Pandemic, race and moral panic

An Asian woman wears a surgical mask. She's touching her hand to the bottom of her chin as she looks off to the side

Since the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic reached Australia in January 2020, I’ve been working on a couple of COVID-19 research posts for you. I was ready to post one of these on Monday, but I have decided to first address a race and public health response that is presently unfolding.(1)

In the afternoon of 4 July 2020, Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, gave a press conference announcing that two more postcodes are being added to COVID-19 lockdown (making 12 in total) (McMillan & Mannix, 2020). The new postcodes under Stage-3 lockdown are 3031 Flemington and 3051 North Melbourne.

Additionally, the Victorian Government is effectively criminalising the poor: nine public housing towers are being put into complete lockdown. The Premier said: “There’s no reason to leave for five days, effective immediately.” This affects 1,345 public housing units, and approximately 3,000 residents.

Public housing lockdown is made under Public Order laws. Residents will be under police-enforced lockdown for a minimum of five days, and up to 14 days, to enable “everyone to be tested.”

How do we know this public housing order is about criminalising the poor, and driven by race? The discourse that the Premier used to legitimise this decision echoes historical moral panics and paternalistic policies that are harmful.

Let’s take a look at the moral panics over the pandemic in Australia, and how race and class are affecting the policing of “voluntary” testing.

I support continued social distancing, self-isolation for myself and others who can afford to work from home, quarantine for people who are infected so they can get the care they need without infecting others, and widespread testing for affected regions. These outcomes are best achieved through targeted public communication campaigns that address the misconceptions of the pandemic, the benefits of testing for different groups, making clear the support available for people who test positive, and addressing the structural barriers that limit people’s ability to comply with public health measures.

Continue reading Pandemic, race and moral panic

Running a research project as an applied sociologist

Drawing of me sitting at a desk in front of my laptop. I'm wearing a bright multicoloured jacket and headband

Let’s chat about what it’s like to run a typical personal research project as an applied social scientist. Outside of my paid work, I laboured on a resource on equity and diversity, which began a couple of years ago. I let you know I published this a couple of months back, but I wanted to reflect on the journey.

Part of the reason why I’m sharing this is so that you can get to know me a little better, but also because many people don’t realise what it’s like to be an applied sociologist. It means all my scholarship needs to happen outside of my paid work. It is exhausting but incredibly important to my sociological practice.

Continue reading Running a research project as an applied sociologist

Land Rights and the Legacy of Mabo Day

I write this as a reflection at the end of Mabo Day, marking the end of Reconciliation Week. This day commemorates the 3 June 1992 High Court ruling that recognises Native Title – land rights of the Meriam people of the Mer Islands of the Torres Strait, which opened land rights for First Nations across Australia.

On 20 May 1982, Eddie Mabo, Sam and David Passi, Celuia Mapo Salee, and James Rice lodged their land claim. The case took a decade to finalise and addressed multiple legal injustices, including the myth of terra nullius (that Australian land was unowned before colonisation), recognition of Native Title and cultural definitions of land rights, and establishing the Native Title Act.

Today’s post covers the ongoing impact and challenges flowing from the Mabo case, and the sociological issues it raises. In paricular, non-Indigenous people’s narrow awarenes about the cultural significance of land.

Eddie Mabo on the left; a black and white photograph of him in a suit. On the right is a quote from Mabo: "Oh yes, everybody knows it's Mabo land and my sister is looking after it. And as long as I want that land, it will be there for me when I go back."
Oh yes, everybody knows it’s Mabo land and my sister is looking after it. And as long as I want that land, it will be there for me when I go back.
Continue reading Land Rights and the Legacy of Mabo Day

Police Violence in Australia

Oil painting style image of a group of protesters in front of New South Wales Court. Two of them stand on seats and wear the Aboriginal flag. The title reads, "Police violence in Australia"

It is still Reconciliation Week, and Australia is undergoing two major court cases where police have shot dead young Aboriginal people. Yet non-Indigenous people remain wilfully oblivious. We are collectively spending more energy in feeling morally superior to other countries, rather than acting towards national change. Specifically, Australian media lead with stories of “violent unrest,” “violent protests,” and “mayhem” in the USA, instead of focusing on police violence against Black victims and protesters, and providing insightful analysis on similarities to Aboriginal deaths in custody in the Australian context.

