For more information about Royal Holloway, please see this promotional video. To see a promotional video for the MA Consumption, Markets & Culture see here. To see a promotional video for the Royal Holloway School of Management, click here.

For more information about the Royal Holloway MA Marketing and MA Consumption, Culture & Marketing and the application process see here.

To get an understanding of the unique values that underly the MA Marketing and MA Consumption, Culture & Marketing programme please read these blog posts: Value of Scholarly Values, Importance of Reading and Morris Holbrook and Business Interest in Education.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Doing a PhD- you dont have to be crazy....

The PhD. Thousands of candidates sign up to earn one in the UK every year, scores of thousands more in the rest of the world. For the successful, it is often time and money well spent- an idyllic three, four or more years insulated from the cares of the world, buried in the study of one's favourite topic. A PhD can be a ticket to a coveted academic career, and increasingly they are desired in the commercial sector as well. And, most importantly, the owner of a PhD will bask eternally in the approval of their Mother, because you will probably be the only person in your street who has one.

But for a smaller number, studying for a PhD can be a traumatic and sometimes heartbreaking experience. What is the fairest way to supervise and examine the PhD degree?

Most PhD student rooms circulate a stock of (often apocryphal) horror stories about PhD candidates who were supervised by an idiot/psychopath, examined by a psychopath/idiot, had their data set stolen, or endured some other trauma on the path toward their goal. Fortunately, most have a happy ending, but some don't.

Students who like the idea of signing up for a PhD programme need to consider several important issues. Firstly, it is a very long haul. Be prepared for thousands of hours of isolated studying. Nerdy isn't the word. And be interested in your topic- the desire to get a PhD is not sufficient to motivate you. Your interest in your topic is the only thing that will carry you through. Prepare a thorough proposal. We get lots of poor quality inquiries. You need to prepare a properly referenced proposal of at least 2000 words which shows that you have a good idea of what you want to find out, how you're going to investigate it, and what is the key academic literature in the area. Carry out your own research into universities and individual academics' research interests in order to target your proposal toward groups and individuals who already have expertise in that area.

You also need to be aware that different countries have very different approaches. In the USA, for example, it is common for the first two or even three years of a PhD programme to be made up of taught courses. You will have a supervisory committee, and the whole process will normally take at least five years. In some Europen countries it can be longer. In the UK, in contrast, you will normally have just one main supervisor, perhaps with a supporting advisor, there will be very few taught courses, and you will spend a lot of time working on your own. In the USA and many European countries your work, when it is complete, will be judged a pass or a fail by a panel. They will review your work over the course of some months and ask you to make changes. When your viva day finally arrives, it will be a relatively relaxed and congenial occasion, although it will be open to public view. In the UK, in contrast, your years of work will be judged by one individual 'external examiner', assisted by an impartial internal examiner, on one day, your viva day. In the vast majority of cases, UK PhD candidates will be asked at their viva to make amendments to the thesis. When these are done to the external examiner's satisfaction, the PhD is awarded.       

In my view, the UK PhD examining process ought to be revised. I'd favour an examining panel, and an external examiner who takes a role earlier in the process. I wrote about it in the UK university lecturer's trade magazine THES and got some interesting comments, by no means all in agreement with me

One final thought- if you really thought carefully about doing some things in life, like getting married, having kids, or doing a PhD, you'd never do any of them.  


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Importance of Reading

Anatole Miara's photograph of me reading
On Sunday, sitting on a park bench reading philosophy, I was approached by the documentary photographer Anatole Miara who wanted to take my photograph. I don't know why he approached me but it is interesting to entertain the possibility that the very act of reading a book, let alone a philosophical book, in a public space is today so extraordinary that it should be documented for prosperity. Ruminating on such a thought, I started to contemplate contemporary designs of libraries as spaces in which people are now encouraged to talk and the idea of the library as a place where people should be silent is rendered anachronistic. Indeed while quiet reading places continue to exist at Royal Holloway's various libraries, the trajectory of design seems much more orientated towards cafe-style social spaces in which people gather and chat. Even in the silent areas (not to mention during lectures) it is often unavoidable to notice that the silent are often engaged in looking at Facebook rather than actually reading books. Increasingly universities look like spaces where people go not to study.

