Department Seminar Series

Monday 20 February 2017, 1 - 2 pm
Speakers: Craig Browne (Sociology and Social Policy, the University of Sydney)
Topic: Critical Social Theory

In my book Critical Social Theory (Sage, 2017) I seek to develop the social theory framework of Critical Theory. Critical Theory is shaped by its historical orientation and a recognition of its grounding in the social context. The challenges that these considerations pose are met through revised conceptions of Critical Theory’s key categories, like those of reification and alienation, and the explication of the changing ideological complexion of capitalist society. The disorienting effects that these changes have had on alternative strands of social theory are outlined and these deficiencies are shown to impede syntheses necessary for rectifying problems inherent in the current major statements of Critical Theory. My explanatory approach aims to disclose the contradictions that underlie the conflicts of capitalist society. To this end, the notion of the dialectic of control is deployed in order to delineate the relationships that social actors seeking to realise autonomy have to structural contradictions and to clarify the dynamics of conflicts to instantiate a just social order. Three contradictions are focussed on: the conflict between globalisation and democracy, the paradox of compelled but thwarted participation, and the current dynamic of system integration and social disintegration. My analysis is intended to contribute to the explanation and critique of the injustices, irrationalities and oppression of capitalist society. It is consistent with the Critical Theory methodology of specifying tendencies developing within present society that would lead to substantial emancipatory and democratizing transformations were they fully realised. In this way, my analysis consolidates Critical Theory’s immanent critique of the contradiction between the norms and ideals of autonomy and justice present in contemporary society and the actuality of its organisation and institutionalised social relations. I likewise explore the potentials and limitations of recent attempts in Critical Theory to formulate emancipatory visions based on conceptions that conjoin positive liberty and social justice, especially Axel Honneth’s interpretation of social freedom.

About the Speakers: Browne
Craig Browne works in the area of critical social theory. He is currently finalising a book comparing influential contemporary social theories and extending his research into the relationship between recognition, symbolic power and social imaginaries. He has received funding for research comparing pragmatist notions of creative democracy with ideas of democratic creativity in contemporary French social and political thought. This research into creative democracy builds on his Ph.D. dissertation: Projects and Anticipations: a Comparative Analysis of Habermas’ and Giddens’ Conceptions of the Social.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]
Monday 20 March 2017, 1 - 2 pm
Speakers: Melinda Cooper (Sociology and Social Policy, the University of Sydney)
Topic: Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism

Why was the discourse of family values so pivotal to the conservative and free-market revolution of the 1980s and why has it continued to exert such a profound influence on American political life? Why have free-market neoliberals so often made common cause with social conservatives on the question of family, despite their differences on all other issues? In this book, Melinda Cooper challenges the idea that neoliberalism privileges atomized individualism over familial solidarities, and contractual freedom over inherited status. Delving into the history of the American poor laws, she shows how the liberal ethos of personal responsibility was always undergirded by a wider imperative of family responsibility and how this investment in kinship obligations recurrently facilitated the working relationship between free-market liberals and social conservatives.

Neoliberalism, she argues, must be understood as an effort to revive and extend the poor law tradition in the contemporary idiom of household debt. As neoliberal policymakers imposed cuts to health, education, and welfare budgets, they simultaneously identified the family as a wholesale alternative to the twentieth-century welfare state. And as the responsibility for deficit spending shifted from the state to the household, the private debt obligations of family were defined as foundational to socio-economic order. Despite their differences, neoliberals and social conservatives were in agreement that the bonds of family needed to be encouraged – and at the limit enforced – as a necessary counterpart to market freedom. Only by restoring the question of family to its central place in the neoliberal project, she argues, can we make sense of the defining political alliance of our times, that between free-market economics and social conservatism.

About the Speakers: Cooper
Melinda Cooper graduated from the University of Paris VIII in 2001.Her research focuses on the broad areas of social studies of finance, biomedical economies, neoliberalism and new social conservatisms. She has recently completed a manuscript Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism, to be published in Zone Book’s Near Futures series. She is one of the editors of the Journal of Cultural Economy and (with Martijn Konings) of the Duke University Press book series Transactions: Critical Studies in Finance, Economy and Theory.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]
Monday 10 April 2017, 1 - 2pm
Speakers: Alex Page (Sociology and Social Policy, the University of Sydney)
Discussant: Gaynor Macdonald (Sociology and Social Policy, the University of Sydney)
Topic: Speaking back to ‘Advancement’: Engaging in critical policy analysis with Aboriginal community-run organisations in Western Sydney

The Commonwealth government’s introduction of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy in 2014 brought a mass-upheaval for many Indigenous community-run organisations. The voices and perspectives of Aboriginal service providers, advocacy groups, and title holders were not consulted prior to this implementation. Despite ongoing challenges by many parties up to 2017, the Commonwealth continues to be “listening, but not hearing” (Davis, 2015) demands to alter these arrangements. This paper responds to the one-sided accountability of the Commonwealth’s ‘Advancement’ era by emphasising the responses of several Indigenous Sector organisations in Western Sydney to this change. In working in the location of the largest urban Aboriginal population in New South Wales, this research highlights specific effects of such a blanket-style regime to a particular space/time, and how organisations adapt and reflexively overcome new impediments to service delivery. I argue that listening to the voices of Indigenous service delivery professionals affected by top-down policy is vital to transforming the state-sector relationship in Australia, highlighting significant policy issues within neoliberal settler colonial states regarding Indigenous rights to self-governance in the twenty first century. Undertaking sociological research that works with several Aboriginal community organisations has the capacity to record current relations, and to speak back to top-down policy regimes of “guardianship” (Sanders, 2014) through evidence of Indigenous political capacity and agency, organisational success, and on-going self-determination, despite these governmental constraints.

