Why politics needs arts & crafts

By Dr Anna Feigenbaum, lecturer in Media & Politics and contributor to the ‘Disobedient Objects’ exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Inflatable cobblestones, book blocs, musical pot lids. This week these objects joined the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection, taking their place in design history alongside Grecian pottery and fashion couture. Curated by Gavin Grindon and Catherine Flood, the V&A’s Disobedient Objects show serves as much as an intervention than as an exhibition. Its 99 objects from social movements around the world ask us to rethink what counts both as art and as politics.

From brightly coloured, hand-woven tapestries to a rice sacks with head and armhole cut-outs, the show’s disobedient objects range from refashioned rubbish to intricate craftwork. While everyday items like tea cups or water bottles may not be inherently ‘disobedient’, repurposed here as objects of solidarity and makeshift tear gas masks, they take up status as ‘disobedient.’

concrete lock-on at protest

Concrete lock-on’s in action (actionawe.org)

Other objects showcased in the exhibition were intentionally designed for disobedience. The shields adorned with images of climate refugees used to transport pop-up tents at Climate Camp in 2007 are an excellent example of how spectacular art created spectacular media images, and swayed public opinion. Similarly, the ‘dragon’ concrete lock-ons made infamous in the anti-roads actions of the 1990’s show how protest sites often become innovative centres of disobedient design.

There is as much variety in these objects as there is in the people who made them. Artistic credits for the show include professional architectures, sculptors trained in world-leading art schools, gardeners, electricians, prisoners, students and anonymous collective assemblies of all kinds of people. These objects are neither art of the institution, nor art simply made outside of the institution. Rather, they are blends of both, the products of imagination as it travels between cultures and countries.


A Cacerolazo – protesting by with noise. (Ande Wanderer, argentinaindependent.com)

Just as our conception of art is disrupted by this exhibition of disobedient design, so too are our ideas of politics. Normally, when we think about what makes up politics, talking comes to mind. Politics is debates and speeches. It is dealing with campaign donations and soliciting support at gala dinners. It is the fighting, the demanding, and, all too often, the lying of our political leaders.

But these disobedient objects open up a different kind of politics. They give way to a politics of the senses. They showcase campaigners’ sensibility of political norms that enables them to anticipate and out-design their opponents. This politics can manifest as sound; the sing-song banging in unison of cacerolazo pan lids. Other times it is found in acts of collective sleeping – a politics shared through open-source designs for winterising protest camp tents. Often this different kind of politics is expressed in signs, flavoured with humour and pop culture savvy, as in the hanging hand-painted cardboard: ‘I wish my boyfriend was as dirty as your policies’ that now adorns the V&A (and its gift shop rack of postcards).

Rinky Tink bicycle sound system at Heathrow demonstration (Fabian Frenzel)

Rinky Tink bicycle sound system at Heathrow demonstration (Fabian Frenzel)

These are just some of the crafted politics of everyday people that arise when voices go unheard. Marred by low voter turnout and growing distrust, traditional politics is desperate for creativity. It is begging for new ideas to get beyond its self-perpetuating bureaucracies and stale public school styles. But to carry on, politics needs innovation from below. It needs to learn to better craft possibilities and policies from the perspective of the people. As Disobedient Objects shows, real change can only come when the imagination challenges the institution—and wins.


Anna Feigenbaum is co-author of the book Protest Camps (Zed 2013) and a lecturer at Bournemouth University on the BA (Hons) Politics & Media  degree.  Her essay ‘The Disobedient Objects of Protest Camps’ can be found in the Disobedient Objects V&A exhibition catalogue. 

Beyond the crisis of political engagement

By Dr Darren G. Lilleker, Associate Professor, The Media School.

There is a crisis of political engagement. Academics, journalists, political NGOs, even now celebrities tell us there is: with Russell Brand being given a stage to call for abstentionism from the democratic process to highlight the disconnections between government and the governed. The features of the crisis are low trust in politicians, parties and the governments they form; low levels of feeling informed; lower still levels of feeling connected to ‘politics’; and consequent low levels of interest and participation. These are not new, perhaps not wholly unhealthy, and also not particularly surprising.