If there is dumbing-down to be done as per usual the Business School tends to take the lead and eagerly embraces new class-room technologies to "improve the learning experience", while Powerpoint, that programme developed to help sales staff make their pitch and in which complex ideas are reduced to a series of easy-to-digest bullet points, has become all but the norm. Case studies and group presentations generally take over until the typical seminar becomes one of students spending more time writing reports than reading books, and more time talking instead of listening. Logically one would expect that if the university becomes a site in which students spend more time producing outputs than inputs, then a process of dumbing-down must eventually kick in, the pedagogical value of discussing ideas notwithstanding. Meanwhile a general suspicion takes hold that when previously published studies are being cited in projects, their existence is being pointed towards rather than a reporting of an actual reading that has taken place. None of this bodes well.

As Stefano Harney from Queen Mary has commented, universities today often find it difficult to maintain space for actual education and learning as it has become so determined "by its own labour process, its own schedule of production, turning out articles, books, students, exams, papers, marks, minutes, buildings, brands, patents". "Trying to hold a reading group in the university today" he argues, "is like trying to hold one on the floor of a car plant or a discount trader". Hence in today's unversities in general, and business schools in particular, it seems that we are in danger of externalising serious reading from the so-called "student experience".

Stefano Harney

The social theorist Zygmunt Bauman presents contemporary life as defined by a liquid modernity in which an ethos prevails of instant consumption, gratification, disposability and an order that is hostile to long-term planning and meditative reflection. For Bauman terms such as "nowist" and "hurried culture" help explain the impatience which attends any "idea of 'progress' as an otherwise empty riverbed of time being slowly and steadily filled up by human labours". In such motivation of hurry, the uselessness of reading books and the exasperation with the amount of time and concentration required to get from page one to the end is all-too-obvious. And, in a period where universities are being measured on the basis of the quality of the "student experience" we see the shift in orientation as the university becomes reconfigured as a space for arousing emotions, rather than cultivating reason and ultimately as a space of liquid modernity rather than enlightenment; a violence against the core of the university and the idea of education.

Zygmunt Bauman

In such a context where reading is becoming externalised from education it is necessary to reclaim the act of reading and to recognise that it has now almost become a radical act inside the university. As John Holloway might see it, the act of going to a public space and reading a book - not necessarily a book that you want to memorise in advance of an examination, but a book to be read to expand your understanding of a subject area without any immediate pay-off - constitutes a crack; that is a creation of space as a temporary autonomous zone in which we assert different types of doing, a moment of potential self-determination where we subtract ourselves from the speed of liquid modernity and learn how to see the world differently. As Holloway argues, precisely because the act of reading a book now presents a moment of breaking the instrumental chain of reasoning, whereby everything has to be justified as a means towards an immediate end, it presents us with a possibility of new ways of doing, new ways of being and new ways of reclaiming what it means to be self-deterministic. If universities are no longer sites that present the possibility of such learning and self-transformation, then they have lost their way and if degrees are conferred without such reflections having ever had taken place, they are not worth having.

John Holloway

Monday, 21 May 2012

Gender Reversals "Firsts",
I was struck with recent announcements this week covering gender switching.  Two stories highlighting the success in (ostensibly female) beauty competitions of transgender contenders with no associated calls to have males expelled and clear messages about contestants being judged equally against the criteria.   Another flagging Lucy's request to Brad and Dan in their beachside surf shack good call centre as a creative twist (first female caller) of the UK Beer brand Fosters ongoing TV campaign.  The last that suggests Brad Pitt's appointment as the face of Chanel is the first time a male model has been used in such a way. 

 The advertising technique of inversion, or turning an idea on its head is one that most of us have seen and experienced often, perhaps not always consciously, but to an extent that this should not be out of the ordinary or worthy of particular media focus because of the gender switch.  I have been reading "The Advertising Concept Book: Think Now, Design Later" by Pete Barry and this has perhaps made me think more analytically at this rather straightforward gender inversion notion.

Does Lucy from Lancaster, with collagen enhanced looking lips, represent an attempt by the Fosters brand team to court the female lager drinker or is it merely for comedy impact  ?  Rather wimpy and possibly nerdy, our problem Fosters drinker seems to have rather punched above his weight to win a girl like Lucy. Drinking Fosters = charisma ?

