Unions and Film – Developing My Dissertation Proposal

This weekend I’m going to Ruskin College for a conference called Critical Labour Studies (CLS).  The conference will include lectures, discussions and debate with key academics and interested parties.  Students on the MA have been given the opportunity to pitch their dissertation ideas to this group and I’m in the process of putting some slides together in order to do this.

My dissertation topic has not been fully defined yet and so this gives me a perfect opportunity to describe it to people who’ve gone through this process previously and have a great deal of experience in the field of trade union research.  I thought I’d share my idea here to begin with because it will develop over time and possibly be very different from this first thought through to the finished product.

My initial idea is to explore the way that trade unions use the medium of film to recruit new members and to campaign.  It seems to me that there is a difference between the way trade unions at a national level use film and the way the activists use the same medium at the grass roots.  Trade union activists can and do record campaign activities such as demonstrations, strikes and other events and upload these films onto the Internet shortly after taking them.

National and international trade union bodies have the means to make much more professional looking films which can clearly take much more time and money.  I want to investigate whether these two different approaches are both valid or whether one is more useful than the other.  I also consider that a great deal can be learnt by trade unions when looking at activist groups doing similar activities.  With this in mind I will look at the way social movements have used film.

My dissertation has to have an international / comparative element to it.  My initial thought about this was that it was a perfect opportunity to tie in a visit to the United States and watch some motor racing.  But in researching the way trade unions use new technology for the first assignment I was really excited to learn about activities in parts of Africa with regards to mobile phone technology and how people are using it that I’m now considering a trip to Sub-Saharan Africa instead.  At this stage though I know very little about what trade unions are doing in that region and how I might get involved.

The really exciting and just little bit daunting aspect of my dissertation proposal is that I intend to produce a documentary presenting my findings.  At this stage, I have no filming or editing experience so I have a steep learning curve if I’m going to complete this part of the plan.  Ruskin College are being really helpful in terms of putting me in touch with people who could help and I’m also talking to activist groups who already use film.  I’m hoping to get some training in the next few weeks and then I’ll be a better position to know for sure if I can do this.

I will report more on the dissertation as it develops.


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