REF2014: Response and Implications

The School of English and Drama is delighted by our success in the REF, which recognizes us as one of the leading research institutions in the country. The Department of Drama is ranked 1st in the UK for the quality of its research, while the Department of English is ranked 5th (and 1st in London).

The results testify to international quality of the dynamic interdisciplinary research done by our research staff. The REF measures quality in research outputs, in our research environment, and in the impact our research has on the wider world. In each measure we have performed exceptionally well. This is a testament to the hard work and collegiality with which colleagues across the School have approached the REF.

The REF results are vital in determining future research funding, and this result will ensure the School continues to prosper in the coming years. The research that REF measures also has an important influence on our teaching. The School has long adopted a philosophy of research-led teaching; this means that the modules we run at undergraduate and postgraduate level are taught by international experts in the field, and students are thus exposed to the latest and most exciting ideas. The impact result also reveals that academics in the School are committed to speaking to audiences beyond the university.

In the following two videos, I reflect on the importance of the REF, and some of the implications it was for us and for other institutions.


Student Media: writing, editing and lots of gin-based socials

I’m probably biased but the best thing you can possibly do during your three years at Queen Mary (or any uni for that matter) is to get involved with Student Media. Whether it be The Print newspaper, CUB magazine, QMTV or Quest Radio, it’s free, easy to get into work experience. And it looks cracking on your CV. I got involved with student media properly in my second year, after spending the majority of my first year arguing I ‘never have the time’ to contribute regularly. That’s understandable – you’re in a new city (probably), Freshers’ Fair has swallowed you whole and your email account is now full of emails from the vegan society/cheerleading squad (you swore you were interested at the time, but it was really for the free cake/chocolate/pens). But it’s also a lie. In first year, and you’ll realise this in your second/third, you have SO MUCH TIME. So use it wisely, and get writing.

If I could go back and do something differently, it would be that I got involved as early as possible and gained as much writing experience as I could. But I didn’t – instead I waited until May rolled around and editorial positions opened for all outlets. I applied to be a regular columnist, named aptly: The City and the Northern Girl (very Carrie Bradshaw, I know). Cut a long story short, I got the position and proceeded to impart my North vs. South wisdom on to the entire QM population – so much so that I once got recognised in Spoons, just the beginning of my celebrity career. Not. Now I am the editor-in-chief, and I genuinely feel that every student, especially HSS students, should join the media family. We’re a fab bunch.

I’m probably making no sense to those of you who have no clue what Student Media even is, let alone what it does. So here’s the lowdown:

558314_624001094289194_2064892024_nCUB MAGAZINE. Queen Mary’s oldest (and finest) Arts and Culture magazine, currently ran by me, god help them. Sections include: Film, Music, Style, Arts, Features, Columns, London, Photography & UniSex. Publishes four times a year in print (literally the most stunning magazine you will ever see in your life) as well as boosting an online presence @ Fresh content uploaded daily.

1512617_802382833134651_2420543857757590739_nTHE PRINT. Queen Mary’s student newspaper. Originally named QMessenger, then Davey Brett took over and changed it forever. And made it crazily better. Sections include: News (obviously), Comment, Features, Satire, Sport & Societies. Publishes eight times a year, usually every two-three weeks, in print and is currently in the process of designing a new website to accompany @

432258_210917425673732_910636721_nQUEST RADIO: Queen Mary’s student radio. Has seen huge changes this year under it’s leader Lucy Furneaux. Now featuring a beautiful new website @ and at last count, has over 40 different radio shows/hosts. Currently battling against the Students Union to be moved over into the SU Hub, and to be played in all Union outlets on campus.

QMTV: Sort of died a death this year with management difficulties. In the process of being revived. However to give you some sort of context, last year it had these ‘Bloody Mary’ episodes which reported news from campus and encouraged debate inc. the ISoc protest over prayer spaces (can be viewed @

They’re the ‘big four’ if you like, but we also have four other outlets, so I’ll give you a brief overview of those:

1458496_201774926673144_2027577175_nPOLITICS MADE PUBLIC (PMP): A politics magazine, with an aim to make politics more approachable and understandable by people who basically don’t have a clue (aka me). Set up and managed by Matt Mahmoud and Jasper Tautorus. Published 2-3 times a year in print, also has an online presence @

qmrQUEEN MARY REVIEW (QMR): Queen Mary’s outlet specifically for creative writing. Write poetry, short stories or other fiction-related things? Then this is the magazine for you. Headed by Bruno Cooke, it publishes bi-annually. Has a cute blog @

qmsciQMSCI: Queen Mary’s science magazine, Physics I think (I’m an English student, don’t judge). Mostly academic stuff, plus really clever discoveries/articles by Science students and staff. Oh, according to their description: “[it] aims to provide the brightest and the best, the coolest and kookiest of science to our readers – both on and off campus.” Well there you go then. Publishes bi-annually. Also has a cool blog @

941803_318967564907897_885630000_nTHE VULTURE: Barts’ own magazine. Editors remain anonymous. Don’t actually know what its content is.



So there you go. The full eight. Take your pick, get involved, boost your CV and attend our socials while you’re at it. We’re hilarious after a few gins.

