It’s great to transform your hobby into your work, and wiwibloggs has spoken to some people who have done just that by researching and teaching the Eurovision Song Contest at university. In the first part of our little series exploring Eurovision academia, we flew to Dublin, Ireland and went to Merrion Square to take the 66 bus towards Maynooth, because that’s where our first Eurovision scholar Dr Adrian Kavanagh gives his lectures and studies voting geography.
Dr Kavanagh is a lecturer and the deputy head of the Geography department at the National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM). He mainly researches the geography of elections and has a keen interest in voting patterns and geopolitics, so it’s no surprise that he is interested in Eurovision as well. He also takes care of the final-year geography thesis group for an option group that researches the topic of Eurovision geopolitics.
Dr Adrian Kavanagh on voting geography
Voting geography — or popularly called bloc voting geography — remains a controversial term in the Eurovision fandom. Adrian indeed studies the intensity of certain countries voting for other countries. While some fans question the existence of bloc voting, Adrian argues that a certain bloc voting is in place. He calls its evolution the “isolation and socialisation of a certain country”, which we will explain to you now.
When a large number of new countries joined the contest in 2004, it became apparent that countries had started to vote for other countries with similar or familiar cultures. Belarusians would rather vote for Russians than for Spaniards, while Irishmen would rather vote for Danes than for Serbians. Countries were seemingly “isolated”.
This situation resulted in the contest gaining a more negative and political image in Western Europe, which was seemingly outnumbered by the countries behind the former Iron Curtain. Adrian also notes that the entries coming from the western part of the continent weren’t particularly good in that period, especially in 2007. He stated that Andorra was the strongest entry from the bunch and the only entry from Western Europe that would have deserved to go through.
In recent years, bloc voting has seemed more like a false concept as countries seem to vote “outside of their bloc”. This has to do with a concept that Adrian calls “socialisation”: in recent years, countries have become more familiar with other cultures in Europe and are more likely to vote for countries they previously would never have voted for.
Adrian predicts that in the case of Kazakhstan joining Eurovision, the Central Asian nation would vote primarily for countries like Russia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine because it is more familiar with these cultures and countries. As time moves on, the country would be more inclined to give top points to countries in other parts of Europe.
How students study Eurovision at Maynooth University
The Eurovision jury will remain a difficult subject to study, as the jury rules seem to change every year, which makes it almost impossible to research that aspect of Eurovision voting. Adrian, however, tries to find some leads and already has his first assumptions. The voting reform earlier this year — when the EBU announced a slight change when they the tweaked formula used to calculate jury scores — didn’t make it easier. Therefore, the students who choose his option group The Geography of the Eurovision Song Contest will mainly be analyzing the televoting. The students can also analyse the jury, but the problem is that we have only had detailed breakdowns from the last few years.
Next to that, as well as trying to explain the voting patterns, some students also analyse why Eurovision is so important in their chosen country. Adrian states that he has gotten got some really excellent and interesting work on this, particularly from students over the last two years on countries such as Lithuania, Sweden, Serbia and Malta.
Students can take this option group in their final year of their undergraduate or bachelor’s programme. It is part of a module in which students with double majors (students who study two subjects at a time, of which Geography is one of them) have to complete a 5,000-word research report on a specific topic. Among many other topics such as impacts of climate change, health and environment, gender and geography, activist geographies, urban geography and election geography, students are allowed to take Eurovision voting geography as their option!
Adrian quickly discovered that not all of his students were such big fans of the contest as he was, although he suspects most of them are indeed fans. Instead of throwing his students into the deep, he starts off the research of his option group with giving the students a simple map as you can see below.
On this map, you can see the average Eurovision Song Contest televoting points for the Netherlands from other countries. As you can see, there is clearly a divide between the average points countries in Northern and Western Europe give them and the points that Southern and Eastern countries give. Students are asked to explain what has caused the divide and why certain countries have voted a lot for the Netherlands and why others haven’t.
However, Eurovision is not an event that you can research with a statistical objective as it is also a music competition with different acts each year. To get students to know a bit more about the contest, Adrian has launched an annual Eurovision conference at Maynooth. Wiwibloggs was invited to both the first edition of the conference in 2017 and at the second edition earlier this year. The conferences included panel discussions designed to help the students to understand the concept of Eurovision better, something that will benefit them in their research.
Next to that, Adrian hast supervised two Masters theses on Eurovision: one on Eurovision voting blocs by Annemarie Reidy and one on Eurovision and Armenian identity by Steven Keenan.
A voting geography for Netta?
One interesting last note that Adrian shared with us is that he thinks he has a geographical reason why Netta won the televoting — next to the fact that “Toy” was a popular and catchy song obviously. He noted that the country potentially might have benefited from eastern powerhouses — such as Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia — not qualifying for the final.
This led many of the countries which usually throw large amounts of points to these countries — such as Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia and Russia — give more votes to Israel, which is considered to be in the same cultural region in Eurovision, more than the usual 2s, 3s and 4s. Back at Eurovision 2017, Israel was also put into “Pot 3” during the semi-final allocation draw, together with many former Soviet Union countries.
We left the greyish-brown Rhetoric House of Maynooth University filled with information and stacks of paper to study. We would like to thank Adrian for his hospitality in inviting us to his office (and thank him for giving us some chocolate biscuits with tea as well). You can keep up with Dr Adrian Kavanagh’s research at adriankavanagh.com and his research on election geography at adriankavanaghelections.com.
Would you like to study Eurovision at university or did you ever use Eurovision in your studies? Let us know in the comments below!
Pictures: Times Higher Education, Daily Mail, Maynooth University