Dr David Jamran smiling outside Tilburg University

Festivals as networked communities, and a PhD journey to Tilburg University

By Dr David Jarman

In the world of festivals and communities, relationships matter. Festival managers and producers understand the overlapping links, both professional and private, amongst their colleagues. Freelancers and graduates developing their careers appreciate that opportunities may come by way of personal connections. The future success of entire festival organisations can depend on forging, maintaining and exploiting associations with collaborators, suppliers and allies.

Academic literature in the field of festival studies has sought to better understand the interpersonal dimension of these events, from different conceptual standpoints, in a range of contexts. However, in this festival environment there remains an opportunity, if not a need, to establish the place of network-based research methods and perspectives in the development of academic and industry understandings of social relationships. Networks underpin these connections and communities, from simple ties between pairs of people, to complex webs spanning hundreds of individuals, venues, performing companies, supply chains and audience members.

Earlier this summer, just before the beginning of term, I headed over to The Netherlands to complete my doctorate. The research is a response to the question: “What can social network analysis, and a network-orientated perspective, contribute to understanding the relationships within festival and creative communities?”

My PhD was with Tilburg University, where I had been a student for three years through the period of Covid lockdowns. The empirical work that contributed to it was built up over a number of years though, through a range of different journal articles, conference presentations and book chapters. It has been a privilege and an interesting journey over that time to complete this range of different projects, and to work with different people along the way. Taking this “by publication” route meant that I was able to focus on different projects, involving an array of primary data types, and various research methodologies. I was also able to find different homes for my work, with the support of many editors and colleagues along the way. Presenting my work at different conferences and events allowed me to tell people about my work and generate some interest in the network approach that I’ve been taking.

Throughout my work I’ve been focusing on different types of social network analysis. SNA is a growing area of academic research, partly driven by the opportunities that it presents, but also because of the interest in networks that has developed over the past 20 years. This interest is partly driven by widespread use of social media and communications technologies, but also through the shared experience of the Covid-19 pandemic and its spread across the globe. I was able to take this interest and apply it to the context of festivals and events, showing that there is a lot to be learnt and concluded from a network focused approach.

Going through the Dutch system was very interesting and rewarding, and very different from the experiences of colleagues who went through a UK system. My trip to Tilburg in late summer was primarily for a public defence of my PhD: I was given an hour on stage in which to present my work, and then to answer questions from a panel of assembled professors. It was a good experience, and my supervisors were confident that I would get through it, so I was happy to have my family with me to see it! I also produced a public publication so to speak: this took the form of multiple copies of a printed book with a shiny cover, that people who attended the event were free to take away with them. It has been an interesting journey to turn my PhD thesis into something which can quite comfortably sit on a bookshelf in a library, or in someone’s study.

The publication of the book in this form, and also as a PDF freely available from the Tilburg University repository, means that the various publications that I collected over the years are now in one place. If anyone wants to know what I’ve done over the past 10 years or so, they can head to the Tilburg University website and there it will be.

The journey to Tilburg was fantastic, and the good weather really helped. I was also very happy that one of my colleagues at Napier, Professor Jane Ali-Knight, was one of my supervisors, and therefore also at the public defence. Working with her, and my director of studies Professor Greg Richards, has been a really rewarding and valuable experience in itself. Greg and I, for example, published a special issue of the Event Management academic journal in 2021. We also collaborated on some events through the ATLAS group of academics, and we shall continue to build on this.

Final thanks from me must go to two groups of people. One is my family, my partner and young son who came out to the Netherlands with me. We enjoyed some lovely days in Amsterdam, Tilburg, and nearby Breda. The other group of people are the various administrators, support staff and Beadles who helped me at Tilburg University. They are a fantastic team, and I was really lucky to work with such great people through the six-month journey from thesis submission to public defence and book publication. The Tilburg campus is beautiful, the atmosphere is lively, and I was very well looked after by everyone I met.

In terms of my work as an academic at Edinburgh Napier, I am now in a position to tell anyone that there is a collected body of my work in that book. I’m also very happy that I can now call myself Dr. This will open up future opportunities to me in terms of research and other work, with additional freedoms to treat each project on its own merits rather than being part of a bigger endeavour. I will, of course, retain my interest in festivals, networks, and communities, and I will continue to share this with people at every opportunity that comes my way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.