This is the story of my blog, and why blogging became a strategy to make sense of my career and my life as an Other – a woman of colour, the “non-academic” sociologist.
I started my blog in September 2011. This inauspicious date is not coincidentally aligned with the 10 year anniversary of the September 2001 attacks in the USA. Back in 2001, I was just beginning my PhD and had been trying to recruit Turkish-Australian women for my dissertation, with little success. I wanted to extend my Honours thesis, which focused on heterosexual Latin American women in Australia. A small aspect of that study had lingered, with respect to otherness: the Latin women, who had experienced much racism, expressed high support for multiculturalism. They had many friends from various backgrounds, and some had boyfriends of diverse origins (though Latin American men were a preference). One group they would not date was Muslim men, and many referenced Turkish men specifically due to negative gender stereotypes surrounding Turkish men in the Western suburbs of Melbourne, where most of the women lived.
Given the Latin women’s experiences of racism by Anglo-Australians, this intrigued me, as it suggested what I came to term as hierarchies of otherness.
Canberra is Australia’s capital city, but you may not necessarily know this if you were parachuted in blindfolded, out of the blue. While Sydney is bustling with tourists and attractions, and Melbourne is brimming with multicultural events, Canberra is seemingly pedestrian. On a Sunday, the majority of the shops close at 4 PM, even in the city’s central business district, and on holidays, there are few people in the centre of the city. That’s because Canberra is, in many ways, a satellite city: our politicians fly in on weeks when Parliament sits, which ramps up the pulse of taxi drivers and plumps up some of our cafes and bars at peak times, every other week. Many people who live here are not locals. Young people tend to move away, while public servants and academics move their families here for their careers.
I had previously lived in Canberra for six months as part of a secondment for another job, many years ago. I was much younger then and, looking back, I did not really enjoy the city. I mostly spent my free time with groups who knew each other from graduate placements and often talked about work, even at 1 AM outside clubs – which is, by the way, the time that most clubs clubs closed back then (and likely do still). “Did you know he’s still an APS5?” (Australian Public Service Level 5) “He’s never going to be promoted!” I was surrounded by Anglo-Australian people who had little interest in multicultural experiences – having come from a highly multicultural part of Melbourne, this was a big change.
Back then I worked very long hours (and do still but not quite so intense) and, to be honest, I was often tired and I own the fact that I did not make a big effort to get to know the city. This time around, knowing that I’d be here a bit longer, I have gotten to know different types of people and have gone out of my way to get the most out of Canberra, by exploring more of its heart and culture. I aim to bring you a few visual stories of how I reacquainted myself with this city, with a visual sociology series I’m calling, Weekends With a Sociologist.
In March, sociology students in Taiwan were criticised for being released from class to attend peaceful protests occupying the Legislature Yuan from the 18th of March 18 to the 10th of April 2014. Sociology lecturers called this “the most practical lesson of sociology.” Since dubbed the “Sunflower Student Movement,” the youth were protesting a trade-in-service agreement with China. On the one hand, Taiwan’s Education Minister said that teachers should support their students’ education rights. On the other hand, he criticised teachers for supporting this through peaceful protest. Instead, he argued that teachers should have done this “through rational debates and discussions.”
Today in Australia, students are being similarly critiqued for protesting the deregulation of university fees as a result of the impending changes to the national budget. Universities Australia told the ABC program Lateline on the 3rd of June that increased fees will mean up to a 60% increase in debt for some university degrees. This translates to an additional 6 years of repayments for full-time workers. For a part-time worker who takes time away from paid work to start a family, the research suggests this could mean up to 20 years of additional debt.
The similarities in the media and political discourses of how the Australian and Taiwanese students conducted their protests are worth exploring further.
“Astra Howard is an Action Researcher/Performer working predominantly within public spaces in cities…After completing a PhD in 2005 titled: ‘Orchestrating the Public: To Reveal and Activate through Design the Experience of the City’, Astra has continued to test urban and social theories in the city spaces they critique.”
Howard is an Australian designer and artist working with city councils, state government departments and community/arts organisations in Australia, Beijing, Paris, New York, Delhi, Hanoi and London. She has also worked with marginalised groups and the homeless in Sydney.
This graphic has been going around for a few weeks yet surprisingly with little analysis. A Backstage Sociologist first published it in late April, writing only:
Teaching and learning are not market transactions: They are sacred encounters of soulcraft. This graphic leaves one who teaches social science and the humanities with a heavy heart and despairing about the eventual extinction of well-educated citizens.
