Using sociology to think critically about Coronavirus COVID-19 studies

The lower two-thirds is an oil painting style photo of an older woman with grey hair. She has her back to us and is reading a piece of paper with a magnifying glass. The top third is the title to this post

I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of public sociology because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. What follows has been in the works for a couple of months. As previously promised, I’m now coming back to this because of the ongoing need to increase public awareness about the science of the pandemic.

Earlier in the year, I worked with some colleagues on an early literature review scoping policy responses to the pandemic, and I’ve provided feedback on evolving policy research. As an applied sociologist, my focus has been on how race, culture, disability, gender, and other socioeconomics impact how people understand and act on public health initiatives, as well as ethical considerations of COVID research “on the run.”

Since then, I’ve been keeping up with both the research and media coverage of public health responses. I’ve been providing summaries of unfolding information on my social media (primarily Facebook and Instagram stories, as well as Twitter). This started partly to address some of the misconceptions I was seeing amongst my friends and family and I’ve kept this up as it’s been the most efficient way to help people in my life better understand what the restrictions mean for them, or to correct confusing reports.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation. People are hungry for practical advice, but don’t know who to trust (they don’t know where to look for credible resources), or they feel overwhelmed with too many conflicting directions. This is known as information overload, and it leads to poor decision-making.

One of the patterns that has been especially concerning are people writing social media posts, op eds and even setting up consultancies to profiteer from COVID-19 without any health training or policy experience. This contributes to public distrust, conspiracy theories or poor discussion that is not based on evidence. People are choosing to confirm their pre-existing beliefs, rather than engaging critically with scientific information that challenges their perspective. This is known as confirmation bias. It stops people from considering new information and different points of view that might be helpful to their wellbeing.

Reading original scientific journal articles is not always possible as there is often a paywall. Plus, science papers are, by definition, published for the academic community. The language is technical, and the principles can be hard to follow for people who are not subject matter experts. This makes it more important for scientists who have access to write about science research in an accessible manner and to share findings through different communities.

While data on COVID-19 are evolving, and no one can claim to be a definitive COVID-19 expert, the best sources to trust are official sources, such as state Health Departments, epidemiologists, virologists, health practitioners who are providing front-line services (such as Aboriginal-controlled health organisations), and policy analysts who work on COVID-19 responses. Additionally, reliable news sites include the ABC News Australia live blog, Croakey and individual health researchers, such as epidemiologist Dr Zoe Hyde (University of Western Australia) on Twitter.

If you read about a study, how do you know if you can trust the conclusions? What’s the best approach if you wanted to write about a study’s findings for a broader audience, whether it’s your friends and family reading your Facebook feed, or an article in a major news site? Today’s post gives tips for how to read a study using critical thinking principles from sociology, and things to consider if you want to write about, or share, studies that you read about.

Continue reading Using sociology to think critically about Coronavirus COVID-19 studies

Intersectionality in academia and research

Bottom two-thirds is a drawing of indistinct figures seated on the ground in a large building, beside windows. Title of the resource is at the top: Intersectionality, equity, diversity, inclusion and access

I’ve just published my new resource, Intersectionality, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Access. There are five individual chapters which are intentended to work together. The information is a comprehensive, though not exhaustive, introduction into the barriers and solutions to discrimination in academia and research organisations. The issues are restricted to career trajectory from postgraduate years to senior faculty for educators and researchers.

Each section includes a discussion of the theoretical and empirical literature, with practical, evidence-based solutions listed in text boxes, capturing my long-standing career in equity and diversity program management, education and research.

This resource is split into five pages, for the purposes of improving reading experience; however, all five sections are intended to paint an holistic picture for social change. (If you prefer, read this resource as one PDF). 

This project has taken me two years from start to finish, with a lot of heart ache and bumps along the way. This is one of the main reasons I’ve blogged less over the past year or so, as bringing this together took most of my time and energy, when I had these to give. Please share, and cite ethically: a lot of people plagiarise my work, and while I publish my knowledge free, please don’t exploit my labour.

Explore the themes via this detailed table of contents:

Continue reading Intersectionality in academia and research

Gender, Race and Ableism in ‘Joker’

Arthur is in full Joker make-up. His face is painted white with crass red lips overdrawn over half his face. He has large red eyebrows painted high on his forehead. His eyes are framed by two blue triangles. He smiles and raises his eyebrown as he exhales

Let’s talk about representations of gender, race and ableism in Joker and how to situate a critical reading in the local Australian context. I saw the film last night in Newtown, Sydney, where the mostly White audience erupted in rapturous clapping. We’ll explore this reaction.