About the Speakers: Page
Alex Page  completed a Bachelor of Social Science (Honours, First Class) with a thesis titled Indigenous Peoples and the Settler-State in Twenty First Century Australia in 2012. His research focused on the dynamic between the Australian Settler-State and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activists/advocates in the regional city of Townsville, North Queensland. In 2014, Alex began his PhD in Sociology at the University of Sydney, with a focus on Aboriginal community organisations and their relationships with Australian government structures. Since 2013, he has undertaken academic teaching as both tutor and guest lecturer in sociology and socio-legal studies, receiving a Dean’s Citation for Excellence in Tutorials with Distinction from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in 2015. Alex was the Higher Degree by Research Representative for the School of Social and Political Sciences 2015-16.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]
Monday 15 May 2017, 1 - 2 pm
Speakers: Elisabeth Valiente_Riedl (Sociology and Social Policy, the University of Sydney)
Topic: Cash-register Advocacy: A view from the lived experiences of Australian Ethical Consumers

This research problematises the scope for advocacy through ethical consumption. Adopting a qualitative methodology, ethical consumer’s perceptions and experiences are documented. This permits a grounded examination of the advocacy/consumption nexus, including consumer’s relative prioritisation of (competing) ethical values and practices relative to traditional consumption concerns. It also assesses opportunities and constraints in ethical markets more broadly. Pushing beyond the dominant measures associated with evaluating market-based advocacy, including market growth metrics and analyses of impacts on associated production processes, this research evaluates the scope for advocacy and learning in ethical markets, through the eyes of Australian ethical consumers.

About the Speakers: Elisabeth
Elisabeth Valiente-Riedl's research focuses on the impact of ethical trade initiatives that lie at the nexus of corporate social responsibility and consumer movements. Elisabeth is currently examining the impact of the fair trade market in coffee on marginalised producers in Papua New Guinea. She is also involved in collaborative research projects evaluating the evolution of a human rights-based approach to development.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]
Monday 17 July 2017, 1 - 2 pm
Speakers: Catriona Elder (Sociology and Social Policy, the University of Sydney)
Topic: At Home, Overseas: military postings overseas and (inter)national perspectives

This paper analyses the tensions between twentieth century Australia’s increasingly cosmopolitan and modern links with the Asia-Pacific region, the United States and the world, and the continuation of an older national identity that harkened back to its British origins. The central argument challenges popular understanding of twentieth-century Australia as a parochial backwater. To make this point the paper traces what I (along with my co-researchers) call ‘everyday internationalism’ — that is, the ways in which ordinary Australians encountered the wider world in their daily lives.

The paper focuses on international experiences in the form of the overseas military posting. From the end of World War II, as part of an occupation force in in Japan and then through the Malaya and Korean conflicts the Australian military were engaged in international endeavours that saw large numbers of troops and, although in smaller numbers, their families, stationed overseas. Examining the interpersonal experiences of Australian military families, particularly women, the paper provides a different reading of the international than is seen in the dominant military (and masculine) accounts of Australian involvement in Asia. Drawing upon interviews with military families, the paper examines how they experienced life in unfamiliar environments. Using this case study the paper presents an argument that suggests there were serious contradictions between an Australian fascination with the idea of worldliness and a suspicion of the ‘foreign’ and non-white. It challenges the popular historical assessment of twentieth-century Australians as xenophobic and isolationist on the one hand or multi-cultural and integrationist on the other. Instead the argument is that a more complex analysis is required.

About the Speakers: Weinfeld
Catriona Elder's areas of research expertise are in 20th- 21st century Australian cultural identity, especially relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Australia. In particular she has intensively explored some of the ways in which non-Indigenous peoples think about belonging and has analysed both the pleasure and anxiety that inform narratives of national belonging. Specific projects have focused on assimilation in popular fiction; whiteness and government immigration and Indigenous policy in the 1950s and 1960s. This work has drawn on and contributed to the development of Critical Whiteness Studies and Settler Colonial Studies in Australia.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]
Monday 21 August 2017, 1 - 2 pm
Speakers: Sujatha Fernandes (Sociology and Social Policy, the University of Sydney)
Topic: Curated Stories: The Uses and Misuses of Storytelling

Storytelling has proliferated today, from TED Talks and Humans of New York to a plethora of story-coaching agencies and consultants. Heartbreaking accounts of poverty, mistreatment, and struggle may move us deeply. But what do they move us to do? And what are the stakes in the crafting and use of storytelling?