To start on a positive note, we should not desire blind trust in politicians. Scepticism is healthy, even a degree of cynicism is healthy, blindly following and supporting politicians is dangerous. We also need a critical media, which can breed scepticism and cynicism by questioning the motives of politicians. The problem in many modern, post-industrial democracies is that the balance has tipped to almost complete mistrust, only around 20% of the EU population have any trust in politicians: to represent them, to act of the good of the nation, to follow ethical codes of behaviour. The question is why?

Politicians exist in the eye of a perfect storm. The media express few partisan affiliations and are readier to expose scandal than a positive story. The voters no longer hold strong affiliations to parties; hence they are no longer part of a local conversation with other members. Hence exposure to politics is mediated for the vast majority, who also rely on television news which few watch habitually and sporadic reading of newspapers. So of course there is low information and it is the scandals, the big news items, Plebgate, Expenses, to which most will get the most exposure.

But this is not the full explanation. Politicians now exist largely within what many describe as a bubble, Westminster for example. They largely moved away from community politics, offering sporadic surgeries only, public meetings are now undertaken via television which focus on the minority of top party leaders. Local politics is included by public service broadcasters, but is not the staple diet of many household’s Sunday viewing. The divorce of the representative and the community has been gradual, pushed by party centralisation, the erosion of local activists, clubs, the practice of parachuting in candidates, the pressures of Westminster duties etc.

Some politicians have, however, built new connections. Many politicians (MPs and MEPs) have begun to colonise Facebook and Twitter. Some hold online surgeries. Some request video footage from smartphones to highlight issues. Some seek the views of their constituents. Some inform about their activities at Westminster and locally. Some seek help with local campaigns. The best, and this is an unashamedly normative statement, do all of those.

What is the impact? Party politics, or at least perceptions of leaders, dominate voter choices. But, even when the tide turns towards one party, research shows a local MP can earn 5-12% of the vote based on their service. They can also enhance the image of their party, earn trust, earn interest, and mobilise citizens who feel disenfranchised. And they themselves feed off their constituents, the more they do the more constituents connect with them and so the more they connect with the community they represent.

The crisis of engagement is often seen to begin and end with voting. It is a crisis when the majority do not vote, and a protest against the system to abstain. But largely all this leads to is further disenfranchisement: why would any organisation seeking votes need the thoughts of those who do not participate.

We need a more interactive politics. Where demands of citizens are heard, where representatives interact with a broad swathe of citizens and where there is greater citizen input into and understanding of political processes. Disengagement results from feelings of personal irrelevance, disconnection, insecurity and uncertainty. Politicians need to reduce these feelings and make politics relevant, connected to communities so reducing insecurity in society and uncertainty over political processes and their outcomes. But citizens need to also push for a more active representative, withdrawing is not the answer.


Dr Lilleker has conducted research into a number of aspects of engagement and disengagement, in particular around the communication and campaigning activities of parties and candidates in the UK. The impacts of political communication is a key interest, and he has explored this using theories of psychology in his latest work Political Communication and Cognition (Palgrave, 2014). 

Dr Heather Savigny featured in New Statesman on women in politics and media

Dr Heather Savigny, Senior Lecturer in Politics at BU and Deirdre O’Neill, Lecturer in Journalism at Trinity College Leeds, have written for New Statesman website about their research into the representation of female politicians in the media.

“It’s 2014 – yet media and politics is still a man’s game” outlines the results of an archival study of newspaper coverage of female MPs since 1992. The study was originally published in Journalism Education and funded with the help of a grant from the Association of Journalism Education.

Using their research, Savigny and O’Neill concluded that the way women in politics are represented in the media is getting worse, writing,

“Female politicians were more likely to be reported negatively – for example, by 2012 we found that although all Conservative politicians received negative coverage, Conservative women MPs received negative coverage that was double that of their male counterparts. Labour women, meanwhile, were receiving coverage that was four times more likely than Labour men to be negative.”

They went on to state that it wasn’t just the negative bias of the coverage but also a case of numbers of female MPs gaining press coverage and the treatment of them differs too, the media preferring to focus on physical appearances rather than policies. Savigny and O’Neill finished by calling for a more mature approach to reportage when it comes to women in politics.

