Report from SCMS: Friday, aka Humpday in LA

March 20, 2010
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The third day of SCMS 2010 has passed and Friday is our humpday. And, yes, I am over the hump with some midway thoughts…

1) SCMS is big and small at the same time – This is my fifteenth year since my first SCMS and I see a lot of the same faces I have seen over those years in the hallways but less so in the seminar rooms. The effect of growth and specialization within the organization has effectively made it possible for TV scholars to see nothing but TV panels, film scholars to pursue their interests, and so on. On friday my interest in sound and music drove me to three panels, one on radio, one on music in TV and film (in which I presented) and another on music in Japan’s Imperial Cinema of the late 1930s. The care and quality of the work was terrific, however I fear the serendipitous connections that come from a lack of choice are being lost through emergent specialization. No doubt, this should be a topic for future conference committees who wish to foster both specialization and cross-pollination of thoughts and ideas.

2) Workshops are worth their weight in noisy buzz – Following the #scms hashtag (by the way I tweet at #scms and #scms10 as I believe that the #scms10 is simply more specific for this conference), the postings for the workshop I was in, “The Future of the SCMS conference” made quite a splash. This despite the lack of WIFI and in-and-out phone connectivity. It was easily the best attended most robust workshop have ever been involved with and the importance of it will come as attendees become more involved through their demands and concerns. As someone who really hates conferencing (the logistics of travel and uncomfortable lodgings, combined with a longstanding aversion/anxiety over obliged socialization make four days in another town quite stressful), I have found that new modes of social networking extremely beneficial. In fact, twitter has singlehandedly made my experience conferencing one of great joy by giving me a new mode of association. The workshop allowed me and others to bring this up and demand adequate WiFi. As we will see, this kind of noise is no substitute for organized engagement, but I believe that what result from this and other “noisy workshops” such as yesterday’s other most tweeted moment, “The future of publishing workshop”, will most likely be a spur for change.

3) The future of SCMS will be one of more transparency – SCMS is not an evil organization, nor is it secretive. However, to scholars like myself, someone who has wanted to be involved , it is formidable because it has never been clear to me how to be involved. Nominations to committees seem to require self-promotion, which I tend to find an unseemly necessity, and the question of “how do I get involved?” seems to betray a careerism that scholars of all levels must engage. Something that the “great economic reset” is offering us is a new moment of valuation and we must make ourselves valuable. The best way to do this will be with robust metrics and and the exposition of best scholarly and career practices. For example, I am happy that it looks like the executive committee is interested and actively pursuing a membership census to better understand and promote who we are. I am openly advocating for a survey that better understands a variety of metrics devoted to understanding the value gained from conferencing and precisely how members invest in the experience. Having such information at our disposal will not only allow us to articulate to administrators what the value of conferencing is, but also for us, as an organization, to be exacting and honest as to what we need to value and let go of over time.

Finally, my favorite comment of the time came from a graduate student who noted that she was looking for mentoring and career guidance from a future conference experience. Despite what many may believe, these questions of “how do I go forward?” and “how can I contribute?” still feel like secrets to many of us. While not every conversation need be recorded and every favor recorded, it feels like there is a demand for a new openness, an openness and transparency that will better enable our members and organization to operate and protect their interests. It is an attitudinal change that I have never felt before at any other SCMS conference. Stay tuned…


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6 Responses to “ Report from SCMS: Friday, aka Humpday in LA ”

  1. Bärbel Göbel on March 20, 2010 at 10:45 AM

    Even in our relatively small department one can feel the changes in grad student expectations. The need for assistance, information, transparency now almost equals a demand sometimes. While a bit torn on the subject, I believe that our disciplines will profit from more exchange and greater transparency over all.

  2. Jason Mittell on March 20, 2010 at 12:37 PM

    Nice conversation starter, Tim – this seems like as good a place as any to collate some discussions about the “future” possibilities raised by the workshop.

    In terms of getting involved, I have found SCMS to be quite receptive to participation and innovation. Back in London, I went to the business meeting asking why SCMS had not taken more of a stand on fair use and copyright issues. The board responded by constituted a Public Policy Committee (and appointing me to it!), and we spent a few years focused on creating two extensive policy statements on this issue, which hopefully serve our members and the field widely. So often it’s just about stepping forward and volunteering time and energy.

    As for the cross-fertilization, I do think having more extensive metadata about presentations will help – I’d love to see presentations outside my immediate areas of interest, but judging solely on an oblique paper title is too much of a lottery with my scarce time. If the new website delivers by including abstracts and tags, that will make a huge difference for allowing participants to customize their experiences.

  3. Annie Petersen on March 20, 2010 at 12:45 PM

    I may or may not be the graduate student you reference above — regardless, I’m so glad you reemphasized the fact that graduate students are eager to be part of the new directions SCMS pursues…but sometimes need more information as to exactly how we can do so. This can start with something as simple as “all are welcome” below the board meeting, or even briefly defining ‘caucus’ at the beginning of the conference program.

    I’d also like to heartily agree with your comment on how Twitter connections have facilitated the conference experience and networking in particular — as a formerly very shy kid, I still find hobknobbing difficult, but with all my Twitterverse connections, it’s been a true pleasure putting names with faces and continuing conversations begun online.

  4. Bill Kirkpatrick on March 20, 2010 at 1:49 PM

    I hope people take up Jason’s suggestion to use this post as a site to collate discussion: the panel ended yesterday without much of an action plan or next step. And as a brand new member of the SCMS IT committee, I’m interested in concrete suggestions for what that committee could do with the website, etc. So I’ll be watching this space for ideas.

  5. Jason Mittell on March 21, 2010 at 2:04 AM

    Just to aggregate a great idea that I heard from Derek Kompare: have a regularly sponsored workshop every year on the first day called “Navigating the SCMS conference” to orient new participants and give practical advice. It might even work well with an anonymous question box to enable people to ask potentially embarrassing questions. And some of us veterans can certainly always use some refreshers on conference etiquette and best practices!

  6. Christena Ambler on March 27, 2010 at 10:52 PM

    This is such a wonderful article. I look forward to reading more of your writing. Is it possible to do a bookmark on diigo or reddit for this post? I have so much time on my hands I wouldn’t mind doing it for you.