I suspect there is more to this chart and part of the soul searching should happen within sociology itself. I see the steep rise in business graduates and perhaps to a lesser extent in the life sciences and communications are partly a development in technology and the reality of the job market.
One way that sociology might address this is through a stronger focus on applied sociology. Without question, developing the sociological imagination has many personal and professional benefits, as critical thinking can help to improve civic participation and empower us to understand our lives in a broader context.
Then again, if you are a poor or otherwise disadvantaged young person thinking about the debt and other commitments you need to balance, pursuing a degree in sociology can be daunting. We are largely positioned as an academic discipline. There are few academic jobs for our graduates. Market forces may be driving graduates away from social science, but our discipline can be doing much more to demonstrate the applicability of our theories and methods to specific jobs and industries.
You can read more from my website Sociology at Work, with links to resources that can help provide tangible examples of how sociology students might find work in different industries, and how they might specifically use their degrees.
In this video, I discuss the careers panel that I sat on as part of the annual conference for The Australian Sociological Association (TASA). I focus on the panel discussion about how to translate theory into practice when you’re working outside academia. I also cover workplace ethics in the video, as well issues about managing professional identity outside of academia and the importance of networking. I was asked about how I manage my research consultancy business. I talk about how to market yourself and how to establish a professional reputation with prospective clients using social media.
I made this video for Sociology at Work, the professional network that I manage. I give an overview of sociological theory and methods as well as the work of applied sociologists. I also talk about the aims of Sociology at Work, which focus on promoting the professional excellence of sociology practitioners and supporting the career planning of sociology students.
I wrote about what inspired me to become a sociologist for STEM Women: As part of our Role Models series, Zuleyka pays homage to three of her primary school teachers, all women of migrant-background, who helped Zuleyka settle into Australia after migrating from Peru, South America. Arriving in Melbourne without a word of English, Zuleyka notes she may have easily gotten lost at school, but her teachers’ enthusiasm for STEM helped build up Zuleyka’s language confidence. These teachers made sure all their migrant-background students embraced their old and new cultures with pride. At the same time, Zuleyka’s teachers stimulated her scientific curiosity by demonstrating that education is a creative process.Continue reading Heroic Women Who Inspired My Social Science
So one of the questions we need to reflect on as anthropologists interested in engaging the public is: Who is our audience, and how can we best reach them? Is blogging the key? If so, what platform, what format, what language do we use? …de Koning notes that it’s somewhat ironic that anthropology blogs largely focus on a Western audience and topics related to Western ideologies, when we’re the primary field that prides itself on a cross-cultural and often non-Western focus. I endorse his call to create “a more global and plural anthropological community” (2013:397). We need more anthropologists writing in a variety of languages about a variety of cultures and topics, specifically engaging the public in our attempts to explain the fascinating biocultural nature of humans around the world.
This week I interviewed sociologist and activist Dr Dan Brook for Sociology at Work (video below). I enjoyed chatting with Dan about his philosophy that sociology is inherently about social justice and social transformation. Any sociologist would agree with this – but how do we actually help achieve tangible social change? I’ve been thinking a lot about why some social justice movements are more successful than others. This has been on my mind for awhile, since I met with an old colleague a couple of months a go.
My colleague is a fellow sociologist and a political refugee who can never return to their birthplace due to persecution. After resettling in Australia, my colleague had been an academic for some time, but he felt limited in his capacity to achieve social change. He left academia and has been working as a researcher for law enforcement for the better part of a decade. This colleague is older than I am and he has a wistful view of social activism in the 1960s. He wondered,”Why don’t people care today like they did back then?” I explained that people back then were not inherently more radical – the fact is that social justice was at their door. It was on the news every night. Many people they knew personally were dying in wars overseas. The political economy was personally affecting their everyday lives. My colleague did not like to hear this; he wanted to think that people were simply “better people” back then. As he saw it, people simply cared more about the world before and they don’t care much today.
Today’s post shows that “caring” is only part of the picture when it comes to social justice activism. Resources such as money, time and technology have a significant impact on people’s ability to turn a grassroots social justice issue into social reform. Social context also matters. What is the political, social and economic climate in which activists work? I will also show that there are two general types of activists whose resources and networks help them yield higher returns on their efforts.