Moving on from Lucy's lager to Brad's Chanel: as a non-expert male on matters pertaining to glamour brands, my take on the sumptuous, silky, overtly sexual ads that typify the perfume genre were trying to dupe sorry persuade the perfume wearer into believing that by imitating Charleze, Kylie, Scarlet or Nicole with their perfume choice then some of their allure would also transfer over too.  Perhaps some consumers are more interested in the way it makes them feel (hedonic motivation), or possibly because of the particular aroma (rational, functional attributes), who knows.  It must be something, because generic perfumes are considerably cheaper.

Making Brad the face of Chanel would seem to point at a different approach.  Now a proud father and family man, hugely successful with an extensive career in modelling and movies, the intended message might be 'wear Chanel and be attractive to men like Brad'.  More primal, more action oriented ?  Wear this, get Brad, perhaps even.  Or in an androgynous world are we merely seeing Brad as an asexual representation of unobtainable beauty ? Perhaps Chanel wants to position its brand more clearly to appeal to everyone.  Man, woman, transgender, metro sexual, if (Sir) David Beckham can wear a sarong are we just becoming more relaxed about defined gender role stereotypes ?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

When Agamben goes to the Bank by Benedetta Cappellini

Jan Provoost (1462-1529)
Death and the Miser, 1505-10

A couple of month ago the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben investigated the meaning of the apparently disused word faith. Agamben is well known for his exegesis of words we take for granted such as paradigm, dispositive and animal. He usually takes a word and unpacks its most remote meanings linking them to economic and political spheres. This time he guides his readers through a fascinating journey from faith to archaeology. This is a translated and shortened version of his article “If the ferocity of financial religion devours the future” published in the newspaper “La Repubblica” (16/02/2012).

“ In order to understand the meaning of the word “future”, we need to firstly understand the meaning of a faith, a word that we do not use anymore if not in relation to religion. Without faith or trust, future is not possible. There is future only if we can hope and believe in something. What is faith then? David Flüsser – a great scholar of the science of religions- there indeed is a peculiarly named discipline - was working on the word pistis, which is the Greek term used by Jesus and the apostles for faith. One day he found himself in an Athenian square and at a certain point, he saw in front of his eyes in big letters Trapeza tes pisteos. Surprised by this coincidence he discovered that he was in front of a bank. Trapeza tes pisteos is “credit institution”. The sense of the word pistis -that Flüsser was looking for months- is simply the credit that we owe to God and that the word God owes to us if we believe in it. For this reason Paul defines faith as the substance of things we hope for […].

Our time is a time of scarce faith or bad faith, as Nicola Chiaramonte used to say. Thus it is a time without future and hopes, or with an empty future and false hopes. What is going to happen to our future in this time that is too old to really believe in something and too wise to despair? If we look carefully there is still a sphere operating with credit, a sphere wherein we put our pistis, our faith. This faith consists of money and its temple is the bank - Trapeza tes pisteos. Money is simply credit and in some banknotes (on the sterling and the dollar but not on the euro, and this should say something about the euro!) it is written that the central bank guarantees that credit in some way. The so called current crisis – albeit crisis is the normal way through which capitalism operates- started with a series of ill-considered operations on credit, such credit was discounted and resold dozens of times before being realised. This means that capitalist finance - whose banks are its main organs - works by playing with credit, hence with people’ faith. [...] The Bank with its grey senior executives and experts has replaced the Church with its priests. Governing the Bank’s credit and manipulating the scarce and uncertain faith that our time has in itself. It does so in the most irresponsible way by gaining money from people’s faith and hopes and by establishing the credit we can receive and the price we need to pay for it (even the credit of Nation States, which have abdicated their sovereignty passively). By governing credit the bank rules not only the world but men’s future, a future which the crisis makes even shorter and on short notice.

Today politics seems impossible because financial power has taken away faith, future, time and expectations. For the duration of this situation, while our society believes itself to be secular it will remain subjugated to the most obscure and irrational religion, it would be good if everybody would reclaim their credit and future from the hands of these gloomy, discredited pseudo-priests, bankers, professors and executives from various rating agencies. Perhaps the first thing to do is to stop looking only at the future, as they advise us to do, and look instead at the past. Only if we understand what happened and how it happened would it be possible to recover our freedom. Archaeology rather than futurology is the only way to reach the present.”

Dr Benedetta Cappellini lectures in Marketing at Royal Holloway.