I’ve been away for work for awhile now, and hope to bring you more on this soon. For now, I thought I’d share with you a post I had planned to publish weeks ago, but haven’t been able to finish until now. Let’s talk about the sociology of Indian people in Australia, with a case study of the Hindu festival of Diwali in Melbourne.
Indian migration to Australia has a long history, dating back to the 19th Century, with early records showing the British brought Indian servants (noting this may have included forced servitude). At the time of colonial Australia’s first Census, there were 1,800 Indian people in Australia. Today, Indian-Australians represent our fourth largest migrant group and they are also the biggest growing migrant group next to China, with their population doubling in the past decade, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
This cartoon below by Charles Barsotti is a good illustration of the social construction of group deviance in public spaces. This cartoon points out how some social groupings can be given negative labels, such as a “cult.” The beliefs or the practices of particular socio-economic groups can are treated with suspicion by a dominant group where they do not conform to society’s norms, values, behaviour or appearance. Non-conformity can lead to the creation of stereotypes; that is, labels that simplify specific qualities of some people as typical of the group they belong to (hence the cartoon, where one wolf says to another, “We’re a pack, not a cult.”).
In most circumstances crowds that “blend in” and meet society’s standards of “acceptability” escape the stigma of social deviance. Cases where “ordinary” groups might be negatively labelled by authorities might occur during times of civil unrest, such as during political protests, or due to other political cycles, such as the lead up to an election.
Racial minority youth are often labelled as deviant simply for being in public. In the case of Aboriginal youth, even something as routine as being in a shopping centre is mired by harassment by security (Perry 2018: Powell 2018). In another example, Muslim girls have been forced to leave a school excursion at a public exhibition centre because other visitors felt “uncomfortable” (Foster 2017).
Let’s take a look at this problem of stereotyping racial minority youth in public spaces, focusing specifically today on migrant minorities. We’ll examine how labelling these youth as “deviant” keeps society from paying attention to pressing social problems, such as structural inequality and interpersonal gender violence.
Today’s Weekends With a Sociologist lunges us into the heart of Australian suburbia. There’s revelry in Australiania, a notion that I’ve never been especially comforable with, but we’re plunging in all the same! You’ll see there is much to cringe about, and more delights in store, in Jon Campbell’sWord. The Irish-Australian migrant artist lives in Coburg, an inner Northern suburb of Melbourne. The exhibitionis based on his artworks that use numerous light boxes to emphasise the language of the working class in the inner Northern and Western suburbs of Melbourne, the typical signage seen along country roads, and Anglo-Aussie surf culture. Banners host Aussie venacular, pub menu items, live music posters, and peculiar messages familiar to locals.
This exhibition includes Stacks On (2010) and the 65 metre mural commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art.
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).
On 13 February 2018, I participated in the Tech Inclusion Melbourne conference. Bill Nicholson, Wurundjeri elder gave the Welcome to Country (below). He talked about using treaty to build economic capacity and sovereignty amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
My overview of the conference starts with the panel discussion that I took part in. I then reflect on the other presentations. (Note: click on images for further detail)
I’ll be speaking on a panel at the first Tech Inclusion conference in Australia, in Melbourne, on 13 February 2018. Tech Inclusion is aimed at various practitioners from the tech industry to discuss issues of diversity. This includes: executives, hiring managers, human resources, data scientists, educators, entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers and diversity and inclusion advocates.
I’ll be on the panel hosted by Cory-Ann Joseph, UX Lead at ANZ, and fellow panellist and UX designer Danya Azzopardi. The panel is called: We’ve got a time machine, now what are we going to do with it?
From the event website:
Growing up in Australia came with a sense that we were lagging behind our bigger, ‘cooler’ brother of the USA – movies, pop music, concert tours all took weeks or months to get to us – if at all. But Silicon Valley doesn’t always lead the way. Mistakes were made in the ‘early’ days of diversity and inclusion: centering men at Women in Tech events, a focus on women first instead of race, and the victim-blamey rhetoric of women needing to change their behaviour. And perhaps the biggest mistake of all is that despite a decade since the first D&I efforts – not much has changed.
How can the tech industry in Australia avoid the same and chart a different course for the future?
This year marks 230 years since the British invaded Australia, leading to the decimation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with inequities continuing to this day. It is also the 80 year anniversary of the Day of Mourning protests, organised by the Australian Aboriginal Progressive League.
Today’s post reflects on the protests on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation (Gadigal is the city now known as Sydney). I then provide a visual sociology of the culmination of the protest march, which ended at the Yabun Festival.
I’ve seen a few “progressive” White people sharing a newstory about the newly established African-Australian community taskforce, without recognising that this is giving in to scaremongering. Yet White people feel comforted by the idea that “African community leaders” are doing “the right thing” to keep people safe (read: White people). The nation must critically examine how Whiteness drives these responses. There’s increased policing of South Sudanese-Australian groups not because there’s a specific problem – data show that the majority of youth crime is committed by White youth. The motivation to criminalise African-Australians coincides with the election year.
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).
When White people try to dismiss Indigenous and other people of colour’s (POC) discussion of colonialism and its present-day impact by focusing on “tone,” that’s racism. Consider this exchange. I shared an important article by Teila Watson , Birri Gubba Wiri and Kungalu/Gungalu Murri woman artist, who wrote about the impact of colonialism on Australia’s past, present and future. Originally published in The Guardian, Watson was unimpressed that the editors changed the title from White “Australia” Has a Black Future, to “Indigenous knowledge systems can help solve the problems of climate change.” So she chose to self-publish the longer version of her article with the original title on Medium.
A White woman writer decided to reshare my tweet, which includes a quote from the Medium piece. By doing so she informs me that she refuses to read the article due to the title, which she sees is “uncivil.” I shouldn’t have to explain this, but in the course of my interactions it was obvious that I did, in fact, have to point out that refusing to read the words of an Aboriginal woman is racist, and calling an article reflecting on Australia’s history of genocide “uncivil” is the epitome of White supremacy.