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Hope and Empathy in Uncertain Times Symposium

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

Keynote speakers: Professor Simone Fullagar and Dr Signe Ravn

We are living in times of existential threat, radical uncertainty and worsening precarity. Social fragmentation, hopelessness and a deficit in empathy are purported to mark contemporary life. Among these challenges are major public health crises requiring innovative responses to ‘repair’ the affective fabric of social life. Perhaps the most ready-to-hand example is the COVID-19 pandemic, which, far from being the ‘great equaliser’, has thrown into stark relief the persistent inequalities that divide our societies. The pandemic’s uneven effects and its disproportionate impact on the most marginalised communities demonstrate that it is not merely a ‘health crisis’. Rather, it is deeply imbricated in existing social, political and economic structures and relations. COVID-19, like other contemporary crises, are complex entanglements, for which narrow technocratic responses have proven ill-suited.

The affective structures of hope and optimism that individuals 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 include 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.

Potential topics include (but are not limited to):

• How can a sociological focus on emotion and affect deepen our understanding of the imbricated health and social care challenges facing us in an age of uncertainty? What kinds of transformative methodologies are emerging to address these pressing questions and enact inclusive and hopeful futures?

• How are gender, race, class, sexuality, the environment, affect and emotions mutually implicated in health and social care crises? These include, for example, the COVID-19 pandemic, widening inequality, the climate emergency, species extinction, global trade wars, political instability, and the impact of austerity regimes following the 2008 global financial crisis.

• How can we generate and sustain hope, and empathetic practices of care amid global crises, and avoid reproducing injurious forms of conditional care and support based on assessments of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ citizens?

• How can we depathologise feelings such as shame, melancholy and disillusionment to harness their generative potential? What are the implications of doing so for enacting alternative health and social care agendas?

~~ Keynote Presentations ~~

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

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).

Dr. Signe Ravn (University of Melbourne) -– Hopeful futures? Exploring modes of hope in orientations to the future

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 on 28–29 October 2021 at accessible venues on RMIT’s city campus in Melbourne. Contingency plans are in place if an in-person event during this time is not possible.

To apply, please send an abstract of up to 200 words to by July 11. Please include your institutional affiliation(s), contact details and a brief bio with your pronouns (e.g., she/her, he/him, they/them). We kindly request that participants use inclusive language in their papers (see APA 7th Edition bias-free language).

A limited number of support bursaries of up to $300 are available for postgraduate students, casual, and/or unwaged researchers who are members of TASA to support accommodation, travel, carer’s costs, or related expenses. To apply for a support bursary, please include with your abstract a brief statement outlining the support costs you are seeking (up to $300), and how the support bursary would assist in your participation (max 100 words).

Participants will be notified of the outcome of their submissions by August 2 and the program and further details will be circulated ahead of the event.

Registration fees:
• Non-TASA members – $80**
• Waged TASA members – $75
• Casual/unwaged/postgrad TASA members – $50

Note: registrations will open soon

** Details of TASA membership costs and options are available here.

Registration includes morning tea and lunch on both days (supplied by Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Catering, all food will be vegetarian or vegan).

For questions or inquiries please contact

TASA Emotions & Affect Thematic Group co-convenors, Nicholas Hill and Matt Wade TASA Health Thematic Group co-convenors, Jacinthe Flore, Kiran Pienaar and Anthony K J Smith
Thursday, October 28, 2021, 8:00 AM until Friday, October 29, 2021, 5:00 PM
RMIT’s city campus in Melbourne
Hope and Empathy in Uncertain Times

Jacinthe Flore
Nicholas Hill
Kiran Pienaar
Anthony K Smith
Matthew Wade
Thematic Group Events
Registration is not Required
Payment In Full In Advance Only