We’re pleased to announce the return of Historians Under the Spotlight – an occasional interview series which offers a snapshot from academics’ lives: their passions, interests and reading suggestions. You can catch up with previous posts here.
The month we are spotlighting Alex Corcos (Leicester), an interdisciplinary researcher associated with the University of the Activity Zone project. Alex is giving the keynote at the SSFH/ASMCF Postgraduate Conference on Saturday 6th March 2021. The conference tackles the timely theme of (im)mobilisations, and Alex will be speaking about ‘The Fog of War(wick): “Strategic Deconstruction” and the Game of Mobilising Research’. You can register to hear Alex’s talk and the other fascinating PGR papers here.
In a nutshell, what is your research about?
Cultural anxiety and social organisation: since 2018 I’ve been looking at cultural responses to virus outbreaks but my background is in 1960s politics and protest movements.
What was it that first got you interested in researching French history?
I did my AS-level French oral exam on the 2005 riots in response to the deaths of Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré and there’s been a lot of continuity since then. My Dad had a lot of history books lying around and I would read them when I was young, so some of that probably influenced what I found interesting at school. The psychology of nationalism is something I have always tried to understand.
In the length of a Tweet, what is your forthcoming keynote about?
It’s about what can happen when you’re minding your own business trying to research and teach in UK higher education in the contemporary moment… admittedly in a pretty unusual set of circumstances.
What are the main insights you hope people will take away from your keynote? (No spoilers!)
(i) That ‘malinformation’ is a dangerous pseudo-concept. (ii) That, in the words of Sir Nigel Thrift, ‘[The World] is producing new hybrid beings out of spatial registers hitherto unthought of. The interesting thing is whether we can make things more interesting and less predictable by playing with these spatial registers, or just become part of the repeat play of the security–entertainment complex’. And (iii) That universities have many ethical problems swirling around them today.
What is your most and least favourite thing about academic conferences?
Pre-pandemic: most, nice sandwiches//least, student accommodation.
Now: most, the irony when conferences on cutting edge technological advance have the usual crude technical problems // least, speaking into the abyss. Especially when your slides don’t share.
What one piece of advice did you find most helpful when you were a postgraduate/ early career academic?
You have to do the research first, then look for funding. This is very problematic but accurate.
What one change would you most like to see in academia in the next five years?
The abolition of tuition fees, but hopefully more than one change will occur in the next five years…
What are you working on now/next?
The University of the Activity Zone is a prestigious university on the outskirts of the University of Warwick, which I am currently developing according to our ‘strategic masterplan’. My main priority is seeking funding for a project on the cultural stakes of bacteriophage therapy, with senior colleagues from another UK university. I’m giving a paper outside my usual spheres of interest at the end of this month too, so that should be very interesting.
Quick fire questions:
What French place/space would you most like to be able to go to right now?
Favourite archive or library?
It’s a dull answer but the BnF in Paris is where the Guy Debord archive is. It’s a strange but enjoyable experience reading the notes of an avowed enemy of the French state amidst the pomp and bureaucracy of the BnF.
As an optimist, I’m going to say the 21st. Obviously improvements are required.
Èclair or saucisson?
Saucisson for old time’s sake: I don’t eat meat any more but I don’t like éclairs!