Spoilers ahead. (N.B.: Read this as a gif-free version in PDF)

Arthur is shirtless, with his back to the audience. He is watching Thomas Wayne, a White man in a suit, speaking on television‘Joker’ presents a racialised and gendered view of class. Thomas Wayne (Gotham’s White male, super rich aspiring Mayor, played by Brett Cullen) is the antagonist. Wayne refers to protesters with contempt (jokers) and he punches Arthur (before his reincarnation as The Joker, played by Joaquin Phoenix) while he’s emotionally vulnerable. Whiteness prevails in this exchange, because the conflict between the two men is not really about class, as the film attempts to position. Their tension is about masculine power.

Continue reading Gender, Race and Ableism in ‘Joker’

Accessibility in Urban Planning

When I first arrived in Brisbane for a work trip, I was impressed to see braille on every major street sign. Sydney has many such signs; Melbourne and other cities have fewer or none.

On my second day in Brisbane, I came across an elderly woman who said the lift to cross this major bridge was broken and she was braving up the stairs to get to her bus stop. I asked if she wanted help but she said “I can do this. I’ll just go slow.” She said she couldn’t believe the lift had not been looked into. Many other people were struggling without the lift.

Brisbane is not alone here;

I travel a lot around Australia and few major cities are planned around accessibility, despite our diverse needs as a society, and in spite of the fact that our population is ageing rapidly. This is as much an issue of urban planning as it is about equity and social inclusion. A ripe area for applied sociology to make a useful contribution.

[Photo 1: street sign at night with braille reads “George Street to Brisbane Square. Photo 2: Aerial view of busy Brisbane road.]

Women’s March Sydney

On the 21 of January 2017, I joined up to 10,000 Sydney-siders at the Women’s March, and 2.5 million people globally. I initially had reservations about the March. As I recounted last week, the march started as an idea by a woman activist in Hawaii and it was soon taken over by White women from Pantsuit Nation, a group that has no commitment to anti-racism.  Bob Bland, a White woman from Washington, wanted to rectify the direction of the event and soon invited three women of colour to shape the Washington March: Tamika Mallory; Linda Sarsour; and Carmen Perez. The Women’s March Washington had a special focus on intersectionality; addressing how gender inequality is impacted by racism and other forms of discrimination such as homophobia, transphobia, ableism (the discrimination of people with disabilities), and more. The Washington March was the model for the other local and international marches. As more White women became involved in discussions at the national and international levels, this mission was drowned out. Women of colour were made to feel excluded from planning groups whenever the issue of intersectionality was raised.

So when the Sydney March was announced I first felt trepidation. As the final line up of speakers was announced, it became clearer that the Sydney organisers were making the event more consciously supportive of intersectionality. The organisers regularly focused their social media posts on inclusion, thereby reaffirming their commitment to diversity and inclusion. There were some limitations as I’ll discuss later. For example, transgender women seemed to lack representation amongst speakers at the event and best practice for the inclusion of women with disabilities may have been improved.

For me, the big draw card was Aboriginal activist, Jenny Munro, who has dedicated her life to advancing the human rights of Aboriginal people. Her activism and life’s work has a strong focus on Aboriginal sovereignty, children and housing. She leads the Redfern Tent Embassy and is a living legend. She did not disappoint; but I’ll get to that!

The day led to many useful discussions on diversity and how to disrupt patriarchy. I shared highlights of my day on Twitter and I bring these to you in this post as well as additional photos and video I wasn’t able to share on the day. The quotes are not strictly verbatim – treat them more as field notes to flesh out my visual sociology. I will also address the ongoing global conversations about the Women’s Marches and in particular, the critiques about the exclusion of women of colour, transgender women, sex workers and women with disabilities from various overseas events, with a focus on the USA. I’ll draw some qualified lessons on intersectionality from the USA to Australia and I wrap up with a discussion of why intersectionality is important.

This one minute video includes some of the footage I shot at the Sydney Women’s March and draws out the key lessons on intersectionality.

(Click to jump down to the video transcript.)

Continue reading Women’s March Sydney

Artability

Artability is a free exhibition at the Ian Potter Centre, Melbourne, featuring visual artists of various culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and ages who have a disability or who live with mental illness. This piece is “Offering of Peace and Love” by Kishari Patwardhan.

Stella Young on Ableism

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”. Continue reading Stella Young on Ableism

Kabul Disability Health Centre

This disability health and support centre in Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, is staffed almost exclusively by disabled care workers. They produce prosthetic limbs and provide  rehabilitation and social support in a country where public healthcare is negliable.

Video: Al Jazeera.

Ancient Reproduction Practices

Bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove and her colleague, Ancient Historian Sarah E. Bond, have embarked on a wonderful initiative to bring peer-reviewed science to the public. The Ancient Studies Articles Podcast was recently launched. It features Kristina and Sarah reading aloud interdisciplinary ancient studies, in order to make the field more accessible to visually impaired people. This is an innovative and exciting project that I hope will bring ancient studies to new audiences, and perhaps inspire other fields. This post gives an overview of the project and a summary of the first podcast on the scientific development of contraception in 6th Century Byzantine. Continue reading Ancient Reproduction Practices