I was lucky enough to get to fly to Austin, Texas for the 2010 Flow conference and after praising it to my colleagues on my return I thought I would share my experience.
Focusing on television and new media and hosted by the graduate students and faculty of the Radio-Film-Television department of the University of Texas at Austin the event is aligned with the online critical forum based there, Flow TV. This was unlike any conference i’d been to before, as it is based on conversation and debate. Rather than the conventional panel of 20 minute papers, short responses are invited to a roundtable’s position question. At the roundtable, respondents present their position then the floor is opened for questions and discussions.
This resulted in much stimulating and lively discussion, by panellists and the audience, from grad students to established scholars. In both the panel I participated in (‘“Featuring Music From”: Song, Sound, and Remix’) and those I attended, I found myself thinking more deeply about issues I had only loosely considered, or forcing myself to look more closely at my own responses to programmes and issues. There was also a throughline of pedagogy, with participants often framing discussions by talking about their teaching (ah, the eternal question of how do you teach serialised drama), which I found invaluable and enlightening.
I attended roundtables on topics from representation to serial narratives (these had two sessions each and their issues permeated many other panels), from historical issues of reality tv to new media and post feminism. With topics stretching from deconstructing discourses of ‘quality tv’ (ever the scare quotes), to the hidden class issues of female lifestyle blogging to the representational politics of discourses surrounding Jersey Shore and back again.
It was a treat to get to indulge my television and new media nerdery amongst fellow academics, meet some lovely people and hear of the perceptive work being developed by what was a relatively young crowd. It made me excited for the future of the discipline in a moment of such flux. And all those hours spent following the US television industry closely in recent years bore fruit for me – though I wonder how easy to follow some of the conference discussions would be to someone who hadn’t.
I often felt jealous of clashing panels (as ever at conferences) when I heard about debates afterwards. However, this was the first conference I had attended that had a twitter backchannel. I’d previously been a bit concerned over this being a funnel for the usual conference snark, but found the audience members interacting with twitter on a raft of ipads, laptops and smartphones gave discussion in the room and on the interwebs an added dimension. And it gives all of us a ready-made archive to surf through to catch up on what was missed and for those not attending to follow along. Though it can perhaps construct a digital divide. And it must be disconcerting for those of us who are easily paranoid to look up from a panel to see people with their heads in twitter rather than directed at you! Conference tweeting is for the multitaskers amongst us, I think and i’m not sure i’ll ever get there – taking legible notes is hard enough!
I’m already planning for Flow 2012 and will be doing my best to corral a British invasion!