You can read the full article on New Statesman.



BU students broadcast live EU Election coverage


Students from across BU’s Media School streamed live analysis and debate during the European Parliamentary Elections to try and encourage student engagement in politics.

Going live Weymouth House on Talbot campus after the polling stations closed, dozens of students were involved in the BUEU2014 project.

The students were a cross-course team from The Media School including students from politics, journalism, media and communications, and TV production courses. Led by a core group, they brought their unique skills together to collaborate on the project.

The broadcast was the most recent in a series of events around the European Parliamentary Elections including televised hustings and a five day trip to Brussels for a group of Media School students.

The trip was financially supported in part by BU’s Fusion fund and part directly from MEPs. The fact-finding mission gave thirty students the opportunity to learn more about the European Parliament, interview MEPs and produce video for the BUEU2014 event.

Doug Tham, a second year BA (Hons) Politics and Media student and president of the Student Politics Society, was one of the organisers of the Brussels trip.

He began fundraising and contacting MEPs over a year ago and hopes to continue to keep the student body engaged in politics in the run up to next year’s general elections.

He said: “I wanted to show students that with politics you need to start from the small ‘p’ and then go to the big ‘P’. And politics, it involves everyone every day in their daily lives but people just need to see that.”

BA (Hons) Television Production student, Ed Lawrence was another of the key instigators for the project. Describing the idea behind BUEU2014, he said:

“There are young voters that are wanting to get interested in politics but finding it difficult to be engaged by the parties so this is a kind of experiment – we’re trying to get a lot of young people involved in this event to get them into the European elections and see what content we can produce.”

Jason Collins, a BA (Hons) Communication and Media student was the studio anchor for the broadcast, reading out the breaking election news live as it happened.

As a previous non-voter Jason said of the project: “I’m not from a political background and prior to applying for the Brussels trip I had no knowledge in the area.

“It wasn’t until I got to Belgium, conversed with other students by debating and got to meet the MEPs that I realised the importance of politics and Europe in our day to day lives.”

“I found myself becoming increasingly passionate and after the trip I formed more of a voice in the area and felt compelled to help with the coverage of the European Parliament Elections.”

Although BUEU2014 is a student-led endeavour it has been supported and encouraged by BU teaching staff and academics throughout.

Dr David McQueen lectures in Politics and Media at BU and has actively encouraged the students to be proactive in politics.

He said he hopes that this type of collaborative working will continue in the School, adding: “The professional manner in which the students have worked together and the degree of engagement in EU political matters has been outstanding.”

Photo courtesy of Neil Goridge

European election debate held at BU


Prospective MEP candidates from seven political parties gathered to debate key topics in preparation for the upcoming European elections.

The hustings, hosted at Bournemouth University, was organised by students from BU’s Media School, who also filmed proceedings as a part of their coverage of the European elections.

Candidates were faced with pre-prepared questions, followed by audience responses to their comments during the Question Time-style debate, chaired by BU academic Dr Dan Jackson. At times the debate became heated as candidates from opposing sides positioned themselves with polarised thoughts on important political topics.

Topics discussed by the candidates included Britain’s future in Europe, Britain and Europe’s response to the situation in the Crimea and the immigration issues facing the UK.

Audience participation was excellent, with debate encouraged amongst the crowd; students, staff members and members of the public engaged in the debate with comments, and applause was offered for particularly strong points from the prospective MEPs.

Jay Risbridger, a prospective MEP candidate for the Liberal Democrat party, said after the event, “Its important [to have events such as this at universities] as students will become the future voters who will participate in the EU. I think this generation, more than any other, their jobs and future prosperity will depend on what goes on in the EU rather than what goes on in the UK government.”

Jay also offered a message to students who will be voting in next week’s European elections, saying, “Think about what you are going to be doing and where you are going to be working in the future and be mindful that you may not be working in the UK in the future but in the EU!”