Australian social media and public commentary are preoccupied with either dismissing current events as unique to other societies (“only in America”), or posting aghast (rightfully) over police brutality overseas. We do this despite not engaging with long-running campaigns led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It’s not that we should disengage from world events; #BlackLivesMatter is an important movement that resonates globally and deserves attention. The issue is the disproportionate focus on the USA by Australians. This maintains our perception that police brutality is an American quirk and allows non-Indigenous Australians to ignore local racial justice movements led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

This post will illustrate how non-Indigenous Australians other national racism, as if it is the abhorrent opposite of our national culture. This is easier than taking the steps we need to address police brutality and racial injustice right here and now.

Continue reading Police Violence in Australia

Reconciliation and the ongoing impact of colonialism

Oil painting style image showing protesters carrying the Aboriginal flag

I live on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. ‘Eora’ means ‘here’ or ‘from this place.’ Twenty-nine clans belong to the Eora Nation (of what is now known as Sydney), each with their distinct culture, languages, songlines and practices. Sovereignty was never ceded. This land always was, is, and forever will be, Aboriginal land.

Yesterday was National Sorry Day and today marks the beginning of Reconciliation Week. The meanings and actions of these national events are different for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and non-Indigenous people. Here are some reflections for those of us who are settlers, and what we can do to better listen and walk in solidarity with First Nations.

Continue reading Reconciliation and the ongoing impact of colonialism

Institutional Action on Sexual Harassment

Drawing of an Asian woman standing by the side of a glass building. Her face is obscured

Trigger warning: this post discusses tactics used by sexual harassers to evade justice and the impact on survivors.

Today is International Women’s Day. I don’t much feel like ‘celebrating’ on this occassion. I feel burned out by the lack of racial justice and exclusion in the promotion of this day in Australia. Plus I am spending much of my spare time working through research and writing on my experiences working in equity and diversity. In particular, the myriad of ways in which women of colour are doubly or even trebly disadvantaged when they seek help on sexual harassment, racial discrimination and other inequity. So today’s post is not about ‘celebrating’ women and femmes. Instead, it is closer to the original impetus of the day. International Women’s Day is a day of protest that began with women’s workplace rights (United Nations Women Australia 2019). Join me in witnessing how far we still have to go to have our stories heard with dignity, and the lack of accountability by institutions to uphold our safety at work.

One in five women experience sexual harassment at work. In academia, from 2010-2016, 575 cases of sexual assault were reported in Australian universities, but these led to only six expulsions (see Zevallos 2019). Women students are three times as likely to be assaulted and twice as likely to be harassed as men. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students as well as disabled people experience a disproportionate level of sexual harassment and sexual assault, as do lesbian, gay, bisexual people, and especially transgender students, who experience up to twice the rate of harassment as heterosexual students.

What is sexual harassment? It is not subjective. Workplace law says it includes “any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.” For example:

  • unwelcome touching;
  • staring or leering;
  • suggestive comments or jokes;
  • sexually explicit pictures or posters;
  • unwanted invitations to go out on dates;
  • requests for sex;
  • intrusive questions about a person’s private life or body;
  • unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against a person;
  • insults or taunts based on sex;
  • sexually explicit physical contact; and
  • sexually explicit emails or SMS text messages.

Perpetrators of sexual harassment use five tactics to deflect blame (“outrage tactics”):

  1. Cover up;
  2. Devaluing victims;
  3. “Reinterpreting” events;
  4. Using official channels to give an appearance of justice;
  5. Intimidation.

‘Official channels use’ is an especially pertinent outrage tactic that relies on institutional processes to disempower victims. I use the term ‘victim’ here strategically. Flavia Dzodan (2018) argues that moving away from the term victim (in favour of ‘survivor’) evades the need for justice.* Paula McDonald and colleagues (2010) write:

‘Using official channels includes reports to senior officials, grievance procedures, and appeals to organisational boards, internal ombudsmen, external bodies, or professional organisations. Most official channels emphasise formal processes, require confidentiality, and focus on technicalities. Despite the best intentions of those running the procedures, the effect of many official channels is to dampen outrage: the immediacy and urgency of the problem is lost in the slow, ponderous processes. Meanwhile, observers often believe justice is being done, although outcomes seldom live up to expectations.’

– Paula McDonald, Tina Graham and Brian Martin (2010)

Let’s unpack these outrage tactics via official channels, and the role of institutions in re-traumatising victims. I discuss how organisations can instead take more proactive action to end sexual harassment.

