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Very British Dystopias: three conclusions

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My Archive on Four documentary Very British Dystopias was broadcast last Saturday night. If you missed it, it can be caught on iPlayer for a few more days. If you read this post too late to do that, I wrote an article for BBC Politics on the role dystopias play in ‘real’ politics, which covers some of the same ground.

I’ve already written about my experience making a radio documentary based on my first venture in 2010 and earlier reflected on the process of making Very British Dystopias.

Nothing can recreate the visceral thrill of hearing a Radio Four announcer introduce your own programme or of a Today Programme presenter setting up a trail for it. Those are the geeky, self-indulgent, pleasures of someone who really needs to get out more. But there are some serious aspects to the process – at least for academics normally locked up in their (dread phrase) ‘Ivory Tower’ now we are obligated by REF diktat to undertake (more dread phrases) ‘impact’ activities based on our ‘excellent’ research. Certainly, my own experience of doing ‘impact’ stuff of this nature suggests it can:

1. Lead to new insights into your own work. Thanks to my producer Jane Ashley and especially interviewees David Aaaronovitch, Lucy Sargisson and Joan Smith I now think of how I approach the subject of dystopias in a different and more rounded way.

2. Create new contacts for future research. Only in my wildest dreams could I normally hope to interview all the people I did for the programme. However, now I’ve talked to them there’s a few I am already lining up for my next research project.

3. Improve your communication skills. The discipline of producing something for a lay audience can only help sharpen up how you present your material – in, for example, lectures. Having a BBC producer work with you is like being granted a free tutorial in the subject.

Beyond all that – and you should not forget the time it takes to produce such a ‘cultural artefact’ (that’s how the REF defines a radio documentary) – is the prospect of communicating with huge numbers of people, some of whose minds you might, ever so subtly, influence so they come to think of your subject less as something that weird people in ‘Ivory Towers’ study but which, actually, could be important in the (final dread phrase) ‘real world’.

Steven Fielding

Published inAcademic Impact

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