SCMS2011 wrap up

Chuck Tryon writes of this year's SCMS conference, "Ultimately, conference reports like this are grounded in the personal. Although I attended at least part of a panel during pretty much every session from Thursday through Saturday, given that there were usually 20-25 concurrent panels, others saw a much different conference." I agree that attendees' conference experience differed wildly. I'd venture that this is truer this year, as the conference continues the trend toward both methodological pluralism and tracking along subfield lines.

I do not have a full report of the presentations at this year's SCMS conference; while I did attend my share of panels, this conference was for me mostly about connecting with friends, talking with colleagues, and meeting new people in the field. In retrospect, I think the decision to focus on socializing and networking was a somewhat conscious decision, as an antidote to the somewhat isolating nature of my work and writing lately. For next year, I do have a goal of doubling the numbers of papers I see.

Justin Horton observes a big gulf between the Cinema Studies and Media Studies parts of SCMS. First, on account of the panel formats:
The 20-minute presentation model of SCMS was called into question numerous times on Twitter and in conversation around the conference, and, by and large, this sentiment seemed to come from the TV and media studies folks. In its stead, most preferred the workshop and shorter presentation format of FLOW. Most seemed to complain of being “read to” and the lack of interaction and collaboration, and I certainly understand where they are coming from—panels can be exhausting, especially when the arguments are tight and the presentation lacking. However, I think there is a place for both models.
I tend to side with Justin here and if anything be more in favor of the traditional conference format. Yes, it can be exhausting to listen to a dozen 20-minute papers in a row, but it would be more exhausting to listen to two-dozen 10-minute papers in a row. And there is a value to the formal expository essay form. That's not to discount dialogue or roundtables, but these formats can fail or be tedious just as easily as the 4-paper-plus-questions format.

If I were to make any sweeping change, it would be to have attendees submit full papers instead of abstracts and to have peer-reviewed conference proceedings published afterward. Yes, a gargantuan task for the Program Committee, so it's probably not going to happen. Barring that, my one complaint about the conference was the odd scheduling: panels on similar topics were programmed opposite one another frequently. I know scheduling is a tricky and thankless job, but it seems to me that minimizing such conflicts should be the overriding goal.

Justin and Noel Kirkpatrick also point to the (sub)discipline divide for Twitter usage. Indeed, I was one of those film studies people for whom it didn't even occur to check the Twitter back-channel until well after the conference. (I'm not a Twitter user.) I don't have anything profound to say about this, but it does seem a real difference in scholarly culture. Meanwhile, I am glad to see the Society commissioning, so to speak, a few blogs on the conference, even if I got to them only afterward.


Noel said…

First, thanks for your thoughtful round-up, and for including me in the round-up. I appreciate it.

I agree that there's challenges to both formats, and that roundtables/workshops are just as likely to fail as the "traditional conference format" is. Much of it ultimately hinges on those involved, and I did see some excellent traditional presentations (the Function of Finales panel stands out for me), but I'm going to address Justin more at his blog about the issue.

As for your sweeping change, I doubt a peer reviewed book is likely to happen, but I DO think that an accessible copy of everyone's abstracts would be immensely useful, especially when determining which panel to attend (I believe Jason Mittell made a similar call on his SCMS blog).

To Twitter: I'm curious as to what you thought, if anything, about what you read in the backchannel (how much you read). I know that I after I posted my entry, a small-sized debate started on Twitter about its value to conferences, and how others felt about its use, if it was rude, pointless, etc.

I know that the push for WiFi at the conference came from a desire to tweet (among other things of course, probably including a chance not to have to pay for WiFi at our individual hotels!), so I'd be curious as to know how many people used WiFi at the conference and for what ends.

As an electronic archive of those who participated (and such an archive does exist), the Twitter hashtag feed does leave out much of the film studies side of things, which is frustrating to me.

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