Our Research | Caitriona Noonan

As a researcher I am intrigued by the experiences of creative workers and the occupational conditions which they negotiate daily. Work in creative sectors like television, radio and journalism has changed considerably over the last few decades due to increased competition, advances in technology and changing audience tastes. These sectors are important sites of struggle over meaning, identity, representation and democracy, and so for me it is vital that we understand the lives of people working in these media.

This rich area has led me on a number of pathways and three in particular stand out at this point in my career:

  • How are niche areas of broadcasting responding to the changing ecology of television production? I am particularly interested in genres such as religious programming and arts programming.
  • How creative workers negotiate and reconcile various demands and identities in relation to their space? I define this space both in occupational terms (e.g. their institution, profession or medium) and as geographical place (e.g. city or nation). My current research on the creative developments in Cardiff around Porth Teigr stem from this curiosity.
  • How do creative workers emerge and how does higher education impact on that professionalization process. My recent edited volume ‘Cultural Work and Higher Education’ (with Dan Ashton, Bath Spa University) emerged directly from that interest.

It is a key time for HE as new notions of what university education is, and indeed should be, are emerging, as a result of new relationships between the HE system and the governments that largely fund and regulate it. ‘Cultural Work and Higher Education’ considered the tensions and collaborations that are possible between HE and the creative sector reflecting on the ways in which academics and students working within the fields of art, design and media studies engage with themes such as labour conditions, exclusion, work-place learning and the professionalization process in their own occupational and educational cultures.

I reflected a lot on my role as researcher and lecturer through doing this book. I found that very often the demands of the education system, the aspirations of students for their creative practice and the expectations of industry don’t always mix in orderly ways, but that HE needs to resist the ways in which its value is being determined by market logic and instrumental policy which narrows education only in terms of employability.

It wasn’t just the employability skills which were valued by both industry and students but their ability to think critically and creatively about issues, understand a variety of perspectives and work to make change happen as consumers, citizens and workers – this doesn’t come from vocational training alone. Also, expertise is vital to the continued relevance of HE but that this expertise is in a variety of forms whether industrial, academic or a combination. Prioritising any one voice and expertise risks us missing the true potential of higher education and does a disservice to our students, communities and publics.

Current or research research

Noonan, Caitriona & Ashton, Daniel (eds.) (2013) Cultural Work and Higher Education. Palgrave Macmillan.
Responding to the creative economy’s status as an industry, education and government priority, this edited volume brings together original contributions to examine the experiences and realities of working within a number of creative sectors and addresses how higher education can both enable students to pursue and critically examine work in the cultural industries. Debates on cultural work are garnering more interest than ever before and this volume presents critical discussion based on research findings from academics and policy-makers in the fields of media and cultural studies, enterprise, employability, psychology, and education. The volume addresses: what cultural work is and how higher education is connected with its growth as a sector; educational initiatives that see students gaining ever more detailed experiences and insights; the ways in which students and cultural workers position their identities; and the politics of access and issues of exclusion as they relate to industry networks, race and gender.

Noonan, Caitriona (2013) Piety and Professionalism: the BBC’s changing religious mission (1960-1979). Media History, vol. 19, no.2
This research focuses on two decades in the BBC’s relationship with religion as an area of programming. The 1960s and 1970s marked a period of massive social change in Britain in which traditional religious institutions were challenged relentlessly and a more religiously diverse society emerged. This makes it a significant time to examine the BBC’s response and the impact these changes had on the culture of production within the Corporation. This research asks how did the BBC frame the making of religious programmes within the changing socio-political context and how did their changing religious mission sit within the Corporation’s wider strategic aims? Religious broadcasting also offers a unique microcosm within which to view the changing professional culture of the BBC itself. To address these interests this research uses documents from the BBC’s written archive and accounts from staff involved with the genre at the time.

Noonan, Caitriona (2012) The BBC and decentralisation: the pilgrimage to Manchester. International Journal of Cultural Policy, vol. 18, no. 4, pp: 363-377
This research analyses the decentralisation of the BBC’s Department of Religion and Ethics, from its base in London to the office of BBC Manchester in 1994. It examines the rationale behind the BBC’s decision to move this production unit, and analyses the long-term impact of this policy on both the logistics and programme-making culture of the unit. Using interviews with staff working within the department at the time of the move, this research demonstrates how policy decisions such as this are negotiated by professionals within the Corporation and the conflicts which arise around efficiency and equality.