18 juni: The Researcher as Facilitator

Av Chris Thompson
Publicerad:2015-06-18 10:52

Christopher Thompson is a PhD student at the Department of History at Uppsala University. In his thesis, with the working title “Primitive Blasts: Norwegian Black Metal and the Use of History”, he focuses on the use of history in Norwegian black metal and reflections of identity.

The Inferno Music Festival in Oslo. Photo: Victor Jæger.

In the last blog entry I described the aims of my work and hinted at why I believe it to be so important to make it relevant to the public. In order to facilitate accessibility, it is of the utmost importance to communicate in ways that are understandable, yet to not come across as patronizing. Since becoming a PhD student I have come to see academic scholars not as holders of knowledge and ideas, but rather as facilitators. It is then this perspective that I want to discuss here. 

As a researcher of black metal, I have had a number of opportunities that I believe have been quite unique, especially as regards the study of history. This has not only involved going to an international conference focused on metal studies, but has included attending Inferno Festival 2015 in Oslo. Unlike in the case of other metal festivals, the organizers of Inferno have included a conference that has provided a place for discussion for academics, journalists, bands, and fans. I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s Inferno with the help of Dr. Vivek Venkatesh from Concordia University who I had met in Dayton at the Metal and Cultural Impact conference last November. After discussing our work it became apparent that we shared many similar perspectives concerning the academic treatment of black metal, its fans, and how the public has received it. I was only able to stay for two of the three days of the conference, but I left confident with the knowledge that I had found other researchers studying forms of extreme metal that wanted to ensure that the academic study of these forms of music were truly critical and scientific.

Shortly after the conference, I was contacted by Dr. Venkatesh with the confirmation that he would arrange for me to attend Inferno and an offer of role in his project aimed at studying online hate speech. Needless to say, I was in a state of disbelief and I could hardly believe my luck. I had gone to a number of extreme metal concerts and shows, but I had yet to attend a festival with this many bands. 

While being able to go to the festival was great, being able to become involved with a project that was aimed at informing and educating the public on the dangers of hate speech was the real high point. In addition, of course, going to an extreme metal festival in Oslo provided a great opportunity for my own research. I had not been to Oslo since 2007 and getting the chance to return was a great way to test some of my initial ideas.

Once I arrived in Oslo, the experience of Inferno began almost immediately. Going to the shows and seeing bands like Taake, Enslaved, and 1349 perform was amazing. These were bands that I had always wanted to see and I was not disappointed. Yet, for all the revelry that was going on around me I felt like I was there not as casual fan, but rather as an observer. This feeling was precipitated by the conference that was held in conjunction with the festival. Though I could not attend all of the sessions and did not present any material, it was evident that a good dialogue was being established. I could not imagine many other occasions where bands, academics, journalists, and fans were exchanging ideas on such an intimate level.

During the conference, a journalist as well as a well-known Norwegian black metal artist criticized metal scholars for using too many confusing and elaborate theories to explain the genre. I initially rejected such a claim. As an academic myself, and one who focuses on black metal, I wanted to inform them that the reason those theories seem so complex is due to their lack of ability to comprehend them. However, this was obviously the wrong reaction to have as it highlights a problem of communication between academia and the public. After having read a number of articles and chapters dealing with ‘black metal theory,’ I now completely agree with this particular author and musician. Many of the works touting ‘black metal theory’ have an overly complex explanation for the development of black metal’s ideology that makes relating it to a public audience – one not familiar with the language and ideas used – nearly impossible.

Overall, my experience at Inferno was fantastic. I saw some great bands, caught up with old friends, and made many new ones. Still, the most lasting impact the festival has had on me is the realization that my work as an academic must be accessible. Furthermore, it is ultimately up to me to ensure that this is possible. I firmly believe that it is through effective communication that the humanities will retain their relevance and thus secure their future. While the discussion of this topic is far from exhausted, the rest and more will have to wait until my last entry tomorrow.