BCMCR Research Theme 21/22 – Disruption

By BCMCR Alumni on November 10th, 2021

During the academic year 2021/2022, researchers in the BCMCR will be producing work exploring the theme “Disruption”. This blog post outlines some of the key ideas that characterise this research theme, and highlights the multiple ways in which you could get involved with “Disruption” and contribute with any outputs that connect with the theme. We encourage participation from BCMCR and beyond – including external contributors, PhD researchers, and students at all levels.

Since March 2020 we have seen significant disruptions to our preferred routines, ways of working, and ways of being. It remains to be seen whether some of the temporary solutions that have arisen in response to our disrupted individual and collective lives will come to represent permanent change. Thinking through how we respond to – and emerge from – this disruptive period was the impetus for the 2021/22 research theme.

As media scholars, observing and reflecting on the reasons for – and the fallout from – change (including disruptive periods) is familiar territory. Accounting for and making sense of change is one of the key drivers of our collective effort. Indeed, one of the ways that the history of the media industries and popular culture more broadly can be told is through a narrative of disruption, but – equally – we know that narratives of disruption can be viewed simultaneously as periods of evolving continuity, where elements of a less-than-ideal status quo are merely rearranged.

Through engaging with the theme as a research collective, we will aim to collectively wrestle with the question of whether recent opportunities to pause, reflect and reconfigure our habitual and embedded practices will be taken, or whether that opportunity be lost in the rush to ‘return to normal’.

Beyond broad definitions of disruption represented by global events such as COVID-19, Climate Change, or more local issues such as Brexit, the theme also allows us to examine questions more closely associated with media scholarship. For example, in technology circles, disruption is often given a positive rhetorical slant where it represents innovation and opportunity, a removal of barriers. In some cases, technological disruption presents positive outcomes by helping to solve problems or by providing new ways of doing things. At the same time, and as we have seen through debates around Cambridge Analytica and ‘the gig economy’, these disruptions often have unforeseen consequences that give rise to new sets of problems. The complex, contingent and conflicting ways we interact and respond to companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Spotify, Netflix, and others, demonstrate that ‘disruptive innovation’ is a double-edged sword.

Moving closer to home, as researchers we find ourselves operating in a disrupted sector, where – for example – many colleagues work under precarious employment conditions, where teaching and research processes are increasingly subject to metrification, and where models and practices around the publication of academic work are being called into question. Thinking through ideas of disruption allows us the possibility, then, of not only engaging with societal and disciplinary questions, but also those related to how and why we undertake that work in the first place and – ultimately – who benefits from having access to the knowledge we generate.

By engaging with the theme of Disruption our aim is to begin to think through:

  • Our personal experience and our research practice.
  • Our institutions and the academic sector.
  • Our respective disciplines, and beyond.

We aim to develop ideas that consider how and why we do the work that we do; where and under which conditions that work takes place; what forms our work takes; why it matters; and who it matters to. As such, the theme offers numerous routes to engagement, each of which encourage us to be honest, outspoken, brave, reflexive, better equipped to understand change, drivers of positive change.


If you would like to discuss the theme in more detail, or discover ways you can get involved with BCMCR activities related to the theme, please contact the Theme Fellow Craig Hamilton (craig.hamilton@bcu.ac.uk)

Planned Activities 

BCMCR weekly online research seminars

“Disruption” is the overarching theme that research clusters will be addressing as part of our BCMCR research seminars, which include both internal and external speakers, and take place every week from 16:00 to 17:30. A schedule and booking information is available here.

Blog post contributions

You are welcome to produce and blog posts of up to 500 words that respond and connect with the “Disruption” theme under the dedicated space on our BCMCR website. We encourage the inclusion of any media and creative items as part of your online posts.

“New Thinking” pamphlets and BCMCR journals.

Over the course of the academic year, we aim to publish a series of “New Thinking” BCMCR pamphlets dedicated to the “Disruption” and there are special issues of several BCMCR in-house journals planned. Calls for participations will be communicated via our usual channels of communication such as email, our website, and the weekly BCMCR seminar series.

Edited book collection 

We plan to produce an edited collection dedicated to the “Disruption” theme as part of BCMCR new book series with Intellect. The Call for Contributions will be released and shared in July 2022 and we invite abstracts from researchers based at the BCMCR and beyond.

Theme research events 

As part of the BCMCR seminar series, we will host a number of sessions dedicated to exploring Disruption. These events will not be formally attached to any of the research clusters, and will invite internal and external speakers from a range of fields, research and practical contexts. Details to follow.

Online resources

A number of online resources are planned, including a regularly updated reading list, alternative academic publishing platforms, and an interactive dashboard engaging with the idea of ‘failed’ or ‘stalled’ research ideas.

Embedding the BCMCR theme in teaching and learning 

With this year’s BCMCR theme, we seek to encourage contributions from PhD, MA and BA students. The concept of disruption can be attractive for students at all levels. We hope that colleagues within the Birmingham Institute for Media and Cultural Research/BCMCR can incorporate the theme where relevant and encourage student outputs addressing the theme.