Students from a number of Media School courses came together to deliver the debate. Television production student Edward Lawrence organised the event and said, “I’m a big fan of these political debate shows, which give audiences a platform to ask the questions that matter with politicians they are going to be voting for. I am proud that we have provided that platform and am proud of the students that covered the event, I think they are a credit to Bournemouth University.”

Douglas Tham, a student studying Politics and Media at BU, also helped to run the event on the night and added, “It really shows that students do care about politics and it’s great that we have the European elections coming up next week and we have students here asking questions, talking about it and learning about it.”

Other candidates to take part in the debate included current Conservative MEP Ashley Fox, UKIP prospective MEP Dr Julia Reid, Green Party Prospective MEP Mark Chivers, Labour Prospective MEP Clare Moody, An Independence from Europe Party Prospective MEP David Smith and English Democrats Prospective MEP Amanda Hopwood.

Tobias Ellwood MP talks politics with BU students


Tobias Ellwood MP visited Bournemouth University today to talk to a group of Media School students about the current political situation in Syria and the UK Government’s response.

The Conservative representative and Member of Parliament for Bournemouth East spoke to MA Multimedia Journalism and BA Politics and Media students offering his knowledge on the situation in Syria and the UK Government’s responsibility to be good ‘global citizens’, offering support to those who need it.

Students also offered their thoughts during a lively question and answer session, with topics such as chemical warfare and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars also discussed.

On students taking responsibility and engaging with politics, Tobias Ellwood MP said, “I think it is very important [that students engage in politics].” Mr Ellwood then went on to talk about Britain’s important place in global politics and the need for the next generation to grasp the importance of it and continue Britain’s legacy.

Why Politics matters


MPs and representatives from the main political parties were at BU to debate whether young people today are engaging with politics.

The Why Politics Matters event was organised by students from the BA (Hons) Politics and Media degree.

It took place at BU’s Executive Business Centre in front of an audience of staff, students, members of the public and pupils from Corfe Hills School.

Opening the event, BA Politics and Media Programme Leader David McQueen, said that, while young people appeared to be turning away from the traditional party politics, there was an increasing amount of political activity on social media channels like Twitter and Facebook.

“Does party politics matter?” he said.

“Does it make any difference who we vote for? Lots of people don’t think it does. People think they are all the same.

“One of the problems with politics is young people are just turning their back on it. Why are people losing faith in politics?”

All of the main political parties were represented at the event, with speakers including Leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett, UKIP Candidate for Christchurch in the 2015 elections Robin Grey, and Conservative Bournemouth West MP Conor Burns.

Each speaker had the chance to talk about their party, whether they thought young people were disengaged with politics and why politics should matter to them.

Labour MP and BU Visiting Fellow Bob Ainsworth disagreed that young people were less engaged with politics than previous generations.

“I don’t believe young people in this country are ignorant of politics to anything like the generations of young people have been in the past,” he said.

“I voted Labour because my family voted Labour.

“A generation ago, politics was class-based. This generation is a lot more knowledgeable than the generation to which I belong and many generations back in history.”

Annette Brooke, Liberal Democrat MP for North Dorset and Mid Poole, said that politicians needed to do more to encourage more young people need to vote in elections.

“It’s quite shocking to think that in the last election, less than 40 per cent of 18-25 year olds voted,” she said.

“I think it shows a failure on the part of the politicians.

She added: “There are very important issues that are going to affect your lives, not mine.

“It is not right that the older generation should be dominating what your future is going to be like.”

The event also featured a question and answer session with all of the speakers, and the chance to network and visit local political party recruitment stalls.

Recent BU Public Relations graduate Felicity Pentland also presented her research into why young people are not voting; through surveys and interviews with 18-25 year olds, she found that barriers included a lack of understanding and a negative view of politicians.

Douglas Tham, a second year Politics and Media student and President of the BU Politics Society, said he felt the event had gone well.

“We wanted to encourage young people to get involved with politics and see what it is like to be in the presence of an MP,” he said.

“It’s been really good – it’s a great chance for the young people here to get to speak to MPs on a personal level and will hopefully encourage them to look at the work that their MPs are doing.”

