Dr Katie Beswick
I joined the University of Exeter in September 2015. I have also held teaching and research positions at the University of Leeds and at Queen Mary University of London.
I was born and raised in South East London. Before I was an academic I worked in lots of different professions — as a performer, facilitator of theatre in various community settings, as a waitress, barmaid, shop assistant, telephonist, as an in-school mentor, personal tutor, finance administrator and social housing officer.
In my academic work, I think about how theatre, performance and other artistic and cultural products (visual art, literature, television, film, news media) shape our experiences in the world. I have been particularly interested in the relationship between class, culture and city spaces — especially housing. I have organized numerous conferences and events exploring housing, art and activism, in 2020 I edited an issue of the journal Studies in Theatre and Performance on the intersections between these subjects. I have also published widely on theatre and council estates in journals including Research in Drama Education, Performance Research and New Theatre Quarterly. My monograph Social Housing in Performance: The English Council Estate on and off Stage (Bloomsbury 2019) explores the representation of council estates in news media, film, television, music video and theatre practices.
Other academic publications include a co-edited special issue of the journal Interventions, exploring cultural production in the postcolonial city, and an article for Theatre, Dance and Performance Training exploring notions of industry in outreach actor training programmes. My latest project is a study of street culture in London and New York, for which I spend time walking in the city, interviewing artists and street performers and trying to understand city politics from the perspective of the street. I am also writing two books, one on hip hop theatre (Making Hip Hop Theatre Bloomsbury 2022 with Conrad Murray), and another on sex, class and desire (Slags on Stage Routledge 2023).
I regularly write features, reviews and interviews for a general readership — these have been published both online and in print for outlets including InStyle, Loud and Quiet and E1ife. My comic blog, Reasons to be Single, won a Cosmopolitan blog award in 2013. I blog about arts, culture and education on my website katiebeswick.com.
I am the Co-Chair of the University of Exeter Humanities Research Ethics Committee, the Communications Officer on the Executive Committee of the Theatre and Performance Research Association (TaPRA) and Associate Editor for the Journal of Class and Culture (Intellect).
◦ Space and Place
◦ Social Housing
◦ Applied and Socially Engaged Theatre
◦ Sex and Desire
◦ Hip hop
◦ Street Performance
Recent and On-Going Research
I am concerned with understanding how arts practices create, sustain and challenge our perceptions and experiences. I am especially interested in social class, and the ways class intersects with art, performance and other cultural forms.
Much of my work has focussed on the relationship between council estates, or 'social housing estates', and theatre and performance practices. My monograph, Social Housing in Performance (Bloomsbury 2019), explores the ways that ideas about council estates and their residents are produced through popular culture, and how performance practices have responded to this wider discourse. This book was one of three shortlisted for the TaPRA Early Career Research Prize in 2019.
In 2020 I edited a special issue of the journal Studies in Theatre and Performance on the issue of housing, art and activism. This issue expanded my interests in housing and performance, taking a global view to think about how arts practices have intersected with housing activism in various contexts across the world. Contributors included a diverse range of scholars from the UK, South Africa, Italty and Brazil.
From 2012-2015 I was engaged with the Postcolonial Cities project hosted at the University of Leeds. My work with this intitative included co-organising the international conference 'Re-evaluating the Postcolonial City: Production, Reconstruction, Representation.' In 2015 I co-edited, with the scholars Maya Parmar and Esha Sil, a special issue of the journal Interventions on the same subject.
My current project explores street performances cultures, particularly in London and New York City. I am also working on a second monograph, Slags on Stage (Routledge 2023), that is concerned with understanding how women have dealt with class, sex, desire and promiscuity in performance and other cultural works. An essay on this topic 'Slaggy Mums: Class, Single Motherhood and Performing Endurance' was published in the Key Words journal in 2020, and in 2021 won the Working Class Studies Association's Russo & Linkon Award for Best Published Article or Essay for Academic or General Audiences for work produced in 2020.
I am currently working with the director Conrad Murray, of the Battersea Arts Centre Beatbox Academy and the hip hop theatre company Beats & Elements, on a book, 'Making Hip Hop Theatre' (Bloomsbury 2022), which documents his practices and techniques and situates them in a global hip hop context. The book also includes contributions from high-profile UK-based theatre and hip hop practitioners.
