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Hope and Empathy in Uncertain Times: A Two-Day Vir
By Anthony K Smith
Posted: 2021-12-14T20:32:00Z

Hope and Empathy in Uncertain Times: A Two-Day Virtual Symposium

Anthony K J Smith, Kiran Pienaar, Jacinthe Flore, Nicholas Hill, and Matt Wade


The Sociology of Emotions & Affect and Health thematic groups of The Australian Sociological Association hosted a virtual symposium on 28th and 29th October 2021 titled Hope and Empathy in Uncertain Times. The symposium brought together the interests of these two thematic groups, and aimed to explore the complex social, political and emotional affinities that emerge in times of uncertainty, including in relation to health and social care.


This free event attracted sociologists and scholars at different career stages and across disciplines, including PhD candidates and an Honours student as presenters. 139 people registered for the event and across the two days, with an average of 41 people attending the sessions via Zoom, spanning 26 presentations, including two keynote presentations. Attendees included people living across Australia, as well as an international audience. A digital archive of tweets for the event can be accessed through searching #HopeEmpathy on Twitter. The keynote presentations and a selection of participant presentations are available on the newly launched TASA Emotions & Affect YouTube channel.


Dr Signe Ravn’s Keynote:

The keynote presentations by Professor Simone Fullagar: ‘Health matters as affective entanglements: Exploring more than human bodies through postqualitative research’ and Dr Signe Ravn: ‘Hopeful futures? Exploring modes of hope in young women’s future-making’ are both available as recordings on YouTube.

A summary slide on the final session capturing key themes across the symposium:

Over the two days presenters explored how expectations about medicines, data and systems shape healthcare interactions; how institutions enact, govern, and surveil particular subjectivities or publics; and how care and treatment can be variously coercive, generative, or surveillant. Through a focus on affect and emotion, presenters considered whose feelings are recognised, valued, and privileged in health and social care; how emotions are gendered, performed and extracted; and how hope and empathy figure in the collective futures imagined amidst a wider context of economic, health, and climate crises.


PhD Candidate Yardena Tankel’s (Melbourne University) presentation: ‘Thresholds of livability: Decisions, precarity and the emotional weight of babies’


Dr Gail Kenning’s (UNSW Sydney) presentation: ‘The transformative potential of arts–based methodologies: The Visit

The breadth of topics, methodologies, and theoretical orientations served to generate connections and dialogue across the two thematic groups. Although virtual formats can be awkward and limiting, attendees across the symposium commented that sessions were engaging and enjoyable. Besides the technical challenges of a virtual format, a benefit was that it facilitated greater interstate and overseas attendance.


A tweet by Léna Molnar, PhD candidate at RMIT University, who also presented:

This has been such a wonderful #HopeEmpathy symposium. Every session I've managed to attend has been full of juicy, exciting and well-matched sociological analysis. Thanks go to @TASA_SEA and @HealthTASA for the fab coordination.


The Sociology of Emotions and Affect co-conveners (Nicholas Hill and Matt Wade), and  Health co-conveners (Jacinthe Flore, Kiran Pienaar, and Anthony K J Smith) thank The Australian Sociological Association for their generous financial support in making the event possible. We also especially thank Gemma Nourse, Sally Daly, Amy Vanderharst, Ramón Mendendez-Domingo, and Roger Wilkinson for their support in putting together this event.