Positions include: 

  • Editor-in-Chief (the big boss of the outlet, makes key decisions, is blamed when things go wrong, far too passionate about their publication)
  • Deputy Editor (helps the Editor-in-Chief keep everything running smoothly, ensures they don’t have a breakdown)
  • Section Editors (in charge of gathering and editing articles for each section e.g. Features)
  • Sub Editors (they design and layout the print issues, makes it look pretty, disguises any horrendous submissions)
  • Photography Editors (source images both online and in print to accompany articles)
  • Online Editors (in charge of the website, ensure things are copied and pasted over correctly, bombards social media with links to online articles)
  • Columnists (kinda speaks for itself)
  • Contributors (the most important position in the team, providing us with actual articles to edit and publish)

Trust me, you should get involved. You definitely won’t regret it.

Reading Literature: A Wild Exorcism of Ourselves

When you buy a book, what exactly do you own? Do you own the words on the page? No, these are the author’s, or, in the event of the author’s death, the publisher’s. What about the actual book in your hand? Great, you own some paper, a load of squiggly lines, and a Waterstones receipt. Do you own the right to read it? Yeah, as much as when you walk the corridors of the Louvre and delight yourself with the right to look at its paintings. You don’t own the Mona Lisa, you borrow it from the institution that houses it; like a Blockbusters for clever people. What’s the difference between the walls of the Louvre that house these works of art, and the covers and bindings of books? You can’t festoon the paper of a book with your ownership any more than you can carve your infinitesimal etchings into a work of art; it seems almost arrogant to try. Why then do we continue with this vainglorious delusion? If literature is art, why don’t we afford Robinson Crusoe, that brave Ikea manual that believed it could make a name for itself, with the same amount of respectful distance we afford to Guernica?

The act of purchasing and owning a book seems to be pure aporia. Regardless, we view our books with a slaveowner’s eyes, they sit in our cabinets (or strewn across the floors of our room, with our chunkier tomes tripping us on our way to the toilet) undoubtedly and rightly ours.

Interpreting literature seems to operate in the darker realm of culture because of this. We fumble messily through books, stripping them of their glory, trivialising their grandeur. We do a great violence to books that we spare the rest of culture from: to read, it appears, is to rape. That’s enough mystification and trite metaphors for one blog I think, and it’s all getting a bit morbid so I’ll get to the answer to this, and it comes from the previous owner of one of my anthologies. I brought my poetry anthology second hand from a third year, and I brought it back to my pristine (honest) Maynard House room and leafed through to read my favourite poem, a Yeats poem called Among School Children. I was surprised to see that, above the title, with a neatness that seemed to suggest that no explanation was needed for it, was an underlined cri de coeur “this poem is wanky”. I disagree with this evaluation of Yeats’ poem, but in disagreeing with it, I affirmed it. He read the same poem, in the same book, but he, like me, owned something that saves us from this terrible fate: an opinion. It’s this understanding that allows us to say that we don’t own the book, but instead own the text. The text is the humanity we bring to the book that the book can’t have, by virtue of being a book, and not a person. We all read the same book, but not the same text.

If you are familiar with the works of Jacques Derrida (if you’re not, get familiar, the guy’s amazing) you might have come across this pearl of wisdom, which has been pounded into the realm of platitude by pseudo-intellectuals (guilty as charged) “there is nothing outside the text”. He’s right guys. Among School Children will never change; it’s a cultural artefact, physical, unchanging, immutable, everything a human mind is not. Why then, do we study English? What is our profit from this endeavour? Because, when you read, you create just as much as when you write. The mind itself is like a palace and not every room is brightly lit and beautiful; there are holes in the floor of the mind. Most people who don’t read never explore these structural flaws and tumble along, leading a life unexamined. Your experience with the text, which is your own, and your own only gives you the light to make these holes magnificently, or grossly incandescent and the ladder to climb down into these holes, holes that you might never really climb out of. A common misconception about reading is that we in some way sit as high priests, with this book in front of us that we “own” finding “meaning” that lives in the text like a daemon, but reading literature is like a wild exorcism of ourselves; the literature in fact owns us far more than we own it.

And that is what makes it so much fun, and is the reason to study English at university. English at Queen Mary is not a stuffy traipse through the canon, that’d be easy, but instead it’s discourse, innovation, challenge. I sometimes listen to my seminar leader, or another student say something, and I feel the new ground crackle and break beneath my feet (or that could be the central line, sometimes I’m not sure). It is sometimes perilous and difficult, but why do the flying wallendas walk the quivering highwire? Because it’s walk that line, or plunge into the deep unmeaning below. Academic life at Queen Mary doesn’t shy away from this difficulty but embraces it, they’re with you every tentative step of the way. You will occasionally stumble, but Queen Mary cultivates an attitude that we do what we do not because it is easy but because it is hard.

But what Queen Mary does best is give you the tools to create your own texts, to actually own a fragment of the books that you buy in a way that passive reading cannot. They teach you to respect books as works of art, and to respect your relationship with them. My favourite line from Among School Children is “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” because it’s a beautiful illustration of the process of the endeavour of English students, which is that the book is the dance, we, in creating texts, are dancers. I’m proud of Queen Mary for letting us dance.

