Alexia Maddox, Deakin University. Please note, this article was originally published in the online TASA publication Nexus. It has been reprinted here with the Editors’ permission.
The next TASA Conference is on the 19–22nd November, 2018, with the theme Precarity, Rights and Resistance. The conference will be held in the leafy suburbs of Melbourne at the Burwood campus of Deakin University. In this article, Local Organising Committee members Grazyna Zajdow, Anna Halafoff and myself reflect on how the conference themes were chosen and the highlights that we can anticipate. These include fantastic domestic and international keynote speakers in an all-woman line up. There will also be two stellar panels focusing on academic precarity in higher education, and refugee rights in Australia. We are also excited to say that this conference will be an inclusive conference, where we’ve articulated the scholarships and facilities in place to support a greater diversity of participants.
This year’s conference theme asks us to consider the pressures that neoliberal capitalism is placing on people and the planet, which have led to a heightened state of precarity, particularly since the Global Financial Crisis and new climate of austerity. At the same time, while the mid- to late-20th century can be categorised as a cosmopolitan era in which great advances were made in affirming the rights of women, children, LGBTIQ people, cultural and religious minorities and animals, an aggressive anti-cosmopolitan turn has occurred in the early 21st century. This is evident in the rise of narrow nationalism, far-right parties, Islamophobia, and climate change denial, with previously dominant groups fighting to maintain their supremacy over ‘others’ and the lifeworld. Resistance to this precarity and anti-cosmopolitanism has emerged in numerous calls from social movements and scholar-activists for new ways to live well together, recognising our interdependence on one another and the natural world. Our conference will focus on these themes, and we call for critical analyses of these pressing issues currently confronting all of us.
In discussion with the Local Organising Committee, we can shed further insights on how and why this theme was selected. The Committee knew they needed a theme that they hoped would inspire sociologists and reflect what we do at Deakin Sociology and in the Alfred Deakin Institute. For Grazyna Zajdow, these themes talk to sociological practice and areas of focus over many generations since Durkheim. Sociologists have always been interested in structural effects in everyday life and have long been interested in resistance to the seemingly overpowering forces of the social world outside individuals.
For Anna Halafoff, focusing on precarity, rights and resistance was inspired by the work of Judith Butler and Naomi Klein and international issues that are confronting all of us. Certain risks such as climate change, the Global Financial Crisis or the rise of far-right parties are trends that are affecting everyday life and are reflected in contemporary scholarship. Anna drew from the works of Butler and Klein because they both talk about the fact that we are all vulnerable to these risks, and that the best way of confronting them is collective action. Anna observed that we are seeing a rise of social movements that are standing up for both human and non-human rights. Anna reflected that at the time we began thinking of the conference theme we were in the midst of the same-sex marriage equality debate in Australia. She believes that this and other contemporary public debates can be seen as a clash between cosmopolitan and anti-cosmopolitan actors and movements, campaigning both for and against equality. Finally, Anna turned to the emphasis on scholar-activism as something that we also wanted to explore at the conference by asking: what is our responsibility and our potential role in responding to precarity, and in resistance to this anti-cosmopolitan turn?
Once the theme was decided, the team turned to thinking of who we could invite to give keynote addresses and what plenary panels we wanted. The keynote speakers for the conference are Professor Nira Yuval-Davis, Professor Bronwyn Carlson and Professor Madeleine Leonard. These speakers are interested in how young people and others experience life in a changing world, as minorities, as the power-less, as the impoverished. These are key groups struggling with structural and social inequalities. Nira Yuval-Davis has been active around the issues of gender, race and migration in Great Britain for thirty years. The possibility of having her come to Australia for the first time is a rare opportunity to hear of her work first-hand. Thank you to Vince Marotta for making this happen! Madeleine Leonard comes to Australia more regularly but her work on young people in post-conflict areas such as Belfast may not be as well known here. However, those working in the areas of youth and young people know her work well. Bronwyn Carlson from NSW has tended to work in a quieter fashion, however she is an important and well-considered voice who will bring a critical Indigenous perspective to the conference.
For the keynote plenary sessions, the local organising committee considered that it was very important to focus on precarity within the university sector. For Anna this was inspired by the book, The Slow Professor, which raises the question of how scholars not only cope within an increasingly neoliberal university system but also how to subvert or resist it. Perhaps, as Grazyna raised, this is a sociological concern about the relationship that individuals have with wider structures and the changes of those structures. She put forward that the precarity of the university is an interesting example of people who may be considered middle class but who are being confronted with the sorts of pressures that other groups, commonly considered socially disadvantaged, have long been facing. She reflected that it may be a somewhat ironic commentary that finally the upper middle classes are beginning to understand what it means to live a day-to-day existence and not be able to think about or plan for a future retirement. The other keynote plenary is on refugee rights in Australia, which is arguably our greatest human rights issue at home and overseas. Anna observed that we are honoured to have a scholar, advocate and/or activist panel who will support informed and critical discussion of a topic that is of pressing concern within Australia. The choice of this particular theme, for Anna, was self-evident. She observed that if we are going to have the conversation about rights and resistance in Australia, we cannot ignore what is happening on our own shores and doorstep. Panellists for both plenaries will be announced shortly.
At the 2018 Conference, we are also considering how to make the conference inclusive in terms of attendance. Kim Toffoletti has worked with Deakin University’s Equity and Diversity Office and TASA to promote conference accessibility and address the career disadvantages experienced by delegates who are parents with young children. Family friendly initiatives include care options, and inviting children and caregivers to attend sessions. A parents’ room and baby change facilities are available for conference participants along with a child-friendly space and pram access. Full details are shown here. Scholarships to support attendance by postgraduate students, applied sociologists, members with disabilities and those in employed precariously have been highlighted on Twitter. So not only will this conference highlight innovative and significant research into these salient and provocative themes with impressive keynote speakers and panels, we look forward to an increased diversity of participants, all of which will make for a highly engaging event.