Share the Spirit: Survival Day 2015

The 26th of January is Australia Day and a national holiday. Various events happen all over Melbourne, but some of these recognise that this day raises important issues about Indigenous culture in Australia. Protests over colonialism have been ongoing since Europeans settled in Australia in 1788. On the 26th of January 1938, 150 years after the decimation of Indigenous people began, William Cooper (leader with the Australian Aboriginal League) together with Jack Patten and William Ferguson (the Aboriginal Progressive Association) declared the first “Day of Mourning,” a day recognising the history of colonial violence and dispossession. Survival Day events represent the resilience and contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who collectively make up the world’s oldest, continuous culture.

I attended the Share the Spirit festival, hosted by Songlines Music. This event has been running at the Treasury Garden since 2002. Together with similar events in Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and elsewhere, they are amongst the biggest Indigenous cultural events in Australia. Continue reading Share the Spirit: Survival Day 2015

Latin Summer Festival

In the 2011 Australian Census, there were over 107,300 Latin-Australian migrants. The majority were born in South America (almost 87,700 people); the second-biggest groups were born in Central America (14,900 people); and a smaller proportion were born in the Caribbean (4,7000 people). Continue reading Latin Summer Festival

Sociology of Malaysian-Australians

Australia is home to 5.3 million migrants, meaning that one quarter of Australians were born overseas, and a further 20% of Australians are children of migrants – making half our nation first or second-generation migrants! Malaysia-born migrants are our 9th largest migrant group (with the UK, New Zealand and China being our biggest).

Malaysians are also one of our oldest-settled migrant groups, first arriving in the Northern coast in the 18th Century. Sociologist Peta Stephenson has a wonderful study of Indigenous Australian Muslim “reverts” (converts) who have reclaimed this heritage by converting to Islam. Today, however, in Victoria, most Malaysia-born Australians are either Buddhist (28%), No Religion (16%) or Catholic (13%).

While most other non-English speaking groups tend to settle in the Western and outer suburbs of Melbourne, Malaysian-Australians are largely living in the inner city, one of the most affluent areas in our state. Generally speaking, Malay are one of our most upwardly mobile migrant groups, with second-generation migrants averaging greater educational and professional success in comparison to Anglo-Australians.

The photos below are from the Malaysian Street Festival, which was held over the weekend. The Festival showcased the rich cultural diversity of Melbourne’s Malaysian communities. The focus was on food, music and family activities (what I’ve previously termed “emblems of identity” or surface-level culture).

Continue reading Sociology of Malaysian-Australians

Sociology of Trolleys

My next instalment of the Sociology of Trolleys: There are many studies on why *online* shopping trolleys are abandoned (poor website design; lack of incentive or commitment by customers; and so on), there is little attention given to the reasons why people abandon shopping trolleys in everyday life.

Researcher Franck Cochoy has done some research on how shopping trolleys shape shopping behaviour (for example, by visually representing the volume of our spending by virtue of how full our trolleys are). But this research does not examine abandoned carts.

Many people think that trolleys are abandoned because kids are using them to push each other around. As such wayward trolleys are often seen as an act of social deviance by young people. In my forthcoming posts I’ll look at how abandoned carts are policed both informally at the community level and more formally through rewards and penalties (it’s actually a lucrative business). The truth about shopping trolley “deviance” is less about youth and more about social class.

Italian-Australian Migrant Women

Italian-Australian activist Anna Moo talks about her attraction to social justice and how she worked with a group of migrant women in the 1970s to achieve policy changes on migrant women’s reproductive health. Moo says:

We really wanted to connect back with the women that we were advocating with. They were not aware of health services that might have been available to them. The W.I.C.H. [Women in Industry Contraception and Health] education project was developed in conjunction with Australian women and women from many different backgrounds with the support of a number of organisations.

And the fantastic aspect of that education kit is the fact that it was taken to the factories by women who were themselves from multicultural backgrounds. Each worker spoke a language, a community language, whereby women could actually ask questions and be supported through the discussions. You know, what’s really amazing is that we still have Women in Industry Contraception and Health, it’s called a different name but it’s still that organisation…

It’s really a testament to what women can do together.

Source: Immigration Museum.

Symbolic Capital of English Spelling

Why are spelling conventions in English so peculiar, such as with the silent “b” in “doubt”? It’s due to the influence of Latin culture and symbolic capital. Symbolic capital describes the immaterial resources that people draw on in order to maintain or improve their social status. Language, literature, the arts and other forms of culture act as symbolic capital that signal our belonging to a particular class. Language and culture are also used to elevate the authority and economic achievements of dominant groups.

Throughout history being able to speak and write Latin has been a sign of being upper class. Latin was also important to the religious elites who acted as scribes that documented culture and history.

Latin drew on French language rules as French grew out of Latin. The French word for doubt has a “b” which is why Latin scribes used it when they started to catalogue English in written texts. English is a Germanic language that was spoken by the masses long before it was written down and so the elites reflected their own linguistic norms on the English written form rather than following the spoken rules.

This Chalking Points video documents this history on brief.

Sudanese Australians Use Music Rehab

Sudanese Australians use music to reflect on their war experiences. This group performed for the Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) in Western Sydney. One performer says:

When you’re happy, you sing it out; when you’re sad, you sing it out… You talk to people, you make an announcement – anything at all, you make a song.

Another singer says:

It looks like fun, but it’s not fun… I’m not a young woman, I’m an old woman. I can’t come if it’s [just] fun. We want the people that doesn’t know what happened a long time in the past, and that is why we are here.

STARTTS Chief Executive says:

Dance brings people together, but also brings people together in a way that turns thoughts and feelings into action, and that’s tremendously therapeutic.

Source: SBS News.

Mahamastakabhisheka Ritual of the “Great Anointment of the Head”

This is a photo of the Mahamastakabhisheka ritual, “Great Anointment of the head.”. The photo is from 2012 taken by Professor Rajini Rao. The statue is over 1,000 years old. 

 

Continue reading Mahamastakabhisheka Ritual of the “Great Anointment of the Head”

Public Anthropology

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.

Kristina Killgrove reflects on the use of blogging and social media to extend public outreach amongst anthropologists. Read her whole post, it’s terrific and there are lessons for sociologists and other social scientists.

Gen Y, Literary Elitism & “Serious Culture”

Melbourne private school teacher and literary curmudgeon Christopher Bantick argues that Gen Y don’t understand “serious” Australian culture. Writing for The Age, Bantick believes that Gen Y’s engagement with popular culture over the classics will lead our nation to decline:

The vanity that is lauded as virtue pervades the culture to a corrosive extent. Young people have lost the capacity to actually know when something is art, and worthy. Instead, they hang on every word of their latest celeb mouthing inanities….

So who’s at fault? Schools need to do more about bringing a little elitism back into the awareness of culture. High culture: fine art, opera, serious drama and music that requires patience and understanding needs to be embedded into the curriculum.

In Australia, elitism is a dirty word. But maybe our jingoistic egalitarianism has gone too far with the sense of cultural equity. Who knows what a sonnet is, a partita, a motet, or who was Goethe or Christopher Marlowe? As for ballet, forget it. There are many other examples.

Bantick celebrates the fact that he teaches “classically demanding literature” at a private school, adding that his course is “elite, consciously so.” Continue reading Gen Y, Literary Elitism & “Serious Culture”