In Curated Stories, Sujatha Fernandes considers the rise of storytelling alongside the broader shift to neoliberal, free-market economies. She argues that stories have been reconfigured to promote entrepreneurial self-making and restructured as easily digestible soundbites mobilized toward utilitarian ends. Fernandes roams the globe and returns with stories from the Afghan Women's Writing Project, the domestic worker and undocumented student legislative campaigns in the United States, and the Misión Cultura project in Venezuela. She shows how the conditions under which stories are told, the tropes through which they are narrated, and the ways in which they are responded to may actually disguise the deeper contexts of global inequality. Curated stories shift the focus away from structural problems and defuse the confrontational politics of social movements.

Not just a critical examination of the contemporary use of narrative and its wider impact on our collective understanding of pressing social issues, Curated Stories also explores how storytelling might be reclaimed to allow for the complexity of experience to be expressed in pursuit of transformative social change.

About the Speakers: Fernandes
Sujatha Fernandes has a PhD from the University of Chicago and taught at the City University of New York for a decade. Her research combines social theory and political economy with in-depth, engaged ethnography of global social and labor movements. Her latest book entitled, Curated Stories: The Uses and Misuses of Storytelling is published by Oxford University Press. Fernandes is a former member of the Princeton Society of Fellows and holds a visiting position at the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics at the CUNY Graduate Center.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]
Monday 18 September 2017, 1 - 2 pm
Speakers: Leah Williams Veazey (Sociology and Social Policy, the University of Sydney)
Topic: Migrant maternal home-building and online communities

Mothers in migration studies are often viewed in relation to their partner (as dependents, trailing spouses or marriage migrants), in relation to their children (helping/hindering their integration, or mothering them “at a distance” as they travel to seek work), or as part of a global care chain. Rarely are migrant mothers viewed in relation to each other, building networks of mutual support, friendships and collective transnational maternal identities.

This paper draws on my PhD research with migrant mothers in Sydney and Melbourne, to explore the role of online communities in their experiences of migration, motherhood and identity. Placing my data in conversation with Ghassan Hage’s 1997 essay, “At home in the entrails of the west,” I will explore how Hage’s concepts of nostalgia as a settlement strategy, and his “affective building blocks” of feeling ‘at home,’ resonate (or not) with the experiences of the women in this study. Twenty years after its publication, this paper reconsiders Hage’s essay through a focus on gender and motherhood, information, and the internet, and considers the possibilities of collective nostalgia as a community-building practice.

About the Speakers: Veazey
Leah Williams Veazey moved to Sydney in 2013. She attained a first class BA (Hons) degree in French & German from Queens’ College, University of Cambridge and an MSc in Migration from Queen Mary, University of London. Both dissertations at undergraduate and postgraduate level received first class marks, and her MSc dissertation on diasporic women writers received the inaugural Martin Paisner prize. She has over a decade’s experience of working in non-profit communications and information services, focusing on health organisations and the women’s sector. Holding a professional qualification in online community management, she has recently specialised in managing online communities and social media for charities. Her research interests include migration, motherhood, citizenship and identity, online communities and social networking.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]
Monday 16 October 2017, 1 - 2 pm
Speakers: Karl Maton (Sociology and Social Policy, University of Sydney)
Topic: What the hell is LCT?”: Introducing Legitimation Code Theory and the work of the LCT Centre

Knowledge-building is central to modern societies. It is widely argued that the complex problems facing humanity in the 21st century require multidisciplinary expertise to answer. In turn, these answers must keep pace with accelerating social change. Bringing together different disciplines and building knowledge through time are central concerns of Legitimation Code Theory or LCT, a multidisciplinary approach and rapidly-growing international community.

LCT offers an innovative way of thinking about knowledge practices that reaches beneath surface appearances to explore their underlying principles – it reveals the DNA of knowledge. Scholars and practitioners, overwhelmingly in the southern hemisphere, are using LCT to reveal the tacit principles embodied by knowledge practices, their differing forms and effects. Those findings are being used to transform research, curriculum and pedagogy, with tangible impacts in fields as diverse as education, law and the armed forces.

In 2016 the University of Sydney created the ‘LCT Centre for Knowledge-Building’ to ensure its centrality to this quickly expanding field. In this talk I draw on a series of major ARC projects to discuss why LCT was developed, how scholars and educators are adopting the approach, and ways it complements traditional sociological approaches to knowledge and education.

About the Speakers: Maton
Karl Maton is Director of the "LCT Centre for Knowledge-Building"at the University of Sydney. Karl is the creator of Legitimation Code Theory (LCT), which is being widely used to shape research and practice in education, sociology and linguistics. LCT is now an international and multidisciplinary community, including scholars in Australia, China, Europe, South Africa, South America, the UK and the USA, among others. There is a friendly and highly active community of LCT postgraduates and postdoctoral researchers at the University of Sydney, including: S-Club, a weekly data analysis workshop; LCT Roundtable, an internationally-renowned fortnightly seminar series; and LCT-OG, a self-organised PhD support group.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]