7 things I learned at the Örecomm festival 2013

After four days in three cities and two countries at the Örecomm festival I needed a few days to rest and reflect on the experience; as with the theme of the conference, Memory on Trial, the memories that I am sharing are eclectic, possibly even a bit random, but a few interesting clusters emerged nonetheless.
My focus will be on the virtual classroom of the ComDev MA program that was an integral part of the conference, emerging and continuous research themes and a few other topics that caught my attention.
As you can imagine, my musings are shaped by only being able to attend a small sample of panels, missing out on some film screenings and sitting behind my MacBook for most of the time…Zac's reflections may be a good additional read about the conference from another perspective.
So what caught my attention?

1. Take broadcasting your conference online seriously
Making a conference available in the virtual sphere is gaining momentum and I remembered my own humble beginnings with a Google HangOut for the ‘virtual APSA’ last year.
But the Örecomm festival was a reminder that ‘putting a camera in the room’ is not enough. Three technicians basically worked five long days to make the live streams and recordings happening – with up to eight cameras in three parallel sessions. Add the sound aspect to it, the shift of venues and the different formats of presentation from Powerpoints to digital videos and a 16mm film and you can imagine that a successful live stream requires a lot of technical expertise and constant monitoring and adjusting.

2. Moderating the ‘virtual classroom’ was a very rewarding experience
An integral part of the Örecomm festival is that it is part of the curriculum of the Communication for Development MA program.
At peak times fifty, but usually not less than thirty students joined the conference virtually in a dedicated ‘Live Lecture’ application with a moderated chat in addition to watching the live stream. Moderating the classroom was one of my main activities of the conference and a real eye-opener in terms of ‘second screen’ multitasking. Usually two of us and sometimes up to four colleagues answered technical questions, shared links and additional references and facilitated the discussions between students – while listening to the presentation and taking a glimpse at the slides or videos. Some great discussions that really resembled a ‘virtual classroom’ developed on more than one occasion, but to keep an eye on them while keeping the chat flowing and trouble-shoot problems with the sound all at the same time requires your full attention-and more than one dedicated pair of eyes. As I said before, to create a blended experience you need time, staff and tested technology to make the virtual participants feel welcome and included.

3. Ethnography as ‘political project’ is alive and kicking
Not that I was really surprised about this, but it is always good to be reminded once in a while about the beauty and power of ethnography.
From long-term cooperation with communities to producing a documentary film as part your PhD to engaging with community media, art and fiction as products of ethnographic research and academic cooperation a fantastic range of ideas and projects were featured throughout the four days.

4. The ‘Arab Spring’ between artistic revolution and pop-cultural event
It was great to learn about the artistic ‘spring’ and street art in Tunisia and Egypt with a diverse focus from graffiti to calligraphy. But it was also interesting how some of the spirit of the revolutions is now leading to books, PhD projects, UNDP-funded projects and a globalized space of discussion and engagement. Not that there is anything wrong with it, but I thought it was a fascinating insight into how resistance and alternative forms of expression slowly become part of a pop-cultural mainstream being shaped by and shaping academic expression and virtual activism.

5. Avoid screening The Act of Killing without a proper space for discussion
Unfortunately, I did not have time to watch the director’s cut of The Act of Killing. But I did join a Q&A session with producer Signe Byrge Sörensen that lasted for almost 90 minutes.
Signe did an incredible job explaining the background of the process, answering questions and standing up for the movie without ever sounding either defensive or arrogantly artistic about the product. 

But because this is such an emotional film, a film where you must have an opinion and comment afterwards, you should make sure to embed the screening into a broader discussion for asking questions, venting frustrations and expressing appreciation or disgust.

6. Connecting language, power & symbols – the critical eye, ear, pen and camera of research and activism in society

My (almost) final point is an elaboration on the ethnography point I made earlier, but also some kind of summary if I dare to attempt this endeavor…From Kendall Phillips' keynote on rhetoric, audience and memory, to the Breaking The Silence project in Israel to the (bio)politics of Nelson Mandela’s mortality and the neo-liberal (re-)branding of Barcelona there is an incredible range of how good, old Foucault, thorough academic research and new forms of activism ‘on the ground’ and ‘in the (virtual) cloud’ can learn from and with each other.
The Örecomm festival facilitated a great event with researchers, students (which are often underrepresented at conferences) and artists and the four stimulating days brought out the best of live and virtual conferencing!

Oh, and by the way:

7. Business cards are so 2005

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