Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Accent and Identity: Where do the East Midlands fit in the North/South divide?

Natalie Braber reports back from the Borders and Identities Conference.

In the worst of the recent weather, I braved the snow and ice to travel to attend the Borders and Identities Conference (BIC2010) which took place 8-9 January at Newcastle University. This was the first BIC Conference, and has been started under the auspices of the Accent and Identity on the Scottish/English Border (AISEB) project. The main aim of this conference was to examine in more detail the current state of knowledge in this field of study and to relate linguistic studies to other fields of enquiry to further interdisciplinary with other disciplines. Although research on ‘borderlands’ is well-established in the social sciences, it is only within recent years that interest in has taken hold within the fields of sociolinguistics and the sociology of language.

I had been accepted to give a poster presentation on a project I’ve recently started work on which looks at the question ‘Where do the East Midlands fit in the North/South divide?’ Although this divide is a frequently talked about phenomenon, there is much disagreement about where this border can be placed – and Nottingham (and the East Midlands) fall right into this potential border area. From the sixteenth century onwards there have been references to the river Trent as being a cultural and linguistic divide between North and South. Linguistically, language in Nottingham and the East Midlands is a much neglected variety and much more needs to be learned about its particular features.

The work I have carried out so far (funded by SIS – Stimulating Innovation for Success at NTU) has collected a small sample of voices from Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire to examine the variation found within the East Midlands, comparing these findings with previous research. It also considers future work which needs to be carried out within this field – re-examining the perception of the North-South divide and how the East Midlands fit into such a division, as viewed both by those from the East Midlands and from around the UK.

The conference took place in The Assembly Rooms which was a great location for a conference – it had plenty of space for delegates to mingle and discuss projects during coffee and lunch breaks. Fortunately, most of the delegates made it through the bad weather and the conference was so successful that discussions about the next location are already taking place.

(photo credit: John the Scone; permissions)

Monday, 25 January 2010

Work in Progress Papers: the Guardian blogging community

The next ICAn Work in Progress session from a member of the Communication, Culture and Media team is on Wednesday 27th January 2010 in GEE219 (Clifton Campus), 12.00-1.00 pm. In this session, Dean Hardman presents a paper called 'Below the Line But Over the Top: a preliminary look at the Guardian blogging community'. Dean describes the paper as 'very much a work in progress talk, where I'm hoping to instigate a discussion on the types of blog responses that can be seen on the Guardian sport blog.  I'm also hoping to show where I'm headed with some work that is designed to categorise and hypothesise about the purpose behind direct critiques of journalists.  It actually builds on something I did for the cultural studies blog in the very early days.'

(Photo credit: Jon Juan. Permissions.) 

Friday, 22 January 2010

Guest Paper: Natasha Whiteman, Watching 'Good Television'

The next guest paper in this year's seminar organized by the Cultural Studies Research Group with ICAn features Natasha Whiteman (University of Leicester) who will be speaking on 'Watching "Good Television": The Reception of Battlestar Gallactica and The Wire. The talk takes place on Wednesday 27th January 2010, from 4.00-5.30pm in room GEE219 (George Eliot Building on the Clifton Campus of Nottingham Trent University). The abstract of the paper is as follows:

This paper examines the reception of Battlestar Galactica and The Wire by critics and academics. Despite their differences, each series has received widespread critical acclaim and inspired a range of academic productivity. Each has been configured as an example of “good” television that it is acceptable to watch, and each has been contrasted to less “worthy” forms of television production. This paper examines the positioning involved in critical and academic discussion of these series, focusing attention on the distancing/affiliating moves made by critics and academics in their often fannish responses to these television products. What do these moves tell us about these series and those who celebrate it? What do they tell us about the relationship between fans, critics and academics? In exploring these issues the paper develops work that has examined modes of identification with media texts within online fan communities (Whiteman, 2007).

Everyone is welcome but places are limited so if you would like to attend, please email Joanne Hollows
(Photo credit: Jinx. Permissions)

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Holiday reading: Bringing Home the Birkin

The basic black Birkin.

Over Christmas i read Michael Tonello’s Bringing Home the Birkin (New York: Harper, 2009) which demystifies the most famous and most expensive handbag – the Hermes Birkin – as much a Holy Grail of luxury as it is a pop culture icon with prices as high as $60,000. A light read but significant in it’s exposing of the marketing myths of luxury brands and their inculcation of consumer desire based on false information. The Birkin probably entered popular culture in the late 1990s when Sex and the City (and later in episodes of the Gilmore Girls, Will and Grace and Gossip Girl) devoted an episode to the most coveted of bags and its notorious waiting list. There are even blogs devoted to random Birkin spotting. My first awareness of the brand name Hermes was the film Basic Instinct in 1992; Sharon Stone’s character uses Hermes scarves to tie her victims to the bedstead. She was a classy killer. The Birkin is copied the world over, often spoken of in relation to the smaller Hermes Kelly Bag (named after Grace Kelly) and mistaken for the larger Hermes Haut a Courrois which was originally for transporting horse saddles as befits the company’s 19th century origin. The Birkin name came about when on a flight sometime in 1984 Jane Birkin was seated next to the CEO of Hermes Jean-Louis Dumason when she bemoaned the need for more space in the Kelly and a design collaboration ensued.

Tonello’s book is as much a story of ebay entrepreneurship as it is the story of how he managed to procure hundreds of the impossible to purchase Birkin bags and sell them on for substantial profit. Anyone who has sold through ebay will recognise the same travails of online selling. Tonello explodes two pop culture fashion myths – firstly, the waiting list and secondly Hermes own claims to producing a limited number of Birkins a year. Even if you have the money to buy an entry level Birkin you can’t just go in to a Hermes store and buy one. It doesn’t work like that since it is the unobtainability that amplifies their desirability. You will be told that there’s a waiting list of approximately two years and that’s even if they bother to ever call you back. However, Tonello discovers what he calls ‘the formula’ for getting the Birkin in nearly every Hermes store he visits. His formula for a ‘same day Birkin’, one that bypasses the waiting list and thus reveals it as a fallacy, is buy lots of scarves and leather goods first, spending a few thousand, and then casually drop into conversation asking if they have any Birkins. With that first offering at the luxury altar the Hermes sales assistant (which he breaks down in to five stereotypes and how to deal with them) disappears in to the back of the shop and magically produces a Birkin. The profit on a Birkin re-sell is so high that Tonello is able to fly the world in search of more Birkins for rich American women and, exposing another fallacy, he alone manages to acquire more than the supposed annual production that the Hermes spiel suggests. In the end Tonello tires of the travel, Hermes and the world of luxury goods and no doubt Hermes cottons on and changes its tactics of sale when it comes to keeping the Birkin shrouded in legends of unobtainable.

Product placement: Carrie Bradshaw appears in Season 6 (Episode 16 - 'Out of the Frying Pan') of Sex and the City holding a Rouge H 30cm Matte Crocodile Birkin.

(photo credits: yumyumcherry; DVD screen grab; permissions)