By David Bates
With its mix of arts, lectures, films and walks, Undisciplining: Conversations from the Edges was the most interesting and enjoyable conference I’ve attended in years. It felt like being at a ‘festival of sociology’, and whilst I didn’t make it to as many of the scheduled activities as I’d have liked (bloody marking), the ones I did attend were thought-provoking and even fun (!).
It was very exciting to present my film Here But Not Here – Lost Histories of the Tees in the Baltic cinema on day 2 of the conference. Frantically completed just a few hours earlier, this was the first public screening of my first ever film, so the session was a nerve-wracking experience to say the least. However, I was delighted with the positive reception it garnered, and also encouraged by how it fitted in with many of the themes which emerged over the course of conference as a whole.
Here But Not Here was a product of three years of walking up and down the River Tees on hot, sunny summer days with a small Panasonic camcorder. Enthused and inspired by seeing Patrick Keiller’s ‘Robinson’ trilogy several years ago, my aims in the film were to capture the elation I felt in exploring that strange, beautiful landscape, and to explore something of the history, culture and identity of the river and its people.
As far as scholarly writing goes, three bodies of work bore influence on the film’s narrative as I edited the footage together and hastily recorded a voiceover. These were the studies of Teesside’s economy by geographers at Durham University in the 1980s; the sociological studies of poverty and unemployment by sociologists at Teesside University in the 1990s and 2000s; and the work of local historians on the area’s radical heritage, much of it published by Cleveland & Teesside Local History Society. Engaging with this material was a hugely inspiring experience in its own right – so much so that I’m now working on a radical history zine which draws on these sources more extensively.
The Undisciplining conference provided a brilliant opportunity to reflect more deeply on many of the issues raised in this research. Satnam Virdee, for example, reminded us that the working class has always been multiracial; this resonates especially when we think about the role played by Teesside’s Irish revolutionaries in the formative political culture of the area, a welcome rejoinder to the narrative of an indigenous ‘white working class’ which we often hear today. Other sessions offered critical reflections which were just as energising. In all, it was a pleasure to attend an academic conference so imaginative, engaged and political. To all the organisers: thank you!
David Bates is a lecturer and researcher in Media and Cultural Studies whose work focuses on racism, migration, class and political discourse. Prior to working in Higher Education, David worked in the voluntary and community sector and for a UK Member of Parliament. He completed his PhD at the University of Sunderland in 2015 on racism, culture, integration and asylum, drawing extensively on his experiences as both a volunteer and employed worker at North of England Refugee Service between 2005-2010.
Originally posted 17th August 2018