Month: July 2013

Textbook problems…

As well as conferences and study days and the like, the summer months are also a time for preparing new classes, writing lectures, revising coursepacks, ordering new textbooks… Not always plain sailing as our Language Coordinator, Jean-Michel DesJacques, explains:

“J-1! Ah! Le soleil, les vacances, le verre de rosé le soir à la fraiche. Sauf que… en fait d’apéro, déboires à gogo! We need to talk about “the textbook”.  Have you heard of the curious legal incident in a faraway land?

Tout a commencé par un courriel anodin: “We wish to inform that there will be a substantial increase in some of the print textbooks that you have chosen” (US Supreme Court ruling Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons for those, if any, who wish to know). How lucky of me to have chosen a textbook whose sale price had to be discussed by the US Supreme Court. A few weeks later, I received another email saying that ‘my’ textbook was still available of course but it would cost £111.

I know, odd number, who would buy a book for that price I asked myself. Some students could be deterred from signing up to French for beginners, missing out on a potential lifelong love affair with the language. The timing of the decision was rather unfortunate: language tutors would tell you that a new textbook is a decision you make a good 6 months prior to the start of teaching so that you can reorganize your course accordingly. I certainly felt that I had done everything I could: I had met with the company’s representatives before teaching started in February and organized the purchase of the textbook with the added bonus of a range of on-line activities in the format of a virtual lab. A true example of blended learning, a combination of traditional methods combined with new technology, on which we pride ourselves at Stirling. The perfect mix!

What now? Well, I suppose I could go back to the previous edition which is still available at a reasonable price. I know conjugations and grammatical structures will be the same, but should I run the risk of having students who believe that M. Sarkozy is still president? And dare I mention Gérard Depardieu?

Dear beginners, fear not! You will have a textbook worthy of your efforts next semester. Remember, it’s an intensive course so I shall keep you busy and well prepared to eventually join the mainstream with the ultimate goal of studying at a Francophone university for a semester in 3rd year (we have partners in France, Canada, Morocco and Switzerland) and maybe spending a whole year working as a Language Assistant. A worthy reward.

À bientôt!”

Islam in Francophone Culture – PG Study Day

Jamal Bahmad, one of our PhD students, recently organised a Postgraduate Study Day at Stirling, examining the location of Islam in Francophone Cultures from a range of different perspectives. Here’s his report on the day’s events:

SFPS Postgraduate Study Day

Allah n’est pas obligé: The Location of Islam in Francophone Cultures”

The 2013 postgraduate study day of the Society for Francophone Postcolonial Studies took place at the University of Stirling on 20 June. The event was co-sponsored by the host institution. Doctoral and postdoctoral researchers from four continents came together to debate the location of Islam in Francophone cultures. The choice of theme was motivated by the insufficient amount of scholarship on Islam in Francophone postcolonial studies. Rigorous scholarship on the location of Islam in the French-speaking world, past and present, is susceptible of yielding novel ways of seeing in Francophone postcolonial cultural studies. The study day was also motivated by the belief that young researchers in the field are best positioned and stand to gain a great deal from paying critical attention to Francophone Islam in an increasingly interconnected world.

Divided into three panels, a publishing workshop and a keynote address, the study day examined the history and current trends in the cultural representations of Islam around the Francophone world. Under the heading ‘Screening Islam’, the first panel addressed the location of this faith system as an everyday practice and political ideology in the production and reception of North African cinema. In her paper, Stefanie Van de Peer (University of St Andrews) explored the politics of laïcité in the often controversial reception of Nadia El Fani’s documentary films. The next speaker, Rym Ouartsi (King’s College London), presented a critical account of the polemical reception of Laila Marrakchi’s Marock (2005) in her native Morocco. The feature film was panned by the Islamists and defended by the secular forces in a polarised public sphere. Finally, Jamal Bahmad (University of Stirling) provided a contrapuntal analysis of Islam in Marock. Through a close reading of the structuring absence of the urban poor in this accented autoethnography of Casablanca’s French-speaking upper class, he unveiled the spectral role of radical Islam in subverting Marrakchi’s project of granting postcolonial agency to her suburban characters.

The second panel looked at Islam in Francophone Europe through two papers by Amina Easat-Daas (Aston University) and Chloé Gill-Khan (University of South Australia). The first speaker examined some methodological questions in her current research project on political participation amongst second-generation Muslim women in France and Francophone Belgium. Gill-Khan’s paper explored how Islam has emerged as a critical paradigm in the literary and cinematic articulations of North African identities in France since the 1980s.

The last panel comprised three papers with a shared focus on Western literary and historical representations of Islam and the Muslim world since the eighteenth century. In the first paper, Mauro Di Lullo (University of Stirling) looked at violence and terror in Jean Genet’s encounter with the Muslim world. The next speaker, Kirsty Bennett (University of Sussex), examined Isabelle Eberhardt’s invention of her Islamic identity in opposition to French colonial power in Algeria. Lastly, Karima Lahrach-Maynard (New York University) delivered a comparative reading of the representations of Islam in France during the crusades of Saint Louis and the Egypt Expedition of Napoleon Bonaparte.

David Murphy (University of Stirling) led a publishing workshop with a focus on the implications of recent developments in academic publishing for young researchers in Francophone postcolonial studies. He offered practical advice to an audience of postgraduate and early-career researchers on how to survive and prosper in a rapidly changing job environment. Getting published enough in the right places at the right time are essential survival skills to find a (stable) job and get established as an academic.