I have a keen interest in academic writing and publishing practices, and along with Professsor Cathy Turner and a board of student editors I produce the annual Term 3 Journal of Student Writing in Drama, which showcases writing from the Exeter Drama Department, with a prcoess of mentorship, workshops, editing and peer review that aims to introduce undegraduates to the process of academic publishing.
I have collaborated with the theatre company Phakama to analyse the outcomes of our project, 'Ten in a Bed' - where we worked with under 5s and their families in Tower Hamlets, London, using arts-based workshops to enhance literacy.
I worked with academics from the University of Leeds, the Open University and Freie Universität Berlin on the 'Postcolonial Cities' project, resulting in an international conference held at the University of Leeds (2012) and a special issue of the peer-reviewed journal 'Interventions' (2015).
I have worked with numerous institutions to develop and deliever performance projects with students, including National Coal Mining Museum England, Thackray Medical Museum and the Montgomery School, Exeter.
I am interested in hearing from students wanting to develop projects on issues of space and class, class and representation, education, housing, sex and desire, and street performance culture.
If you have an idea for a research project and would like to work with me please send a 500 word proposal to email@example.com.
First Supervisor to:
James Woodhams, 'Site-based theatre and disadvantaged young people'
Ian Trafford, 'Effectiveness and relevance in vocational training at drama schools'
Guy Elhanan, 'Acting as a means of empowering Palestinian students in Israel'
Second Supervisor to:
Elaine Faull, 'Theatre Alibi' (completed 2020)
Thomas Nicholls, 'Representations of regional English cities in contemporary drama' (completed 2021)
Manal Saleh Alghamdi, 'Mediatised reading aloud to children'
External impact and engagement
I am interested in working with communities and sharing my research with the wider public.
Public engagement work includes:
- ‘Women Working Class Resource Launch‘ (2021) – I hosted and chaired the launch of the online resource for the South East iteration of Women Working Class, a project founded by Fox Irving, with contributing artists Cath Hoffman, Jasmine Shigemura Lee, Kyra Cross, Kelly Green, Marina White Raven, Vanessa Farinha, and Aislinn Evans. The event was held online via Heart of Glass.
- 'Spaced Out' (2021) - I was a panel member, along with Julia King and Antione Picon at the LSE's Forum for Philosophy event on space, place and city design in a pandemic.
- 'Social Housing in Performance: The English Council Estate On and Off Stage' - I gave this invited talk at The Bishopsgate Institute as part of the Library Lates series.
- 'Scratch Hub Social: Creativity and Social Change' - I was an invited panel member at this event, curated by the Battersea Art's Centre's Scratch Hub as part of the 'Socials' series.
- 'Representation of Working-Class Women in British Theatre' - I was an invited panel member at this event, curated by the organisation COMMON as part of the VAULT Festival 2019.
- 'Art and Loss of Social Housing': I concevied and organised this event, at Exeter's Phoenix Arts Centre. It was an exhibition, film screening and panel discussion, which explored how art serves as a means for social housing residents to engage with the loss of their homes. This was part of the Being Human festival of the humanities.
- 'A Box Park to Live In' Hoxton Private Housing/Public Home: I devised and performed this site-specific public engagement piece along with Cecilie Sachs Olsen, as part of the Home in the Housing Crisis symposium held at the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton, London. This interactive performance offered the audience a proposal for a development in Hoxton and asked participants to explore the area to appraise the development's feasibility.
- 'What Can Art Do for Housing Activism? A Long table discussion': I conceived and organised this panel a the London School of Economics as part of the Resist Festvival of ideas and actions.
- Estate: A Reverie: I was a panel speaker at the discussion session for the screening of Fugitive Images film Estate: A Reverie, at Queen Mary University of London, a Centre for Studies of Home event.
- 'The Resident Artist: Making Performance in Your Council Estate Home': I gave this public lecture at Senate House, London as an invited speaker for the Institute of Historical Research 'Studies of Home' series.
- Reach: I delivered workshops to students in secondary schools in Tower Hamlets as part of an outreach initiative run by the Drama Department at Queen Mary University of London, encouraging year 9 pupils to consider studying Drama at university level.
- Look at the (E)state We're In: a two-day symposium, which took place in public venues across Peckham in May 2015. This initiative, funded by University of the Arts London, explored arts practices on and about council estates and included public talks, workshops, an exhibition and a publication.