Continue reading Institutional Action on Sexual Harassment

And I for Truth

Part 2 of 3 of my visual sociology for 2019. Take in the flavours of April to June. We start with a look at the architecture of inclusion. Then we go backwards, so you may join me in a feminist retaliation. Let’s then reminisce over racial justice at the Sydney Writers Festival, and think deeply on Aboriginal women’s family bonds through the wonderful play, Barbara and the Camp Dogs. We go on to trace the joys of the Finders Keepers market, the Sydney Comedy Festival, and Peruvian treats. We bear witness to the destruction being imposed by the Adani mine. I also bring you a cornucopia of the sociology of trolleys, and a special guest appearance by the enigmatic Bubsy.

Accessibility in Redfern

Here is the redesign of the entrance to the heritage listed Redfern Station (by builders Gartner Rose). An $100M upgrade was announced in February to address accessibility. The station currently fails to meet standards set by the Disability Discrimination Act. There are only one set of lifts to two of its 12 platforms. Its underground platforms (11 and 12) are considered a significant health risk in the case of fire, second only to Town Hall. 

Redfern Station entrance has large lettering: REDFERN. Yellow, red and brown thin rectangles decorate the exterior. People walk across the road

Continue reading And I for Truth

Intersectionality in academia and research

Bottom two-thirds is a drawing of indistinct figures seated on the ground in a large building, beside windows. Title of the resource is at the top: Intersectionality, equity, diversity, inclusion and access

I’ve just published my new resource, Intersectionality, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Access. There are five individual chapters which are intentended to work together. The information is a comprehensive, though not exhaustive, introduction into the barriers and solutions to discrimination in academia and research organisations. The issues are restricted to career trajectory from postgraduate years to senior faculty for educators and researchers.

Each section includes a discussion of the theoretical and empirical literature, with practical, evidence-based solutions listed in text boxes, capturing my long-standing career in equity and diversity program management, education and research.

This resource is split into five pages, for the purposes of improving reading experience; however, all five sections are intended to paint an holistic picture for social change. (If you prefer, read this resource as one PDF). 

This project has taken me two years from start to finish, with a lot of heart ache and bumps along the way. This is one of the main reasons I’ve blogged less over the past year or so, as bringing this together took most of my time and energy, when I had these to give. Please share, and cite ethically: a lot of people plagiarise my work, and while I publish my knowledge free, please don’t exploit my labour.

Explore the themes via this detailed table of contents:

Continue reading Intersectionality in academia and research

How Facebook Squashes Not-For-Profit Pages

I’ve been wanting to tell you this for awhile – I don’t post on my Other Sociologist Facebook page as often as I used to because Facebook is a racqueteering platform. Research has shown that since 2014, pages have lost at least 60% of ‘organic reach’ (that is, individual followers seeing page posts without promotions paid by brand pages). Some market research has determined that for most pages, only 6% of followers see their content, while other analysis shows it’s closer to 2%. My discussion is not new; social media analysts have been attuned to these patterns for the past decade. While the issues I discuss apply to many different companies and brand pages, I’m focusing on the impact that the Facebook model has on not-for-profit pages, specifically those like mine, which aim to educate the public for free.

Source: Edgerank Checker
Continue reading How Facebook Squashes Not-For-Profit Pages

Corporate Responsibility in Health Campaigns

Oil drawing of the tops of coke bottles against a red background with the title, 'Corporate responsibility in health campaigns'

When Coke launched its obesity campaign in Australia, social scientists spoke out about the problems with the messaging and strategy. The company says they are helping to combat weight-related illness by releasing smaller cans and by selling its low calorie Coke varieties. Coke also says it is providing nutritional information on its vending machines and it has teamed up with a bicycle group to encourage exercise.

Today’s post discusses the problems with Coke’s social media marketing strategy to appear more socially conscious about public health. The issue is not about whether or not you or I drink cola occassionally; the issue is broader, about how companies blur the lines on health and junk food.

To date, Coke has tried, and failed, to improve their corporate responsibility. Coke invests a great deal of money in science as a means to address health concerns, however none of this marketing speaks to the social and health problems associated with sugary soft drinks. Addressing social science concerns would better serve Coke’s corporate change, if Coke is indeed committed to its campaign of healthy living.

Continue reading Corporate Responsibility in Health Campaigns