Dr Gareth Bentley, Senior Teaching Fellow and Subject Lecturer in Critical Media at the SOAS Centre for Media Studies, generously gave up an afternoon with us to reflect upon his experiences of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities Critical Theory Summer School.
Would it be possible to provide us with a brief academic bio?
I consider myself a critical media scholar, and I am particularly interested in the role of the media both from a theoretical perspective and from an everyday perspective. I see my role as defamiliarising international journalism. I completed my Scottish MA in Televsion, Film and Theatre Studies at the University of Glasgow, a department heavily influenced and informed by Marxism. From there I studied for a Masters in International Relations at SOAS, and completed my PhD at SOAS three years ago. My thesis involved interviewing prominent British foreign correspondents, and looking at how emotion affected their reporting. Critical Theory helped inform and frame this research, and proves invaluable when it comes to thinking about questions such as ‘how can you represent suffering’.
What initially attracted you to the Critical Theory Summer School?
I have always enjoyed events put on by the Birkbeck Institute for Humanities, and I have a long standing interest in engaging with critical approaches to media and culture. More specifically, I think that it is from my early interest in the psycho-social alienation process involved in mass media that I first became intrigued by the Critical Theory Summer School. Slavoj Žižek was a draw, but so too was a figure like David Harvey, someone whose primary work may not be in the field of media, but is a thinker who is open to Marxist ideas and someone I wanted to engage with.
How would you describe the Summer School?
There is a real need for critical thinking in a neo-liberal world and, given the increasing pressure on universities to adopt neoliberal policies, the Summer School is a haven for dissent. Or, to put it another way, a haven for those of us that might self-define as ‘social misfits’. In that sense, and I mean this sincerely, the Summer School has a certain therapeutic quality to it, a safe space to share ideas and engage in critical discussion with like-minded people. There is a real buzz to these conversations. It is important to add that the atmosphere is non-judgmental and not a doctrinaire socialist enclave. There is a profound and genuine openness and sympathy to a range of different theoretical frameworks. Last year Arendt, Freud, Benjamin, Marx, and Lacan were all equally represented, and, importantly, were all seen to be talking to one another, cutting across narrow disciplinary boundaries and confines.
How was attending the Summer School impacted on your own research?
If I’m honest, I can’t say that it has impacted directly on my research. As well as critical theory, my intellectual affinities lie increasingly with Jacques Derrida, and someone like Wittgenstein, affinities that might be frowned upon by some at the Summer School. Of course it has affected my teaching, and I introduce students to Žižek’s work on media. Again, one of the pleasures of the Summer School is that alongside the regular speakers, you get ones who have spoken in the past, like Drucilla Cornell, returning after a few years absence, and new participants like Paul Gilroy. So there are always fresh approaches and new material discussed. It would also be remiss not to mention my admiration of Costas Douzinas’s political activism and commitment. So, if not on my own research, then on my sense of academic labour in the neoliberal university.
Finally, could you say a few words about you current projects?
Alongside turning my PhD thesis into a book, I have begun a new project, which continues with using interviews, but this time, the subjects are academics and writers. So far I have worked with Professor Nicholas Royle (University of Sussex), Arron Schuster (The Trouble with Pleasure), and David Kuhrt (Wittgenstein the Tartar). The project is very much ongoing and I do not want to pre-empt or impose an agenda on it at this stage. What I am interested in, however, is the role of emotion and subjectivity in the critical, creative, and personal autobiographical work of these thinkers. Derrida, again, is critical, and adapting his work to work on the media is something I find myself drawn to.
The 2017 BIH London Critical Theory Summer School is now open for applications. Deadline: 24 March 2017. Full details and how to apply