Rethinking the term ‘community’

Community is a key component of my PhD thesis, which essentially looks at the impact of a community media project based in Trinidad and Tobago. In my own research I make references to various ideas of communities such as “imagined communities” (See the works of Burns (1994) Anderson (1983), Carey (1989), Cohen (1985). I also refer to Rennie’s (2011), Possi’s (2003) and Downing’s (2001) contribution to the discussions in my literature review, where they talk in one way or the other about various facets of community such as a localism, politics, professional, nostalgic, provision of homogeneity for minority groups, subordinated social classes. While some theorists perceive community as a value characteristic, others approach community as one that describes a place, interest or form of communion (Fraser and Estrada, 2000, p.76; Wilmott, 1986; Lee and Newby, 1983; and Crow and Allan, 1995).

community

Community| OwnerURL| License

All of these views are important because they allow for me think of community more broadly, i.e. within and outside the context of community media. However, based on the literature I reviewed debates on the term community have not necessarily painted a clearer picture of community media. Some concerns emerge regarding one’s awareness of the community’s shared characteristics, and the failure to consider the transient nature of said cohesive factors in some ideas on community. In my view, there remains a lack of a clarity on the concept of community. However, Patel (1998) claims that this search for a clear definition of community attaches unconstructive labels within societies and people should not be restricted to these labels or identity as people are exposed to countless influencing factors. Although I can understand Patel’s point this lack of clarity in the conceptualisation of “community” contributes to the blurred nature associated with terms such as community media

For my own impact case study on the Shoot to Live project in Trinidad and Tobago it is interesting to use some of the concepts proposed by scholars in analysing the theme community. These views would make for a stimulating about the Shoot to Live findings in exploring what kind of communities exist and whether or not communities take one shape or if they are an amalgamation of various discussions. The more significant outcome of this study would be to discover whether or not new ideas on community will be grounded in the data collected.

After analysing my data for my qualitative research the term community is illustrated as a geographical location, with shared attributes and the ability to connect individuals through cultural and social values remains relevant even in a technologically-driven era. In examining the practice of community in this study I also discovered that the formation of a community is not always intentional; diversity still exists within communities; and that numerous community fractions exist. The community media project I assessed established a newly-formed, temporary, and positive community. Despite the short-term nature of this project the contributions made by this temporary type community appears to be significant and impactful to some extent. Though there is a concern about temporary-type projects, I learnt that the focus should be on maximising the contributions of these transitory communities. Meanwhile, collaboration among existing communities can aid in the post project activities.

However, I would like to explore this notion of community a bit further and I believe that attending the #MeCCSA2016 conference next year is critical to rethinking the term community within this context because the MeCCSA conference theme this year is “community.” I will keep you posted on the progression of my thoughts on this subject matter.

Here are some related blogs and links: Reflecting on the MeCCSA Conference 2016| Sustaining Community Journalism ActivitiesBirmingham Center for Media and Cultural StudiesBirmingham City University| Arts Design & Media PGRStudio

An examination of amateurism within the Trinidad and Tobago steelpan industry

Last month, I submitted a call for papers for an Amateur Hour event on Creativity and Cultural Ecologies to be held at the Woodman Public House on December 9, 2015, 12-2pm. At first, I thought I’d submit an abstract talking about amateurism as it pertains to my main research interest (community media). But then I said to myself, hang on, there are so many a few other areas that I can experiment with… Considering the nature of the topic, I can articulate amateurism and the steelpan effectively because of my relationship with pan (i.e. I belong to a pan/music family). So in this blog I share my abstract and presentation from this event.

Abstract

There are various arguments that paint amateurs in both a negative and positive light (see the works of Deren 1965, Fox 2004, Leadbeater & Miller, 2004). However, based on my observations of the practice of Trinidad and Tobago steelpan music industry there is an overlap between amateurism and professionalism as it relates to motivations and a few other aspects. Despite these associations there are numerous characteristics that differentiate these concepts such as education, expertise, professionalism, skills, and reputation. However, from my observations I can see that amateurs and professionals have an interdependent relationship and I believe that this dependency contributes to the blurred nature of the concept.

Presentation

One of the important discussions to have in light of the dialogues on amateurism is the overlap and interdependent relationship that exists between “amateurs and professionals.” Today I want to share some thoughts using my observations of the steelpan music industry in Trinidad and Tobago over the years… The steelpan is a national cultural symbol and it is the most established traditional musical instrument in Trinidad and Tobago, primarily used for entertainment purposes… In the search for recognition as the ‘national instrument,’ the trajectory of the steelpan development witnessed the adoption of performers, conductors, composers, arrangers, tuners and so forth. So the development of the instrument – the steelpan – in the early stages demonstrates the first layer of mirroring an established music industry.

What I mean by this is that the development and existence of other music professions/industries benchmarked the aspirations for Pannists. There were moves/attempts to:

  • Steer the standardisation process and patent issues surrounding the steel pan
  • Improve the efficiency of music education programmes in schools throughout Trinidad and Tobago
  • Encourage the composition of music specifically for the steelpan
  • Increase the number of local steel pan innovators and fabricators
  • Explore new frontiers in marketing for the national instrument

UTT Pan Institute

I also observed the identity of the pannist a bit further, and I noticed that there are different levels of amateurism. On the very first level pannists play for the love of the instrument and local culture etc. On another level I also noticed that some pannists compete for financial rewards while retaining their love for pan and culture… I also noticed that some amateur pannists would typically play during ‘pan season’ primarily for economic gains… From my observations, the overlapping of both the amateur and professional pannist becomes a bit unclear as both their roles seem to fuse or merge… As I reviewed this industry it was evident that both the amateur and professional pannists play critical yet separate roles, they support each other’s existence and development… For example, in a steelpan orchestra, the novice pannists support the compositions and accompaniment of accomplished musicians. There is a common ground between both categories of panmen. What this means is that… the amateur and professional panman cannot survive without each other.

While an amateur pannist may have initially started out for the love of pan… they are sometimes influenced by the achievements or the appearance of a professional pannist. What I noticed is that the culture of the professionals often dominate and curtails the lifespan of an amateur. How so? Suddenly everyone competes to become professional pannists… working on improving technical aspects such as left hand/right fluency of notes; pitch accuracy, which ensures that all the notes are executed perfectly and heard clearly and precisely; focus is now on the tone quality coming out of the instrument; now panmen focus on Deportment/Communication/PR… However, never necessarily losing sight for their love of pan… I believe it is this overlapping or transition that causes a tension between the purposes and the role of both the established panman versus the novice panman.

I question whether or not this interdependency is healthy or is this just one of the cycles of an amateur pannist? For without this interdependency, both types of panmen cannot exist… Based on my reflections I think that both the amateur and professional panman should be respected and celebrated in their own right.