Darren Lilleker on TUC conference to BBC Radio Solent

Darren Lilleker, a senior lecturer in Politics and Media at BU, spoke to BBC Radio Solent to give his thoughts on Ed Miliband’s speech at the TUC conference.

Speaking to Steve Harris on Solent’s Drivetime show, Darren gave his thoughts on Miliband’s comments, on Labour’s changing relationship with trade unions and what the decision, and indeed Miliband’s speech, will have on the future of the Labour Party.

Darren said of the speech, “It was cautious, it appealed to the unions’ anti-Conservatism.”

The conversation then progressed to look at Labour’s membership, and whether they were leaving themselves financially short by making this step. Darren continued, “What Labour has to do is reach out to a broader swathe of people and not rely on the trade unions as a supplier of membership and think about how it is going to get people to join the Party and, obviously, to donate to the Party. That is the big issue for the Party, losing the money that it relies on for its campaigns. But how do you get people to join political Parties and to engage with them?”

But where should the Party turn, again Darren explained how difficult it can be for Parties to find funding, “The whole party funding issue is very complex. How do you make sure that Parties are not being funded through businesses with vested interest? That is a huge debate that needs to be had!”

Darren was then asked how much damage could be done by Labour in making this decision, “I’m not sure how big an issue it is for the average voter. I don’t think the average man in the street is concerned about the relationships with [Labour and] the trade unions. For most it is an automatic association they make in their heads – Labour has always had a trade union link.”

Dr Anna Feigenbaum on BBC Radio Solent talking about chemical weapons use

Bournemouth University’s lecturer in Media and Politics, Dr Anna Feigenbaum, featured on BBC Radio Solent’s Drive Time show, giving comment on the alleged chemical attacks in Syria.

It is estimated that over 1,300 people have been killed due to nerve agents, but with the Syrian government denying the attacks, all reports are considered unofficial.

Along with 37 other countries, the UK have urgently written to the United Nations, asking for access to Syria.

“I would go along with what human rights organisations are saying, who have expertise in what’s happening,” Dr Feigenbaum told presenter Steve Harris.

“The organisations have been dealing with chemical weapons for decades now and they’re reporting that what they’re seeing are nerve agents.”

Dr Feigenbaum then explained the history of chemical warfare and how this reflects the current affairs in Syria.

After the First World War when people saw both the physical and psychological terror and injury chemical warfare caused, they were outlawed in the Geneva Protocol in 1925, signed by a number of the European countries. The US was resilient and it was further passed on when the US were found to be using chemical weapons in Vietnam.

“Again in 1993, when we saw the conflict in Iraq, there was another international outcry,” said Dr Feigenbaum.

“Syria is not part of the international chemical warfare ban.”

“One of the things that I find interesting, is that we are not taking seriously the reports from the human rights officers and the doctors helping casualties”, she added.

Dean Eastmond

Dean is a student at Budmouth College in Weymouth, who is working at Bournemouth University in the Press and PR Department. He joined BU on a Sir Samuel Mico Scholarship, which provides 10 students from his college with essential work experience for four weeks over the summer.

Dr David McQueen on the current conflicts in Cairo

Bournemouth University’s lecturer in Politics and Media, and expert in global conflict, Dr David McQueen featured on Steve Harris’ Drivetime show on BBC Radio Solent giving his opinion on the current conflict and civil unrest in Egypt.

“I think that this is a tragic short lived experiment of democracy, I don’t think it had to turn out this way and there were many missed opportunities for resolution within the brotherhood and the government” Dr McQueen explained.

The discussion continued with Barrack Obama condemning on the violence; “I think the US government could’ve played a part by saying if there was any army coo they could help the Egyptian army out”.

“The US Army fund the Egyptian army One Billion Dollars a year”

Dr McQueen relates the public reaction of what is happening now in Egypt to the 1972 Bloody Sunday reactions.

“When we look at thousands of deaths of armed protestors, I just see very dark days ahead for Egypt”.

Dean Eastmond

Dean is a student at Budmouth College in Weymouth, who is working at Bournemouth University in the Press and PR Department. He joined BU on a Sir Samuel Mico Scholarship, which provides 10 students from his college with essential work experience for four weeks over the summer.