Last week I took part in The Rise and Future of Heroism Science conference at Murdoch University. I have presented my first paper coming out of my PhD Research there. My presentation was titled “The Evolving Visual Representation Of Palestinian Heroes Since Year 2000”.
Let me start by talking more about the conference. It is the first conference of its kind to be dedicated to Heroism Science worldwide. There was participants from Australia and USA. You can read more about it here.
The conference is interdisciplinary as the presentations varied from discipline to discipline which made the conference more dynamic and engaging.
For me the highlights were the following presentations which mainly relate to areas of research that I’m interested in and intrigued by:
Keynote speaker: Dr. Peter le Breton, Transdisciplinarity, transformative inquiry and heroic scholarship
In his presentation Dr. le Breton explained the rise of transdisciplinarity in academic research. He used a very useful analogy. He said if we shed a red light on an object we see differently than when we shed a blue light. Certain aspects reveal themselves while others disappear. But then if we put the object under sunlight we can get a better fuller image. And that is how transdisciplianrity can inform and improve research.
Another important thing he said was that what drives the inquiry is the inquiry itself. And you can’t separate the researcher from the research. This resonated a lot with me. As my PhD research involves the Palestinian issue. And I’m a Palestinian I find myself always having to struggle with how I should be positioning myself and my voice within my “objective” research. But now I understand better how I can consolidate my research and myself. Indeed my research is informed by who I am and how I understand the world inside and outside of academic research. And it is not about being objective or subjective but it is about being honest and truthful with my inquiry, findings and my conclusions.
Dr. le Breton also talked about the concept of “Heroic Scholarship” and he gave an example of David Bohm. The concept is simple; scholars should pursue the truth, stand for what they believe in and be welling to risk it all. Of course nowadays this is a trickier stand as Academia became a career for many and thus a source of income. However the concept has it’s appeal on me and as a budding researcher I hope that the heroine within me will be able to shine.
Christopher Comerford, The first duty: Heroism and the personal truth of whistle blowing
This presentation caught my attention because I’m interested in whistle blowing as an act of defiance in the face of greedy power and tyranny. The presentation drew comparison between whistle blowing and especially the Snowden case and Star Trek. I found Comerford’s reading from pop culture to be interesting and intriguing and it made sense.
Audrey Fernandes Satar, Listening to the Sound of One Hand clapping: The depiction of moral characters in colonial graphics
Fernandes Satar presenting style was theatrical, given how her research stems from her passion and her position as an Indian. The subject matter of her research is something I’m interested in. Visual culture and colonialism are bound to produce an intriguing discussion especially through a critical lens. And that is what Fernandes Satar did in her presentation by commenting on characters in colonial graphics.
I would say that the essence of what she talked about has been happening to different races and in different settings for a long time. A quick look at today’s pop culture and mainstream media and we can see how characters of “the other” is being portrayed and misrepresented. This is a topic that I can talk on for ever so I will leave it here and maybe tackle it in another post.
Samiha Olwan, De/romanticizing heroism in Palestinian women bloggers narrative
I know Samiha personally but listening to her in a professional setting is different. The subject is close to my own research, though her inquiry is through literature and specifically the blog sphere. Her presentation talked about heroism through the eyes of one Palestinian female blogger. Her presentation outlines Samiha’s critical reading of the blog posts through feminism, post colonialism and nationalism lenses. I was really moved by Samiha’s response to one of the questions whether these blogger think of publishing their work through different media. Samiha said she doesn’t know (I read she doesn’t care) and that she is only interested in their voices. Two things popped into my head. First, how sometimes as scholars we can get caught up by the technical (method, medium, deliverables,…). And the other thing the importance of counter narrative voices and “listening” to the voices which need/want to be heard.
Bronwyn Lovell, Writing diverse science fiction heroes, and the heroism of the science fiction writer
Lovell’s presentation started by looking at various hero images in science fiction culture especially movies. She identified a lack of proper diverse imagery especially when it comes to female characters. Her research will be informing a science fiction novel that she is writing where she is trying to subvert the typical hero archetypes and include more divers characters in a none tokenistic way. I’m looking forward to reading her novel.
Patrick Jones, Mindfulness and heroism: Clear mind / open heart
Mindfullness is a meditation technique that I have once used and I can say it worked for me. Thus drawing this correlation between mindfulness and heroism got me intrigued. The most exciting part of Jones presentation was him opening up the buttons of his shirt to reveal a superman t-shirt underneath. You can see this and actually watch his presentation including my question at 21:57.
Layla Al Hameed, Faking heroism: A mechanism of ‘Mafia Offer’
While all the presentation varied in their scopes and perspectives on Heroism. Al Hameed’s is the only one that looked at a negative heroic imagery or the faked heroism. I found her voice as a researcher very clear and I liked her use of the term “Mafia Offer” within the context of faked heroism.
Two presentations worth mentioning are Sylvia Gray,Democratising heroism: Effects of heroism training on individual heroic action and Shawn Furey, Heroic living, human ecosystem management, and psychological wellbeing. Both Gray and Furey shared personal accounts of how they have survived domestic violence and abuse and became heroes in their own ways. They both represented applied examples of the Heroism science. Which for me grounded the whole conference. They both talked about their respective organizations; Hero Town Geelong and The Hero Training School.
As for my presentation, I examined how the hero image has evolved in Palestinian visual arts, films and digital/social media scenes since the year 2000.
Through examining examples of Palestinian artworks, installations, films, graffiti, pop culture and social media (including Internet memes); I argue that three distinct archetypes of heroes have emerged. The first archetype is the political icon. Images related to these icons are usually celebratory
in nature and often romanticised. The second archetype is the anonymous rebels. Most of the imagery depicting them especially in social media is romanticising them yet artists have been challenging these images either by contextualizing the heroes’ behaviours or questioning the media depictions of them. The third archetype is the samidoun; the everyday people whose heroism lies in their attempts to lead a normal life. Images of these heroes have increased with the accelerated use of social media and micorblogging by Palestinians especially at times of military operations.
Each of these archetypes has their own particular audience and reach, raising the question as to which of these three archetypes create the most powerful empathetic connections with a Western audience. An answer to this question would be of immediate usefulness to activist artists and designers working within a Western context.
In fact the reason why I conducted this research as part of my bigger PhD research is due to that. How Western audience react to Palestinian hero images and who arguably can induce more empathetic connections.
In conclusion I have to say that I have enjoyed my time at the conference. Olivia Efthimiou has done a great job organizing this conference by bringing different scholarly voices but also having the logistics of the conference run seemingly smoothly.