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Hope and Empathy in Uncertain Times (28-29 October 2021)

Convened by The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) Emotions and Affect, and Health Sociology Thematic Groups

Hosted by RMIT University’s Social and Global Studies Centre

We are living in times of existential threat, radical uncertainty and worsening precarity. Social fragmentation, hopelessness and a lack of empathy are purported to mark contemporary life. Among these challenges are major public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which has thrown into stark relief the persistent inequalities that divide our societies.

The affective structures of hope and optimism that people harness in times of uncertainty are constantly shifting, generating new bonds and connections, alongside forms of distress and social suffering. Biomedical and psychotherapeutic regimes provide individual solutions to socially produced ills, with a plethora of treatments and pharmacological interventions available. Likewise, health and social care practices have been transformed through their contact with the marketplace. The patient has become the consumer, and care increasingly operates as a transaction, rather than an empathic practice. Against this backdrop, it is vital to consider how we can (re-)centre hope and empathy within inclusive and innovative health and social care practices.

To do so, Sociology and cognate disciplines are returning to core onto-epistemological questions and attempting to combine critique with substantive action. Emerging from the margins and sometimes in unexpected ways, these responses offer glimmers of hope for more inclusive futures. Such futures require urgent consideration of how we might better demonstrate care, recognition and empathy for one another. In short, how do we foster modes of care and belonging in increasingly hostile and uncertain worlds?

 This symposium aims to explore the complex social, political and emotional affinities that emerge in times of uncertainty.

The symposium is open to all but places are limited.
To attend please register 


~~ Keynote Addresses ~~


Thursday 28 October

Professor Simone Fullagar (Griffith University) – Health matters as affective entanglements: Exploring more than human bodies through postqualitative research

Health and wellbeing have come to matter in new ways through the intimate entanglements of everyday life with COVID-19. As a more than human phenomenon the virus exerts its affect or force through a multiplicity of relations – embodied, emotional, economic, institutional, political and ecological. Debates about the onto-ethico-epistemological assumptions that inform research across postqualitative inquiry, new materialisms, decolonising and posthumanist theories call for a different materialisation of the sociological imagination through questions of biosocial relations. In this keynote I consider how these debates open up possibilities for an affective sociology that is attuned to the material-discursive conditions imbricated in health, illness and wellbeing as embodied experiences. This sociological orientation can attune researchers to the affective contours of everyday life – fears, worry, anger, sadness, joy, belonging - that often remain unintelligible or difficult to articulate as personal and political formations. Drawing upon a range of collaborative postqualitative research projects exploring ‘mental health’, embodied movement and COVID-19 impact, I discuss how theory-method approaches engage with arts-based and different re-presentational/writing practices that enact hopeful ways of knowing, caring and worlding.

Biography: Simone is an interdisciplinary sociologist who has published widely on the politics of embodiment, material feminisms and postqualitative research across health, mental health and physical culture. Her latest co-authored books include Feminism and a Vital Politics of Depression and Recovery (Palgrave, 2019) and A Glossary for Doing Postqualitative, New Materialist and Critical Posthumanist Research Across Disciplines (Routledge, 2022)

Friday 29 October


Dr. Signe Ravn (University of Melbourne) – Hopeful futures? Exploring modes of hope in young women's future-making

As part of a broader ‘turn towards time’ in the social sciences, a number of scholars explore future-making practices and projects and how we orient ourselves to the future. In this paper I contribute to an emerging focus on the affective dimensions of such orientations to the future, or investigations into how the future ‘feels’. More specifically, I am interested in how hope becomes deployed in young women’s future-making. Young women are often represented as the ‘ideal subjects’ of neoliberalism and in that way as embodying broader hopes for the future. They are also called upon to maintain hope in an often hopeless youth labour market. But they do not respond to these calls in uniform ways.In this paper I take inspiration from the works of Lauren Berlant, José Esteban Munoz and Sarah Ahmed as I seek to analyse what hope as an orientation to the future does for the subject; the attachments it relies on, in particular to work and education; and the affects it generates. In doing this, I draw on data from longitudinal, qualitative research with young women with interrupted formal education in Victoria, Australia. I aim to demonstrate how hope takes different forms, and does different things for the young women in focus, as well as consider the limits of hope; when it becomes near impossible to be hopeful.

Biography: Signe is a senior lecturer in Sociology at the University of Melbourne. Her current research focuses on youth, marginalisation, risk, gender, temporality and futurity. Signe's latest book Youth, Risk, Routine. A New Perspective on Risk-Taking in Young Lives (with Tea Torbenfeldt Bengtsson) was published with Routledge in 2019 and she is currently finalising an edited volume (with David Farrugia) on Youth Beyond the City, to be published by Bristol University Press in 2022.

The symposium will be held online on 28–29 October 2021 and participation is free.

Places are limited so if you wish to attend please register here 
Registered participants will be sent the Zoom details ahead of the event.

The final program can be found here and the event booklet is available here.

The symposium is generously funded by The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) with support from RMIT University’s Social and Global Study Centre, Deakin University, UNSW and La Trobe University.


For questions or inquiries please contact

TASA Emotions & Affect Thematic Group co-convenors, Nicholas Hill (RMIT) and Matt Wade (La Trobe University)

TASA Health Thematic Group co-convenors, Jacinthe Flore (RMIT), Kiran Pienaar (Deakin University) and Anthony KJ Smith (UNSW)


TASA 2019 ConferenceThematic Groups