My Weekends With A Sociologist series is going to start coming to you more frequently and completely out of sequence. I will share with you my visual sociology adventures from different places, at different points in time, showing you what has captivated my sociological imagination most recently, through to what has lingered with me over time. The purpose of this series is to showcase what it is to see the world through a sociological lens. (For visually impaired readers, descriptions in the alt.) So let’s get started!
What better way to restart our journey, than with the enduring legacy of a strong Aboriginal woman, Barangaroo.
Beginning in the first week of January, Sydney annually hosts the Sydney Festival, with various sites around town housing performances, public art and sculptures, including many interactive installations. The best this year was the artwork, Four Thousand Fish, curated by Emily McDaniel, artist from the Kalari Clan of the Wiradjuri nation in Central New South Wales. The artwork blends sea song, visual story telling, sound, lighting, sculptures, landscape photography, music and of course, a beautiful nawi (bark canoe).
Held at the Cutaway in Barangaroo, every weekend this past January, the site was transformed into a public art sculpture that was set ablaze nightly at dusk. I attended an event hosted by the beloved street photographer, Legojacker (formerly from Melbourne, they had moved to Canberra in recent months).
Barangarro is named after the mighty Cammeraygal woman of the Eora nation, who defied colonialism in Gadigal, her homeland (also known as Sydney).
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a strong contribution to make in leading change in sociology, however, their knowledges are kept on the periphery of our discipline. Associate Professor Kathleen Butler is working to transform sociology by “Indigenising” sociology. She is an Aboriginal woman belonging to the Bundjalung and Worimi peoples of coastal New South Wales, and a sociologist who hosted the “Indigenous Sociology for Social Impact” workshop. The workshop explored ways to address colonial practices in sociology, as well as how to draw on Indigenous expertise to decolonise research, methods and theories in sociology.
Using the Aboriginal method of a “talking circle” (or yarning circle), where any person can contribute to unstructured dialogue, Professor Butler began two-day discussions considering how Indigenous-led practices can enhance Australian sociology.
The first day of the workshop was centred on a thoughtful presentation by former social worker and researcher Karen Menzies on how intergenerational trauma of forced removal of Aboriginal children continues to impact the health and life outcomes of Indigenous people.
The second day of the workshop began with Associate Professor Butler reflecting on her evolving research on sociological teaching and resources. She has analysed the topics covered in higher education sociology courses around Australia, and finds that there is almost no focus on Indigenous scholarship, and that there is little attention to race in central sociology teaching. She argued this is one of the ways in which we see how sociology actively participates in an exclusively Western framing of social issues.
We discussed that sociology as a discipline actively perpetuates colonialism in the citing conventions, theories and methods we continue to pass on to students.
Investing in future change
Another question we discussed at length was: how do we account for the fact that the majority of people who are trained as sociologists are not Indigenous? We discussed how Aboriginal sociologists are on the fringes of our discipline, either underemployed or precariously employed as casual staff. We noted a major investment in the training, mentorship, sponsorship, promotion and retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sociologists needs to be prioritised in sociology.
We discussed what a decolonised sociological imagination would look like, with critiques of foundational Western sociological texts at the centre. Australian sociology has rebuilt itself before – using a White feminist framework in the 1970s and 1980s – we can do this again using Indigenous knowledges and intersectionality. Associate Professor Butler argued that the work of Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson (a Geonpul woman) is our starting point for decolonising sociology, especially in Australia.
We also discussed issues of ethics and intersectionality (the interconnections between gender and racial inequality and other forms of social marginalisation).