Race, Racism and ‘Theatre of the Ghetto’

Katie Beswick, Lecturer in Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies, on her research into race, racism and Theatre of the Ghetto.

One of my research interests is in the genre of drama that journalist Lindsay Johns has pejoratively termed ‘Theatre of the Ghetto‘. This genre, according to Johns, is primarily ‘about guns, drugs and council estates’ and regularly depicts black people (particularly men) as inhabitants of unsavoury or troubled home environments and as the perpetrators or victims of crime.

‘Theatre of the Ghetto’, I would add, usually adheres to the conventions of social realism – where working class spaces are depicted with a close attention to detail in the set design, costume and staging. Plays that might fit into this category include Off the Endz (Bola Agbaje 2010 Royal Court), The Westbridge (Rachel De-lahay 2011 Royal Court) and Estate Walls (Arinze Kene 2011 Ovalhouse).

It is easy to see why Johns is dissatisfied with the state of contemporary black British theatre, which again and again presents stereotypes of young black men, which reinforce racist conceptions of black masculinity that already circulate in the dominant culture. In many of the post-show talks and Q&As that I have attended after theatre (and indeed film) of the ‘ghetto’ events the question asked by audience members is: ‘what can we do about our young black men?’ Audiences (both black and white) appear to receive these works as truthful reflections of the total state of the young black British community, and respond by seeking methods to ‘fix’ the youth.

I think audiences are asking the wrong question – what we should be asking, especially in this period where the rise of the far right throughout Europe threatens to create and entrench divisions between racial and religious groups, is: ‘what can we do about racism?’ What can we do about racism, which operates to demonise groups of the population and which is so pervasive that it works through cultural intuitions such as theatre to reinforce its dangerous message?

Accusing mainstream theatres of racism is ethically complex, not least because most of the plays that fit the ‘Theatre of the Ghetto’ mould are written by black writers, often claiming to reflect the ‘reality’ of the life of the black British community. And, after all, what right does a white woman such as me have to tell these writers what kind of theatre they should and shouldn’t be making? (Another good question.)

But of course – as is hardly ever publically acknowledged, particularly at the Royal Court, which emphasises the primacy of the playwright – plays have more than one author. The producers, directors, set designers and centrally, the funders of theatre also contribute to the overall meaning created by productions, and importantly, decide what gets made, and how.

What can we do about a system where, as playwright Arinze Kene has argued, black British playwrights are coerced into writing ‘the same old shit’, in the knowledge that these are the stories theatres want to stage?

Happily, there does seem to be a fledgling move towards mainstream theatres asking questions about the stories they produce. Over the past couple of years I have come across two especially powerful productions that place racism at the centre of the story, questioning ‘norms’ of the theatre industry in different ways.

The first is Nathaniel Martello-White’s play Blackta (Young Vic 2012), which explores the place of the black actor in the contemporary theatre industry. Blackta calls attention to the pressures young black men feel to live up to stereotypes of extreme masculinity – ‘homophobic, misogynistic, tough’ – and examines how the acting industry exploits and reinforces conventional depictions of black men.

The second is Arinze Kene’s God’s Property (Soho 2013), which subverts conventional ‘Theatre of the Ghetto’ narratives, which often position black men as recidivist criminals. At the end of the play, the mixed-race Chima who has served a long prison sentence for the murder of his white girlfriend, Poppy, is revealed not to have killed her at all – he has covered for Poppy’s father, who killed her accidently, trying to attack Chima after becoming enraged that his daughter was carrying a black man’s baby.

Both of these examples mark an important, I think, way in which the theatre industry is starting to interrogate its own practices. Although, depressingly, after a showing of God’s Property at the Albany in Deptford, audiences were still asking, ‘what should we do about our young black men?’ A question which conveniently shifts the gaze away from those in power, who might be able to actually do something about the social problems caused by racial and economic inequality.


With thanks to Charlotte Bell at Queen Mary University, whose question on my paper at the Seeing Like a City symposium prompted this blog.

If you’re interested in reading more of my thoughts on realism and the ethics of representation you might like to read articles I have written (and co-written) on the subject: here and here.

Welcome to the QMULsed Blogs

Welcome to All Things SED, the new blogging platform for the School of English and Drama (SED) at Queen Mary University of London.

The School brings together two of Queen Mary’s outstanding departments: the Department of English and the Department of Drama. The School has an international reputation for its high-quality research and its excellence in teaching. The latest REF (Research Excellence Framework, 2014), ranked Drama as first in the country and English as fifth in the country (and first in London) for the quality of their research. The latest National Student Survey revealed high levels of student satisfaction: 100% of Drama students and 94% of English students were satisfied with their programmes.

All Things SED is a platform for our students and academics to blog on cultural developments and reflect on their work and practice. The site will host regular bloggers and one-off writers. We will also host SEDcasts: video and audio interviews with members of the School.

If you are interested in contributing on a regular or one-off basis, please get in touch with the All Things SED Webmaster.