Sydney School of Education and Social Work events – 2017 Archive

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Social Justice Seminar Series


31 October 2017

A joint presentation by the Sydney School of Education and Social Work Social Policy, and School and Teacher Education Policy research networks

What do we mean when we talk about social justice and how should we proceed?

Terms such as, “social justice”, “diversity”, “equity” and “inclusion” are in common use in universities, but they are not always used with clarity or precision. Sometimes they describe well-developed plans and actions. Occasionally they represent little more than progressive chic. In any case it is time for some serious examination of what we mean when we talk about social justice – and of how we might attempt to act in socially just ways. This series of fortnightly seminars aims to deepen our collective understanding of social justice by addressing a range of pressing problems from teaching, research and community engagement in the areas of education and social work. The presentations will be critical and questioning, and hopefully push beyond the language of feel-good vision statements in order to encourage hard thinking and serious agenda setting about the practices and politics of inequality.

Fieldwork as political activism – how social justice comes to matter

In her opening presentation for this series, Raewyn Connell proposed that we think of justice as a direction of movement in the social processes that constitute history: towards equality, respect and inclusion. In this presentation, I explore some of the implications of this challenge in my research, which studies how privilege is delivered for some through the material and discursive practices of schooling. My ethnographic research practice entails a movement – going into the field. In this presentation, I discuss how working with Karen Barad’s (2007) agential realist ontology is making me think differently about this movement and the kind of difference going in the field makes. Barad argues that it is not a difference that can be traced to my intentions, but a difference that comes to matter and that emerges through how research practices ‘cut the world apart’ into specific material phenomena. I discuss examples from my ethnographies of schooling, both completed and ongoing projects, that examine how fieldwork takes the form of an ethical obligation to intra-act in the field in ways that ‘contest and rework what matters and what is excluded from mattering’ (p. 235).


• Barad, Karen. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and
  the entanglement of matter and meaning.
Durham: Duke University Press.

Presenter: Debra Hayes

On settler notions of social justice – the importance of disrupting and displacing colonising narratives

“I am responsible only when, through my initiative, I challenge my specific community and its traditions, because such challenges affect the whole humanity. My responsibility fills the gap between my community and the world.” — Annabel Herzog, 2004, p52

In the above quote, political theorist Annabel Herzog evocatively describes applying Hannah Arendt’s work on responsibility. Working with this description, we ask, could universities better engage in social justice with Aboriginal people if responsibility meant the welcoming of initiatives that might challenge the university and its traditions?

Universities have a unique responsibility to social justice with Aboriginal peoples. Yet how are notions of responsibility put to use alongside social justice with Aboriginal peoples and their communities? Here responsibility can all too easily be founded on colonising settler assumptions. This Arendtian idea of responsibility offers a way to embrace responsibility as challenging the traditions that are given in the university community; the taken for granted that maintain continuation of specific forms of [settler] privilege. This settler privilege is evident in the reality that teaching standards and research projects are funded and determined predominantly by the commonwealth to be delivered and driven by universities that are borne out of two centuries of dispossessing colonisation, and therefore run the risk of being sucked back into the mainstreamed system (Castagno 2014; Ladson-Billings & Tate 2006). Consequently, research projects intended to disrupt and displace settler narratives of social justice run the risk of continuing to privilege the ideals of the university rather than fulfilling the university’s social justice responsibilities with Aboriginal people and communities.

This presentation will explore ways in which universities can work alongside Aboriginal peoples and their communities. We will argue that privileging these narratives is crucial to disrupting and displacing settler-colonising narratives. In so doing, the university has the opportunity to find a new path to telling the truth and fulfilling its responsibility of social justice to Aboriginal communities.


• Castagno, A.E. (2014). Educated in Whiteness: Good Intentions and Diversity in Schools, Minnesota
   University Press, Minneapolis, MN.
• Herzog, A. (2004). 'Hannah Arendt’s Concept of Responsibility'. Studies in Social and Philosophical Thought
   Vol 10, 39-52.
• Ladson-Billings, G. & Tate, W. (2006). ‘Toward a critical race theory of education’, in A. Dimon &
   C. Rousseau (eds), Critical race theory in education: All God’s children got a song, New York,
   NY: Routledge, pp. 1130.

Presenters: Valerie Harwood and Sheelagh Daniels-Mayes

Event details

  • When: 4–5.30pm

  • Where: Room 612, Education Building A35, Manning Rd, University of Sydney
    Education Building A35
    Click image for interactive map.

  • Cost: Free

  • RSVP: Not necessary

  • Contact:

    Dr Kelly Freebody

    Professor Donna Baines

    Associate Professor Susan Goodwin

    Associate Professor Helen Proctor

  • More info: View the topics and speakers for the entire series of seminars on the Social Policy Research Network events website or the School and Teacher Education Policy Research Network events website.

  • Speakers: Debra Hayes is an associate professor in the Sydney School of Education and Social Work at The University of Sydney. Her research involves long-term, close-focused, embedded research in schools and classrooms in contexts where there are high levels of poverty and difference. This type of research—ethnographies of schooling— forms the backbone of her research program. Dr Hayes's most recent co-authored books are: Literacy, leading and learning: beyond pedagogies of poverty (2017, Routledge) and Re-imagining Schooling For Education: Socially Just Alternatives (2017, Palgrave Macmillan).

    Valerie Harwood is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Professor of Sociology and Anthropology of Education, Sydney School of Education and Social Work, The University of Sydney. Her research is centred on a social and cultural analysis of access and participation in educational futures.

    Sheelagh Daniels-Mayes is a Kamilaroi woman who joined the Sydney School of Education and Social Work in 2017 as a Fellow in the Wingara Mura Leadership Program and is a lecturer and researcher in Aboriginal education. In 2016, Sheelagh completed her doctorate, Culturally Responsive Pedagogies of Success: Improving Educational Outcomes for Australian Aboriginal Students, at the University of South Australia. She has studied in the areas of education, criminology and psychology.

Social Justice Seminar Series

Where Room 612, Education Building A35, Manning Rd, University of Sydney
Education Building A35
Click image for interactive map.


31 October 2017

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