The study day concluded with a keynote address by Phil Dine (National University of Ireland, Galway). It was a very incisive and original survey of the place of Islam in the evolution of colonial and postcolonial discourses and societies in North Africa and metropolitan France. He spoke to key historical periods and seminal colonial and postcolonial texts across a variety of genres and fields. Dr. Dine considered their accumulative contribution to shaping North African subjectivity in its diversity and worldliness from pre-colonial times to the ‘Arab Spring’ protests.

Jamal Bahmad (University of Stirling)

European Cinema Resarch Forum

It’s Summer conference season once again and I’ve just spent a chunk of the start of this week at the annual European Cinema Research Forum conference which was organised this year by Leanne Dawson at the University of Edinburgh. Since attending the first ever ECRF conference as a PhD student back in 2001 at Bangor University, it’s one I always try to get back to and is always a good opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues and to learn about new films I should try and see. This year was no different!

For a start, it was a chance for me to catch up with the ECRF’s founders Owen Evans and Graeme Harper who also happen to be my co-editors on the Journal of European Popular Culture (always happy to accept submissions…). Unfortunately, I had to leave before Owen gave his paper but I thoroughly enjoyed Graeme’s paper on the onscreen European landscape.

Graeme was speaking as part of the first panel I attended on the theme of ‘Film and Ethics’ along with co-panelists Martin O’Shaughnessy and Carmen Herrero. Martin’s paper was examining the representation of shame in the work of French director Laurent Cantet, particularly in his earlier works, and in relation to class, gender and employment status, among other factors. Carmen shifted the focus of the panel to contemporary Spanish cultural practices. In particular, she was examining the impact of the current economic crisis on practices and processes of film-making in Spain, from the use of crowdfunding to changes in patterns of distribution.

After ‘Film and Ethics’, I went along to a panel on ‘Changing Bodies’ which covered blockbuster French cinema and contemporary German film. Ann-Marie Condron was the first speaker with a paper examining the representation of the body in the recent French box office hit Les Intouchables, analysing its parallel depiction of the disabled body and able-bodied black masculinity. Ann-Marie’s fellow panelist was Rebecca Harper whose paper centred on female masculinity in contemporary German cinema and its relationship to the concept of Heimat, broadly understood as ‘home’.

Tuesday morning was time for two back-to-back panels, kicking off with three papers by a group of colleagues from the University of Manchester who are working together on an AHRC-funded project analysing Transnational Desires. Their project is particularly interested in a consideration of the role of the audience and audience reception and they have been carrying out research at a range of film festivals in Spain, France and the UK, analysing audience questionnaires and conducting focus groups. Darren Waldron started proceedings with a paper on ageing in French and Spanish queer cinema, and two recent works in particular: Les Invisibles and 80 Egunean. Chris Perriam followed up with an examination of the ways in which Spanish queer culture engages with, and draws on, aspects of French film which he illustrated by way of Gaël Morel’s film Notre Paradis. Their panel was rounded off by an extremely interesting paper by Ros Murray on trans activist documentary from France and Spain.

The second morning panel was also my last, unfortunately, as I had to leave before the afternoon activities started, but it did give me an opportunity to learn about Bulgarian box office hits and internet marketing, 1980s UK cinema and trends in onscreen representations of lesbians in contemporary Spanish and Swedish film – not bad going for 90 minutes! Working backwards from the last paper, Francesca Middleton was responsible for the paper on 1980s UK film by way of an analysis of Neil Jordan’s use of storytelling (and lacunae, in particular) in Mona Lisa. My second taste of Bulgarian cinema – the first came via a brilliant short film screened at the Locarno Film Festival a few years back – was thanks to Maya Nedyalkova who gave a paper on the Bulgarian blockbuster and its interactions with the internet, whether onscreen through the narrative or in terms of its marketing and distribution strategies. And Spanish and Swedish cinema were at the heart of Jacky Collins’s paper which set out three key trends in the onscreen representation of lesbians, pointing out that, despite new developments, a tendency towards heterocentrism and androcentrism still prevails.

The 2014 conference looks set to take us to the other side of the Atlantic, to Oakland University in Michigan and will, I’ve no doubt, provide just as much cinema-related food for thought as this year did.

Parkour in Pathfoot

Parkour on the Pathfoot steps
Parkour on the Pathfoot steps

The Pathfoot Building recently hosted a series of events on parkour, the youth movement originating in the French banlieue which has proliferated around the world. Consisting of a series of running leaps, jumps and flips that trace new pathways through urban environments, it has recently become a focus of much attention in academic research, particularly in Geography and Urban Studies, Sports Studies, and of course French Studies. Professor Bill Marshall has published on the use of parkour in recent French cinema, and recently attended a workshop at New York University to speak about parkour in still photography.

An exhibition of photographs can be viewed in Pathfoot till the end of the summer, with work by London-based artists Andy Day and Diego Ferrari. On 14 and 15 June we welcomed a group of parkour practitioners – traceurs – from Glasgow Parkour Coaching, who attended a workshop with academics and a representative from Youth Scotland, heard a lecture from Bill Marshall, and explored Stirling campus for interesting parkour opportunities.

Campus Parkour
Campus Parkour