Lancaster University students got a unique opportunity to hear from the writers of hit BBC drama, Industry, last week, in a special event hosted by Lancaster University Management School’s Organisation, Work and Technology (OWT) department.
On 24th February, Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, the co-writers and creators of the popular BBC/HBO series, joined Lancaster academics to discuss the main issues explored in the contemporary show – how performance and competition are deeply embedded within aspects of modern work cultures, and the toxic implications this can have.
Mickey Down (left) and Konrad Kay
The seminar was facilitated by Dr Peter Watt (Lancaster University Leipzig and OWT) and presented a rich opportunity for students and staff to engage with the team behind one of the most successful recent BBC productions.
“What the BBC series and our Organsation, Work and Technology department’s research have in common is the deep sense that contemporary work cultures are really complicated anthropological subjects and that understanding them is essential for future graduates of any degree – but especially those from the Management School,” Dr Watt explained.
“Industry captures much of the spirit in which work has been researched and taught at Lancaster for more than two decades – so there was an instant, natural connection,” he continued.
A scene from BBC drama, Industry
Konrad Kay thought that the interpretation of the series offered by academics at Lancaster was “probably the best review we’ve got of the show across all the newspapers – it was the most perceptive and felt like the closest to the nature of what we were trying to achieve.”
Understanding the relevance of their production to students, graduates and the academic research undertaken at Lancaster; the writers quickly agreed to take part in a seminar – something that excited students and staff alike.
Professor Bogdan Costea (OWT) added: “The common question that we ask via our research at Lancaster and reflect in our teaching is: how can we truly understand the complexity of contemporary work and workplaces and translate the textbook models that often feel removed from the richness of reality? And, Industry plays this out beautifully.
“Students undertaking my Human Resource Management modules have been engaging with Industry for some time, to explore the complexity and totalising nature of contemporary work cultures. This event gave students a direct line to the writers of the show who had experienced this sort of workplace culture first-hand. Students were enthralled, and were able to tell Konrad and Mickey how much the show had helped their understanding and cement the theory we have been studying. It was a wonderful example of engagement and demonstrates how relevant and important research at Lancaster is.”
Konrad Kay commented at the close of the event: “We worked like Trojans to get something together that was worthy of HBO’s name and whether we did that or not, I don’t know; but I feel increasingly after conversations like this, and seeing intelligent people like you have such rich readings of the show, I think it was kind of worth all the work in the end.”
The seminar covered a range of topics related to the series itself, and led to more general discussions of how rich artistic portrayals of work and workers sheds a unique light on our understanding of work in the 21st Century. Mickey and Konrad gave fascinating insights into how they created the drama from their own experience of working in such organizations and answered a range of questions from students at all stages of their degree schemes.