- Ten in a Bed: an eight week series of arts workshops, which introduced under 5s and their families to new and popular stories in order to enhance literacy. This project took place in Tower Hamlets from January to April 2015, and was designed and delivered by myself and students at Queen Mary University in partnership with applied theatre company Phakama. It was funded by Queen Mary's Centre for Public Engagement and Big Lottery Awards.
- Thackray Medical Museum: in this project I facilitated a site-specific performance festival where students from the University of Leeds developed a series of performances designed to communicate aspects of medical history.
- National Coal Mining Museum England: Between 2009 and 2012 I facilitated an annual, three-way project between students at the University of Leeds, local secondary school students and the NCME. This project culminated in an annual performance festival exploring aspects of coal mining in the Yorkshire region.
Contribution to discipline
- Associate Editor Journal of Class and Culture (2020-Present)
- Communications Officer on the Executive Committee of TaPRA (Theatre and Performance Research Association) (2018-Present)
- Board of Humanities Researchers and Trustee for the organisation COMMON, which existed to support the arts industry in achieving greater socio-econmic diversity and to help make theatre more accessible to the working class (2018-2020)
- Book reviews editor for the journal Studies in Theatre and Performance (2017-2020)
- Peer reviewer for numerous publishers and journals, including: Architectural Research Quarterly; Contemporary Theatre Review; Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies; Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism; Performance Design; Platform; PRISM; Research in Drama Education; Studies in Theatre and Performance; Theatre, Dance and Performance Training; Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies; Routledge; Intellect Books; Bloomsbury
- I have also peer reviewed for the AHRC.
I was a guest, along with Caleb Femi, Irit Katz and Julia King, on the BBC Radio Three Free Thinking episode 'City Life, Estate Living and Lockdown', exploring the changing nature of the city during the coronavirus pandemic. You can listen here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000nvk2
Along with Javon Johnson I was part of a curated podcast conversation on city sound hosted by the first issue of Lend Me Your Ears, a collection of materials on sound culture as part of the Aural/Oral Dramaturgies project. You can listen at: https://www.auralia.space/issue1-katiebeswickandjavonjohnson/
I was a guest on BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking, on an episode called 'The Council Estate in Culture.' The programme explored the role of the council estate in art and culture, and featured artists Kader Attia and George Shaw, and the novelist Dreda Say Mitchell. You can listen at: https://player.fm/series/arts-ideas/the-council-estate-in-culture
I was a guest on the New Books Network Podcast, discussing my book 'Social Housing in Performance'. You can listen at: https://newbooksnetwork.com/katie-beswick-social-housing-in-performance-the-english-council-estate-on-and-off-stage-methuen-drama-2018/
I was the featured guest, discussing my blogging work, on the Ladies What Brunch radio show, for Hoxton Radio. You can listen to that show at https://www.mixcloud.com/HoxtonRadio/ladies-what-brunch-291114/
I write arts criticism and opinion. My work has been published in online and in print publications, including Loud and Quiet Magazine, Culture Vulture and Times Higher.
Some examples of my work include:
'JPEGMAFIA — The Possibilities are Infinite' for Loud and Quiet available at https://www.loudandquiet.com/interview/jpegmafia-the-possibilities-are-infinite/
'It's Not Just Grime: Council Estates Produce All Sorts of Art' for The Conversation availble at https://theconversation.com/its-not-just-grime-council-estates-produce-all-sorts-of-art-86493
'Fifty Shades of Red: A Scholar's Professional and Private Lives Collide' for Times Higher available at https://www.timeshighereducation.com/comment/fifty-shades-of-red-a-scholars-professional-and-private-lives-collide
'Immersive Theatre: The Weather Machine' a preview of artist David Shearing's 2015 installation for Huffington Post blog, available at https://theconversation.com/its-not-just-grime-council-estates-produce-all-sorts-of-art-86493
I encourage the students I work with to develop as reflexive practitioners, able to understand the social, cultural, emotional and political implications of their work. I see my teaching practice as a journey of learning where students work in collaboration with teachers to mutally exchange ideas and become independent thinkers, capable of critical and creative engagement with the world on their own terms.
Prior to working at Exeter I taught at Queen Mary University of London and the University of Leeds, where I worked with a number of partner institutions to deliver teaching that offered experience of working with communities and local organisations. These included, Phakama, the Thackray Medical Museum and the National Coal Mining Museum England.