Industry Practitioners in Higher Education

Chapter 8 in ‘Cultural Work and Higher Education’

Edited by Daniel Ashton and Catriona Noonan (Palgrave Macmillan 2013)

I read this chapter on ‘cultural industries practitioners working within higher education’ with interest since I fit that category and have seen little written about this experience. The sample is rather small, drawing on interviews with 12 practitioners in three industry sectors at  five HE institutions, five of whom are Games Designers. However, there are references to various academic works on the topic. The key thing is that the role of industry practitioners is receiving some consideration. There are many nuggets of insight here.

In my experience the integration of industry practitioners into HE is somewhat haphazard and depends on the managers in place.

‘practitioners are employed because of the knowledge and experience they bring from industry. This practice-knowledge is different to the subject-based and teaching-knowledge that teachers have and yet the role of the teacher-practitioner within HE is poorly defined’ (Clews and Clews, 2009)

I agree. I hope the chapter (and the book) encourages more reflection.

Something that the chapter does not consider is the relationship between the aims of academic staff and the aims of teacher-practitioners. Academia makes its own demands, sets its own targets as to what is important and these aims can seem a little esoteric to someone whose main focus is on the creation of content, or on the creation of art, one might say; and in the case of broadcast and media, of course, the ‘product’ may be conceived of as more than entertainment – it may be conceived of as being at the service of the public and so be seen as part of the democratic fabric.

The practitioner practises – makes – and is focused on what will result in something well-made so theory is less important than pragmatism. It’s in retrospect that a practitioner theorises about why he or she did a certain thing, if at all. Having the chance to reflect and work out why one took a certain approach is probably what’s behind the satisfaction that so many of the practitioners mention when a teaching role requires them to explain their approaches. I have certainly found that decisions I made for practical reasons turn out to exemplify various theories about documentary production! At the time they were what seemed ‘right’.

I am pleased to see an acknowledgement of ‘questions of cultural labour, political economy and social justice’. And that reflection on working practices ‘are of potentially huge significance’.

‘The lack of trade unionization and labour organization in many areas of cultural work is striking, and is both cause and outcome of industries that are individualized, deregulated and reliant upon cheap or even free labour, with working hours and conditions (particularly among freelancers and intermittents) that are largely beyond scrutiny.’ (Gill and Pratt, 2008)

These authors ‘suggest that ‘this situation has been scandalously ignored by the academic fields of media and cultural studies’.’

That’s interesting! I’d say I have found some emphasis on employability (how can you make yourself attractive to an employer) but much less on how employers should strive to make themselves attractive to employees (fair working conditions etc).

As an industry practitioner/teacher I have always devoted some time to discussing working conditions, unions, professional associations etc and usually found that students had little awareness of how they might possibly need protection and solidarity some day. It ought to be normal for university departments to work with professional bodies as part of the preparation for work.

Above all, I feel that industry-practitioners can help students to consider WHY they want to do this kind of work. What’s it all FOR? This is crucial because otherwise media work is particularly vulnerable to being undertaken as an ego trip, as a substandard ‘self-expression’ exercise. Self-expression is an important element but if there’s not more than that in the mix it will be only broadcast and never dialogue and I suggest that the best media workers are those who service dialogue because dialogue builds something whereas mere self-expression is one-way only. Media work is supremely collaborative work and students need help to prepare for that aspect of the media world.

I hope to see more attention given to practitioner-teachers’ experience to help us identify good practice and see more clearly how we can help our academic colleagues.



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