Research agenda

Women’s Radio in Europe – Sounding Out the Boundaries

Women’s radio has always questioned borders.  By transgressing the boundaries of public and private space to address a female listenership that was only ever partially circumscribed by the domestic sphere, women’s radio has long been instrumental in reconfiguring modern spaces of identity and agency.  From radio’s initial embedding in domestic spheres in the 1920s, to the era of its dominance in the middle of the century, through to its transformation into a mobile receiver of formatted programming, the gendering of the medium and its programming has formed a key part of its meaning.  As such, the study of women’s radio has been key in questioning its relation to the nation and to public spheres, for understanding the construction of its modes of sociability and address, and has provided a privileged entry for exploring the configurations of citizenship and consumption.  As new questions of technological citizenship, media literacy, and transnational circulation arise in media studies and media history, we believe that women’s radio can once more offer important new insights.

Women’s Radio in Europe – Sounding Out the Boundaries builds on this important foundation to question another boundary that has hitherto remained a key part of radio history: that of the nation. To date, women’s radio has mainly been examined within specific national contexts or narratives, such as Britain (Nicholas 1996, Moores 2000, Feldman 2007, Skoog 2010), Sweden (Nordberg 1998) and Germany (Lacey 1997, Marßolek and von Saldern 1998, Badenoch 2007), to name just a few. These individual histories are significant, and highlight the role played by women’s radio in for instance times of social change, financial and political crisis and modernisation. Neither broadcasting systems nor programmes were solely the product of national processes but rather were shaped in an environment of international negotiation and exchange; besides national broadcasters, international commercial stations such as Radio Luxembourg or pirate radio stations, or overseas services (BBC or Radio Free Europe), community radio stations aimed at ethnic minorities have transcended national boundaries with various forms of explicit address to women.  Caroline Mitchell’s important anthology  Airing Differences (2000),  has laid solid groundwork for comparative study, and yet there has been little or no systematic research that has taken up these questions, and less attention still to the various patterns of transnational circulation mediated through women’s radio.

Women’s Radio in Europe looks to gain significant new insights in this direction by taking up the Tensions of Europe agenda of using the circulation of technology to explore transnational flows in European history.  The project builds specifically both on the insights of the TRANS group with its focus on the complex geographies of broadcasting in Europe, as well as that of EUWOL project, in its exploration of the way users have appropriated and been addressed by new technologies throughout the 20th Century.  At the centre of this inquiry stands the idea of radio’s “double articulation” as both (domestic) technology and medium of communication (Silverstone and Haddon 1992).  In this light, women’s radio provides a lens through which a number of sorts of transnational flows can be analysed. What networks, exchanges or connections existed within Europe between women’s organisations (feminist and others), consumer organizations and other networks of expertise and women’s radio (see Skoog and Badenoch, in press)? How have women gained access to radio and used it to participate in transnational communities? How were (gendered) mobilities inscribed into receivers (see Weber 2008) and programmes, and how did women use radio to navigate over borders? To what extent did women’s programmes envision, or listeners imagine, transnational communities of women, and to what extent did ideas of Europe inform them?  How were these gendered communities circumscribed by other aspects of identity such as race and class? What were the broader connections between these programmes and different types of media (radio, television, magazines and the press)?

We approach these issues historically, taking a long-term perspective spanning from radio’s initial embedding in the European mediascape to the present day.  We will be developing this agenda as we develop the network further into specific research clusters.  A vital aspect of this work is making new transnational connections between both scholars and radio users of all varieties.

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