beyond the text and to be more relevant to my environment.

CCS is a a great centre where not only the staff are committed, but also the students. The best thing about CCS is the people. Everyone’s project is interesting and inspiring, and people reach out to each other. I learned so much from my fellow students. No one seems to count the hours they put into organizing and attending activities – reading groups, workshops, conferences, talks, etc. Their interest drives their work, and that’s not something you find everywhere.

In addition to the academic life of the centre, one of the great things I loved about the PhD was the fieldwork. I sold apples at Borough Market for five years, and that was one of the highlights. I loved doing it and I wouldn’t have done it without the encouragement of my supervisor. Because I did, the whole thesis changed, and the whole way I saw London changed.

New CCS people – be brave, be open, be a pioneer in what you do, don’t be afraid and don’t stick to your comfort zone. Enjoy! I loved my time in the centre and hope that you will also find your own story to tell in the future…”

Interviewed by Leila Whitley

___________

 

Ashley Wong

MA Culture Industry, 2009

Age: 27
Nationality: Canadian
Undergraduate degree and course: BFA Digital Image/ Sound and the Fine Arts at Concordia University, Montreal
Previous job before MA: Project Manager, Videotage – Hong Kong’s media art organisation
Current Job: Digital Producer at Somewhat, a mobile-first creative agency based in Shoreditch and co-founder of DOXA, an international research collective

“I thought the MA course provided a good mix of theory and practice. It was experimental and merged a range of interests in cultural production that was cross-disciplinary.

I was actually accepted onto a Cultural Analysis course at the University of Amsterdam, but decided to choose this course at Goldsmiths because I felt it was more forward-thinking in its content and form, and more open to other kinds of practices beyond straight academia or exhibition making.

Studying at the onset of the recession provided me with new perspectives and allowed me to think critically about how the economy operates and the role of culture in society today.

During the course I particularly enjoyed reading and learning new areas of thought, which I didn’t know how to articulate in my own practice. The texts: ‘Immaterial Labour’ by Maurizio Lazzarato, ‘Capital and Language’ by Christian Marrazi, and ‘Craftsmen’ by Richard Sennett, really inspired me and challenged my thoughts.

I now understand my work better within a larger context of social practices, but I have come to realise it is not about following particular cultural trends, but rather collectively coming together with common ideas. My ideas of culture and practice are now much broader in relation to the global economy.

In the future I would like to start my own company or organisation that is self-sustaining and community led, between public and private that supports both research and practice/production. I feel for it to be effective, it must be global and use digital as a tool for knowledge production and distribution.

I would advise prospective students interested in this course to think long and hard about what they want to get out of it, and why they are doing the course. I also think it is important to visit the university and meet the professors to get a feel for the place beforehand.”

Interviewed by Claire Shaw

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