Social Challenges, Social Changes
In-person conference at the University of Melbourne
28 November to 2 December 2022
Conference Convener: Peta Cook (TASA Vice-President)
The last three years have presented significant challenges and changes to Australia and the world. Locally, the Australian 2019-2020 bushfire season burned 18.6 million hectares. This adversely impacted on air quality, destroyed natural habitat, displaced and killed humans and animals, resulted in property and economic losses, and raised questions on political leadership. Concurrently, public concerns on climate change continued to increase.
As the bushfires raged, the first Australian COVID-19 case was confirmed on 25 January 2020. Since this time, millions of people across the world have been infected and died from this illness. Politically, international responses to COVID-19 have been noticeably diverse with a range of consequences. Spanning from ideas of herd immunity to mass protection and prevention, these political responses have impacted on the social, health, and economic fabric of the global world. Such impacts have not been even, revealing—and deepening—pre-existing social inequalities at local, national, and international levels. These inequalities include race and ethnicity, class, socio-economic status, nationality, citizenship, gender, sexuality, age, and disability; with socio-economic, lifestyle and health gaps between the less developed and developed world intensifying.
During this time, higher education in Australia has continued to experience significant challenges and changes. The imposition of utilitarian visions of education and knowledge has failed to appreciate the role of universities in and for surrounding communities, and the value of critical enquiry. This includes overlooking the impacts and outcomes that the social sciences can and do have in addressing pressing social issues. Such attitudes towards higher education and social sciences have been exasperated by the budgetary impacts of reduced international student enrolments, which have been translated into job and career losses across Australian universities.
In the meantime, social movements have been bringing attention to social injustices. Black Lives Matter has continued to advocate for racial equality, highlighting racism and discrimination experienced by black people. Within Australia, this movement has drawn attention to continuing racism and racial injustice, and the over-representation in incarceration of First Nations people. Simultaneously, the global #MeToo movement has emphasised the social magnitude of sexual abuse, violence, assault, and harassment.
In Australia, other concerns that challenge the neoliberal state include housing accessibility and affordability; job opportunities, security, and flexibility; population health and wellbeing; costs of living; equity and inclusivity; welfare divides and stagnation; and the climate and environment. This occurs against a global backdrop of civil unrest and persecution, accompanied with forced migration. Yet despite the need for people to live in safety, political responses to human displacement have made it increasingly difficult for people to seek protection in Australia and, for those that do, they may face indefinite detention.
This myriad of social issues are fundamentally what sociologists seek to understand, examine, and address. Sociologists can and are part of speaking to these issues, as well as providing guidance and suggestions for change. Sociology can answer and is answering the challenges faced in Australia and across the world.
TASA will soon invite sociologists and social scientists from around Australia and the world to submit abstracts to attend our 2022 annual conference on Social Challenges, Social Changes at the University of Melbourne from 28 November to 2 December 2022.