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New lives, New Research Agendas
By Sara James
Posted: 2022-06-29T03:44:00Z

New lives, New Research Agendas: Sociology Amid and Beyond the Pandemic Symposium

Bringing together sociologists from across Victoria, the symposium invited speakers to share their thoughts on the future of sociological research amid and beyond the pandemic. The event was organised by Dr Sara James and the La Trobe Sociology Program and held at La Trobe University City Campus on the 2nd of June, with support from The Australian Sociological Association.

Panel One: Youth, Education, Universities

Composed of Associate Professor Helen Forbes-Mewett, Professor Anna Hickey-Moody, and Professor Dan Woodman, the first panel discussed student welfare in higher education during the pandemic and the impacts on youth more broadly. Chaired by Dr Martina Boese, the panel discussed how the pandemic has transformed the way young people think about their relationships, interactions, biography, employment, politics, environment, and mental health. For example, it was argued that the pandemic has been instrumental in normalising mental health issues as students seem to have become more comfortable opening up about stress, anxiety, and depression; more willing to seek support; and more capable of responding to these issues. However, it was suggested the digitalisation of high education caused by the pandemic has also had a negative impact on student’s critical thinking, social, communication, and collaborative skills. In this way, the pandemic seems to have enabled students to become more in touch with themselves but has affected their ability to engage and connect with their studies and each other.

(Dr Martina Boese; Prof. Anna Hickey-Moody; Assoc. Prof. Helen Forbes-Mewett; Prof. Dan Woodman)

A recording of panel one is available on TASA's YouTube channel.

Panel Two: Working and Living in COVID Times

The second panel was chaired by Dr Sara James and featured Professor Kay Cook, Professor Tania Lewis, and Dr Julian Waters-Lynch who discussed how the experience of the global pandemic created significant challenges and changes for particular groups. For the lower-income groups, e.g., the cohort of single parents, the pandemic was more of a positive experience, as they benefitted from receiving financial support such as job seeker. The qualitative data revealed that the families that are normally well below the poverty line had access to more resources and time to parent their children during lockdowns. Other groups, such as those digitally enabled workers faced different challenges since their life moved to working from home. The work patterns during the pandemic were changed significantly as the workers had to develop various socio-technical strategies for managing work and life at home. That meant managing their working infrastructure, such as heating, data and internet but also coping with reduced income and work intensification. From an organisational perspective, the lack of access to office spaces in the home made the inner-city knowledge workers reconsider the ways they live, especially in terms of space and location. The panel also suggested the pandemic accelerated out-of-the-city migration noting a pronounced cultural shift in the social fabric of regional and remote areas, at the same time highlighting challenges in those areas such as housing affordability and shortage of service workers.

(Dr Sara James; Prof. Tania Lewis; Dr Julian Waters-Lynch; Prof. Kay Cook)

A recording of panel two is available on TASA's YouTube Channel.

Panel Three: Technology Transforming Care and Wellbeing

Combining online and in-person contributions, the final panel was chaired by Dr Matthew Wade and focused on issues related to wellbeing. Featuring Dr Barbara Barbosa-Neves, Dr Jacinthe Flore, and Dr Kiran Pienaar, the panel discussed the impact of emerging technologies on the lived experience of people suffering from mental health issues as well as those in aged care and public housing. According to the panellists, the participants in their research held ambiguous relationships to these technologies. For example, digital apps such as chatbots provided a point of contact for people with mental health issues, while video conferencing and social media were often seen by those in aged care and public housing as a good way to keep in touch with family and friends especially during hard lockdowns. However, chatbots were criticised for their supposed lack of empathy, whereas video conferencing and social media presented some people in aged care and public housing with a constant and painful reminder of their isolation and loneliness. As such, these new technologies had positive as well as negative effects on people’s overall wellbeing.

(Dr Matthew Wade; Dr Kiran Pienaar; Dr Barbara Barbosa-Neves; Dr Jacinthe Flore)

A recording of panel three is available on TASA's YouTube Channel.

Report and photos by Magdalena Szypielewicz & Graham Young.