Applied Sociology in Action: Student Protests in Taiwan & Australia

Photo: Jimmy Kang via Flickr
Photo: Jimmy Kang via Flickr

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.

Continue reading Applied Sociology in Action: Student Protests in Taiwan & Australia

Inspiration porn is an image of a person with a disability, often a kid, doing something completely ordinary – like playing, or talking, or running, or drawing a picture, or hitting a tennis ball – carrying a caption like “your excuse is invalid” or “before you quit, try”… 

Let me be clear about the intent of this inspiration porn; it’s there so that non-disabled people can put their worries into perspective. So they can go, “Oh well if that kid who doesn’t have any legs can smile while he’s having an awesome time, I should never, EVER feel bad about my life”. It’s there so that non-disabled people can look at us and think “well, it could be worse… I could be that person”.

In this way, these modified images exceptionalise and objectify those of us they claim to represent. It’s no coincidence that these genuinely adorable disabled kids in these images are never named: it doesn’t matter what their names are, they’re just there as objects of inspiration.

But using these images as feel-good tools, as “inspiration”, is based on an assumption that the people in them have terrible lives, and that it takes some extra kind of pluck or courage to live them.

For many of us, that is just not true…

Inspiration porn shames people with disabilities. It says that if we fail to be happy, to smile and to live lives that make those around us feel good, it’s because we’re not trying hard enough. Our attitude is just not positive enough. It’s our fault. Not to mention what it means for people whose disabilities are not visible, like people with chronic or mental illness, who often battle the assumption that it’s all about attitude. And we’re not allowed to be angry and upset, because then we’d be “bad” disabled people. We wouldn’t be doing our very best to “overcome” our disabilities.

I suppose it doesn’t matter what inspiration porn says to us as people with disabilities. It’s not actually about us. Disability is complex. You can’t sum it up in a cute picture with a heart-warming quote.

So next time you’re tempted to share that picture of an adorable kid with a disability to make your Facebook friends feel good, just take a second to consider why you’re really clicking that button.

– Stella Young, editor of Ramp Up, provides an excellent critique of able-bodied social media discourses of disability. Her analysis also represents a thoughtful discussion of social privilege. Read the whole article on the ABC.

Satire of Media Reporting

Rules of Crime Reporting - The Other SociologistThe first episode of The Hamster Wheel by The Chaser team aired on ABC1 last Wednesday. It offered a thoroughly amusing and scathing analysis of media reporting. There were so many golden moments of media and political satire. The show got me thinking about the reality of crime versus the way crime victims are represented by the media, as well as political journalism and ‘non-news’ (tabloid gossip dressed up as news).

My favourite segment on the Hamster Wheel was their send-up of journalism practices during tv reports on crimes. This included a pithy summary of the horrible ways in which some journalists harass victims and their families – a.k.a. the ‘four rules of crime reporting’:

  1. Stand outside grieving victim’s houses;
  2. Talk to a reluctant neighbour;
  3. Film the Victim’s Roof; and
  4. Keep People Calm (by drumming up misleading crime statistics). (See the video 24m:21s.)

I particularly enjoyed this segment on the Hamster Wheel because these familiar journalism clichés are morally dubious and they have always annoyed me. Mass media representations of crime are studied by sociologists and cultural criminologists.  The quality and content of media reporting on crimes varies across different media sources. Nevertheless, studies consistently find that television networks play a negative role in misinforming the public about the factual rate of crime. This is the case in the USA, Britain, Australia, Trinidad and in many other mainstream television news services around the world.

Continue reading Satire of Media Reporting