Why I chose to develop my doctoral thesis into a graphic book: ‘Tottenham’s Trojan Horse?’

Mark Panton

In the final months of working on my doctoral thesis How do Stakeholders Influence Stadium-led Regeneration? The story from East Manchester and Tottenham I began to think about how to take my research forward after publication and to increase its impact. My thesis, published in June 2017 (available at: http://bbktheses.da.ulcc.ac.uk/260/ ) focused on the impacts of stadium-led regeneration schemes and the influence that local communities can have on these major developments.

Amanda Lillywhite, a comic maker and also my partner, had been heavily involved in helping to edit the thesis. We’d also had many conversations about the research and the case studies. We both felt that, alongside the sports business element, there were serious social issues related to their impacts on local communities. Due to its timing and location, we were particularly aware of the struggles of individuals and the community in the Tottenham case study. Frequently such individual stories are all too easily dismissed by those in power, but also by casual observers more aware of glitzy photographs or hoardings for the promised developments. However, these were real people, in danger of losing their homes, their livelihoods and their connections in their community. Their voices were in the thesis but we felt there would be a benefit to giving them faces — a visual reminder that these are people just like you or I and that there is a very real negative impact on them because of decisions being made in relation to the new football stadium in Tottenham and its associated developments. The idea of using a comic-format to develop the Tottenham case study excited us both and we began to discuss the idea of collaborating on a graphic book.

I believed that the stories of the people I interviewed and observed over a period of years deserved a wider audience than the relatively small numbers of academics attending at conferences or those that read peer-reviewed journals. So one of the reasons for producing the graphic book was to tell the important stories of those involved in stadium-led regeneration projects to a wider audience. Linked to this, it would provide an additional way to publicise the work of the many individuals and community groups involved in trying to influence the stadium-led regeneration plans. It was an important factor that people I spoke to that were involved in these groups were enthusiastic about the idea of a graphic book about developments in Tottenham. They have also assisted with checking details in the graphic book and will have the opportunity to discuss the issues at future events related to the book.

In addition to the above, the graphic book had the potential to get across the strong narrative that existed as well as many of the complex ideas and relationships involved in such a large development. The graphic book also offered the opportunity to see regeneration through multiple eyes, reflecting one of the purposes of the original thesis, which was to investigate the views of a range of people about their ability to participate in the developments. The graphic book is able to present multiple perspectives through different ways of presenting visuals and text. The complexities of a real-life case study mean that the book cannot portray all of the nuances, but the medium of visuals plus text does allow for an understanding on different levels than that which is available through the thesis. It also allows for the research process and the site to be viewed from almost limitless different angles through framing — allowing for close-ups, distance shots, etc.

An impact grant from the Birkbeck School of Business, Economics and Informatics has been instrumental in getting the book off the ground. Enthusiastic support has also come from academics such as Dr. Geoff Walters and Professor Helen Lawton Smith. CPUK, specialist comic printers, was chosen to print the book due to their knowledge and support for graphic book authors. It assisted me to have one of CPUK’s earlier printed books to give people an idea of what the finished book would look like. I would offer this as a tip in selling the idea, since it was difficult for some people to understand what the graphic book would look like; for example, that it would have a spine.

A lot of work had to be done to edit the 85,000 word thesis into the 54-page graphic book format we decided upon. The main idea was to concentrate on key elements of the strong narrative that existed in the Tottenham case study, but also to try to retain most of the complex issues stadium-led regeneration can raise. A starting point was a timeline of the main events that occurred during the research period in order to develop the story arc and to try to ensure all the main events were caught. I was able to bring it up to date beyond my doctoral thesis.

Much of the theoretical discussion around stakeholders, which was an essential part of the thesis, was edited out, in order to give greater prominence to the narrative. However, many of the technical terms related to regeneration were included, with explanatory boxes to make these clear. The aim being was to make the book comprehensible for as broad an audience as possible.

Aside from what to include or exclude, a central issue was that of anonymity. Like a lot of research, the interviews and participant observations for the thesis was carried out on the basis of anonymity, but the book needed to give voice and visual identity to the many diverse views. This problem was solved in a number of different ways. Some individuals had been photographed or filmed making public, on the record, comments so could be shown as themselves; some individuals agreed to be identified and shown in the graphic book; for the others, it was a matter of giving them a face that wouldn’t identify them in the real world but would help convey the essence of who they are. In addition Amanda chose to use a sketchy style of drawing that conveyed real people without resorting to careful portraiture.

I feel that the twin strands of sports business and closely linked social issues have been enriched and enhanced by developing the Tottenham case study in my doctoral thesis into a graphic book. The process of working on it has at times been creatively very interesting, especially as I am not an illustrator. I would definitely recommend it to colleagues and students as a means of better understanding and developing their research.

Tottenham’s Trojan Horse? will open up chances to share my research beyond academic opportunities gained through the publication of my thesis. For example there will be an event in Tottenham with copies of the graphic book being given to community groups involved in regeneration going on in the community. There will also be an event at Housmans on 11 April who will also stock the book; the book will be used in Amanda’s comic making workshops; it will be sold online; a comic book shop has expressed an interest in stocking it and I will be using it as a basis for talks at secondary schools and libraries. Funding from Birkbeck is covering the first print run and, because of the interest we’ve had in the book, we are already looking for a publisher for a second print run.

Tottenham’s Trojan Horse? will serve as a standalone book, also as an introduction and a means of publicising How do Stakeholders Influence Stadium-led regeneration? The story from East Manchester and Tottenham. Even more importantly, it will be a means of sharing the story of a group of people I came to know well during the course of my research, whose story needs to be shared far and wide, through academia and beyond.

How to get it touch regarding buying the book, interview enquiries etc:

Dr Mark Panton @MarkLPanton
Amanda Lillywhite