Cultures of Authenticity: An interdisciplinary webinar series

Authenticity has become a buzzword for our times. Much of the travel industry is built around the provision of ‘authentic’ experiences, global brands fight to be seen as ‘authentic’ and social media platforms are awash with arguments about the authenticity of this post or that vlogger. But what we do mean by authenticity? And why have these debates grown so dramatically in the last two decades?

Leading experts from around the globe will be discussing the answers to these and other related questions in a series of webinars hosted by the Centre for Research in Communications and Culture at Loughborough University. Commencing in autumn 2020, the series will feature high-profile scholars from across the social sciences, including Professor Sharon Zukin of City University, New York and Professor Sarah Banet-Weiser of London School of Economics, UK.

The concept of authenticity has a long history, having first emerged as a response to the processes of homogenisation, rationalisation and standardisation at the heart of modernity. In recent years, authenticity has again come to the fore where social, political, cultural and technological upheavals give rise to feelings of distrust, detachment and alienation against which supposedly authentic people, places and things are sought out for their reassuring certainty and value. Yet, there are huge contradictions and inequalities in who can make claim to authenticity and its construction and communication invariably involves competing narratives and oppositional assertions about what is authentic and how and why the authentic gains its value.

The purpose of the webinars – and of an edited book planned to follow the series – is to provide a space for scholars interested in the culture, politics and ethics of authenticity to share their research and insights and together examine the continued salience of this concept to understanding of contemporary social, cultural and political life. 

Each webinar features a keynote speaker followed by a panel of 3-4 research presentation and time for questions and discussion. Registration is free via the individual links included in the session summaries below.

Series Schedule

Webinar One: Cities & Urban Culture

Thursday 29th October, 1400-1630

Keynote: Sharon Zukin (City University of New York)

We start the series by examining the relevance of authenticity to understanding cities and urban culture. While urban spaces are often valorised as sites of creativity and cultural expression, the multiple ways in which cities develop and change through fractious processes of growth, urban renewal and gentrification gives rise to competing claims to authenticity. Cities often manifest processes of globalisation, homogenisation and, increasingly, digitisation, yet enclaves of authentic sociability survive and continue to appeal to many.

Register for Webinar One here

Webinar Two: Place & Heritage

Thursday, 5th November, 1400-1630

Keynote: Jillian Rickly (University of Nottingham)

The second webinar in the series addresses debates about the preservation of history and the communication of culture and belonging. Thus, many parts of the tourism and heritage industries involve complex decisions about the (re)creation of the past and who can access cultural communities and traditions. Specific locations often give rise to tensions about claims to authorship and ownership of ‘real’ culture making authenticity claims a significant feature of many struggles over heritage, culture and place.

Register for Webinar Two here

Webinar Three: Social Media & Digital Communication

Thursday 12th November, 1000-1230*

Keynote: Crystal Abidin (Curtin University, Australia)

*Please note earlier start time of Webinar Three accommodating the time difference between UK and keynote speaker

The advent and meteoric rise of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram means authenticity has recently taken on new meaning in explaining the appeal of internet celebrities, their followers and the wider pressure to self-present an authentic version of the self in digital spaces. The third webinar in the series will address these concerns by examining a range of recent trends and examples which question how the authentic can be created, communicated and profited from in creative yet often highly problematic ways.

Register for Webinar Three here

Webinar Four: Gender & Identity

Thursday 19th November, 1400-1630

Keynote: Sarah Banet-Weiser (London School of Economics)

Webinar Four brings the initial series to a close through discussion of the relationship between gender, identity and authenticity. The webinar will feature papers addressing how claims to “real” femininity and masculinity are contested and how gender politics frequently involves the negotiation of competing claims to authentic voices, bodies and gendered ways of being.

Register for Webinar Four here

Event Organisation Team

Dr Michael Skey, Senior Lecturer in Communication and Media Studies, Loughborough University, Centre for Research in Communication and Culture

Dr Thomas Thurnell-Read, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Loughborough University, Centre for Research in Communication and Culture


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