Calvert, Dave (2015) MASHED and SHAMED: a new approach to the acronym. In: When the writing is on the wall: a discussion of the ecology of research, creativity, impact and value, 9th May 2015, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. (Unpublished)

Eleonora Belfiore has recently argued that ‘socio-economic impact has so far failed to successfully ‘make the case’ for arts funding and to provide a credible solution to the justification issue … [T]he same outcome is likely for humanities research unless a sustained attempt is made to broaden the debate from impact to public value’. In this semi-playful provocation, I suggest that a key strategy for asserting the value of both research and practice in the arts would be to reconfigure the mechanisms of the debate, as much as its terms and terminology.

The Warwick Commission has argued persuasively, and with some effect, that the acronym STEM which has recently fixed educational priorities should be adjusted to STEAM to incorporate the arts. Although a successful pragmatic strategy, the deployment of acronyms here, I would argue, maintains a corporate politics that is allied to the agendas of impact and instrumentality. Acronyms, however, are not merely the simple, and prosaic, mnemonics they appear to be. In their poetic dimensions, they open up polysemic possibilities that – read through an arts and humanities lens – circulate in much more pleasurable yet much less stable ways. For example, in its metaphorical aspect, STEAM may evoke attractive images of power, toil, frustration and energy. Yet it also conjures a counter-productive spirit of the industrial and historical, which (ironically) emphasises the scientific, technological, engineered and mathematical.

To reconsider the role and value of the arts and humanities within the current debate, I offer two new acronyms – and two new types of acronym – for consideration: the anti-acronym MASHED; and the dialectical acronym SHAMED.


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