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Plenary Sessions / Workshops

The Australian Sociological Association Annual Conference 2012 will be a joint event including both TASA and the Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (SAANZ), including a special trans-Tasman plenary session.

Concurrent Plenary Panels

Plenary Panel Session A: ‘Inequality within institutions’

This plenary panel session examines the unequal ways in which different social groups encounter the key institutions of society. Sociologists have long argued that the ability to gain access to, and comfortably navigate, institutions such as those related to education, health and legal systems are structured by class, race and other such variables, which reinforces existing forms of inequality. New forms of inequality can also arise through the construction of subject identities that justify differential treatment and outcomes for different social groups – often unintentionally. But such institutions are also important sites for executing social reform and are thus objects of engagement for sociologists as well as critique. In this plenary panel session, four distinguished speakers will provide insight from their own research into the ways inequality is structured, experienced and managed within key social institutions.


Dr Megan Comfort, Senior Research Sociologist, Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice Research Division, RTI International and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco.

Megan Comfort, PhD, is a Senior Research Sociologist with the Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice Research Division at RTI International and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Her research interests and areas of expertise include families and incarceration, HIV risk and prevention, and health disparities among urban poor populations. She is the author of Doing Time Together: Love and Family in the Shadow of the Prison(University of Chicago Press, 2008), an ethnographic study of women in relationships with incarcerated men. In addition, she has published articles in Criminal Justice and Behavior, Ethnography, Journal of Sex Research, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, Annual Review of Law and Social Science, and American Journal of Public Health, among other journals.

Professor Greg Marston, School of Public Health and Social Work, Queensland University of Technology

Greg Marston is Professor of Social Policy in the School of Public Health and Social Work at QUT. He has previously held positions at The University of Queensland and RMIT University and visiting appointments at Melbourne University, Lund University and The University of Chicago. Prior to entering academia Greg worked in community services at the local, state and national level. Greg’s main research interests are the impact of various social and economic policies on ordinary citizens, comparative social policy and contemporary social theory. He is presently completing a book highlighting the tensions and contradictions between social, fiscal and occupational welfare in Australia.

Professor Alan Petersen is a Professor of Sociology in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University. He specialises in the sociology of health and medicine, and sociology of science and technology. He is Sole CI on an ARC Discovery Project, ‘High hopes, high risk?: A sociological study of stem cell tourism’ (2012-2014). He is also CI on two other ARC projects (one focusing on childhood obesity; the other on the individual, social and community impacts of compensable injury), and a Leverhulme International Linkage Grant, focusing on portrayals of food and family in popular magazines in Australia and the UK. With Ian Lowe (Griffith) and Susan Dodds (UTas) he is developing a framework for assessing the social and economic impacts of emerging technologies for the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science, Research and Higher Education. He is Member of two Federal Government Advisory Councils: the National Enabling Technologies Strategy Stakeholder’ Advisory Council (DIISRHE) and Gene Technology Regulator Ethics and Community Consultative Committee (Department of Health and Aging). His most recent books are The Politics of Bioethics (Routledge, 2011), and Aging Men: Masculinities and Modern Medicine (edited with Antje Kampf and Barbara Marshall). He is writing another book, Hope in Health: The Socio-Politics of Expectations (Palgrave).

TASA Plenary Panel Session B: ‘Trans-Tasman plenary’ on social inequalities and social justice: a focus on the indigenous experience’.

This plenary session brings together scholars from Australia and New Zealand to explore key inequalities related to indigeneity and social justice. Drawing on the expertise of scholars and practitioners working in the fields of academia, community services and Indigenous policy, this session probes the specifically ‘Antipodean’ inequalities, with a particular focus on comparing and contrasting cross-national indigenous experiences. In doing so it will provide a sense of the current debates and key issues across these intermingling and distinct cultural contexts and provide a much needed critical analysis of the future research agenda for indigenous social research and justice in the 21st Century.


Maggie Walter (Associate Professor, School of Sociology and Social Work, University of Tasmania)

Maggie Walter (PhD) is a descendant of the trawlwoolway people from North Eastern Tasmania and is an Associate Professor at the School of Sociology and Social Work, University of Tasmania. She publishes regularly across the field of Critical Indigenous Studies. Maggie is currently an elected member of the Research Advisory Committee at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies; a long-term Steering Committee member of the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LSIC), Australia’s only national longitudinal Indigenous research program and was the inaugural Secretary (2009-2012) of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA).


Dr Evan Te Ahu Poata-Smith (Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand)

Evan belongs to the Te Rarawa and Ngati Kahu people from the Far North of Aotearoa/New Zealand. He has taught sociology at the University of Canterbury and the Auckland University of Technology. More recently he was a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence at Northern Arizona University in the United States where he contributed to the Applied Indigenous Studies and Sociology programmes. He is currently Head of Indigenous Studies at the University of Wollongong. His published work focuses on the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process; social, economic and political inequalities; public policy in relation to Māori; and contemporary Māori politics and the struggle for tino rangatiratanga (indigenous self-determination).

Barry Smith (Population Health Analyst in the Planning and Funding Division of the Lakes District Health Board, New Zealand

Of Maori descent, Barry Smith is a Population Health Analyst in the Planning and Funding Division of the Lakes District Health Board in Rotorua and a contract analyst to the New Zealand Ministry of Health. His academic background in sociology and statistics supports a work history in tertiary education and social and health research. A current recipient of research grants from the Royal Society of NZ Marsden Fund and the Health Research Council of NZ, his interests centre on health inequalities and health research ethics including Maori ethical frameworks. Barry is a member of Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) ‘College of Experts’ and chairs the HRC Maori Research funding committee. He also leads the Lakes DHB Research and Ethics Committee and has chaired the Bay of Plenty and the Multi-region health and disability ethics committees. Other current memberships include the Health Research Council Ethics Committee, the University of Otago Pharmacovigilance Ethics Advisory Group and the Auckland based Middlemore Hospital Biobank Governance Committee. On the ethics education front, Barry contributes to courses run by the University of Otago Bioethics Centre and the Victoria University of Wellington’s Postgraduate Diploma of Clinical Research. Outside of health ethics, Barry has tertiary qualifications in music and works as a gigging guitarist.


The John Western Plenary

On Inequality and Social Mobility: Persistence, Privilege and Disadvantage

Professor Mark Western, Director, Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland

Mark Western is Director of the Institute for Social Science Research at The University of Queensland. He is undertaking research on a number of topics including: economic and social mobility and the reproduction of privilege and disadvantage; social networks and labour market outcomes; the life pathways of young people; changing patterns of family and household formation; household and individual preparedness for natural and human-induced disasters. Mark is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia has been an Honorary Fellow at the University of Wisconsin Madison, a Hallsworth Visiting Professor in Political Economy at the University of Manchester and is an international Fellow of the Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality at Stanford University. He is a Chief Investigator on the ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security, has led and participated in a number of national studies for the Federal Government in areas such as information technology use in general practice and the economic value of international education, and in addition to Centre of Excellence funding has held grants and research contracts worth over $15 million dollars. He is former member of the ARC College of Experts and in 2012 is Chair of the ERA Research Evaluation Committee for the Education and Human Society Disciplinary Cluster.