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  • On being a poster girl for ‘being positive in the face of adversity’

    Posted on February 4, 2016

    Dr Kirsten Harley writes:

    Those of you who inhabit the intertubes may have seen the powerful #fadingsymphony campaign for MND, in which the fabulous Tim Minchin and SSO perform Neil Finn’s ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ as a metaphor for the relentless and fatal series of bodily losses that is motor neurone disease (MND). (If you haven’t yet seen it, get thee to, where a small – or large – donation also enables you to hear the crescendoing resumption of the song, metaphorically describing the hope that research will one day lead to a cure).

    The website also features a couple of behind-the-scenes videos, one of which is a beautifully edited snippet from a long chat between Tim Minchin and lucky me, interspersed with each of us talking-to-camera. Unsurprisingly, the video doesn’t feature our discussion of Matilda (brilliant!), or US vs Australian health care and politics, or the exciting rare allergies that have further complicated my life of late.

    Instead, I mention a few of the physical challenges, the difference made by the MND association and our lovely support team, and share my excellent neurologist Dominic Rowe’s advice about concentrating on living each day, rather than dwelling on a dark future; and we see Tim being impressed at my capacity to remain positive, along with some humour and his observations about the human condition.

    It wasn’t until I sent the link to the wonderful Sally Daly in the TASA office that I noticed the caption summarising our chat as ‘the importance of staying positive in the face of adversity’. This doesn’t at all misconstrue my personal approach to living with MND but did nonetheless prompt reflection.

    I’m still working through this, but suspect aspects of my sociological self help account for both my niggling discomfort at being seen to advocate positivity for those dealing with crap and the fact that I am, a fair bit of the time, positive (despite dealing with crap).

    I think my discomfort stems in part from concern about the negative effects of powerful discourses of morally superior, and by implication inferior, ways to ‘do’ disability, or serious/terminal illness. Is there a risk that if/when people (including, potentially, me) ‘give up’, or don’t ‘fight’, or explode with spiteful fury, or can’t bear to accept help, or grumble about their pain – all quite understandable and legitimate responses – they will be judged as failures?

    I’m also aware that I’m supporting narratives that emphasise the difference between those of us living with MND and those not living with MND. MND does make a real (and huge!) difference, and I don’t apologise for pointing that out for the sake of attracting awareness, support and research dollars. But here, also, is there a risk of compromising the hard work of disability activists for equality, instead encouraging pity or patronising exclusion?

    My very capacity for ‘a positive attitude’, more specifically, for me, for gratitude, is also linked to my sociological knowledge. My working understanding of probability and statistics, along with awareness that the world is not fair, I think helped avoid my being swamped by the question that often accompanies serious diagnoses, ‘Why me?’.  (Disclosure: I have had occasional flashes of this, typically framed as why us now, when our daughter is still young; and there are certainly moments I don’t treasure).

    I’m also aware of how very ‘lucky’ (or privileged) I am (Tim Minchin’s UWA graduation address is great on this). My privileged status as a white, educated, urban, (until recently) employed Australian is, after all, also a potential catalyst for the question ‘Why me?’.

    Shortly before my first symptoms took me to my great local GP, colleagues Karen Willis, Stephanie Short and Fran Collyer, plus Jon Gabe and Mike Calnan, were awarded an ARC grant about How Australians navigate the healthcare maze. (Yes, irony). Our theorisation of healthcare choice is borrowed from the work of Pierre Bourdieu. As I reflected on different aspects of capital I could only be grateful for the way my background, family, friends, education, jobs and geography have all helped equip me to deal with both the healthcare system – getting me, with hardly any explicit choice or effort on my part, to one of the best and loveliest MND specialists in the world, and his talented multidisciplinary team – and the other challenges of living with MND.

    I have much to be grateful for and feel positive about: my gorgeous family and the beautiful people around us; the expert care we receive; the support provided by my university (and Unisuper) as I transitioned out of work; the experienced, kind staff at the MND association; my capacity to ask questions and engage with researchers and research; the fact that I am able to get out of the house; social media and technology that help me remain connected; the opportunities I’ve been given to raise awareness about this disease; and the many small joys that accompany my everyday life. Imagine remaining positive if things were otherwise. Read more…

  • A day in the life of an Applied Sociologist

    Posted on February 3, 2016

    This is our first post in what we hope will be a series of posts on the topic of ‘Applied Sociology’ which will give people some insight into the ways in which sociology is used to address and solve problems. We are seeking sociologists who work in industry, public service, commercial or private enterprise, NGOs, and so on, to provide us with some insight into your roles and responsibilities beyond the traditional academic teaching and/or research role within universities. Please contact if you would like to contribute!

    Mithzay Pomenta writes:

    My name is Mithzay Pomenta, owner and consultant at Fossickpoint. I use Sociology and Semiotics to design visual communication and deliver personal development and mental health. In my practice I help clients identify, understand, and better manage problems within their social environments, whether in personal relationships, community or professional settings.

    Read more…

  • Neoliberalism, Apocalypse and Activism – Sociology of Religion at #TASA2015

    Posted on January 20, 2016

    Dr Rosemary Hancock and Dr Anna Halafoff write:

    The TASA 2015 conference theme, Neoliberalism and contemporary challenges for the Asia-Pacific, saw many of the plenary speakers and panellists addressing the perceived ills neoliberalism has brought to Australian and global societies. The dominance of an economic mindset, the trend towards individualism, the atomisation of society were all addressed by sociologists from a range of fields.

    Read more…

  • #TASA2015 and the Case for Political Economy in Our Sociological Imagination

    Posted on January 19, 2016

    Anoushka Benbow-Buitenhuis, Sociology of Economic Life Thematic Group, (RMIT University)

    In 1959, C.W. Mills coined the term ‘sociological imagination’ to illustrate how sociologists can provide unique insight via a broad analysis of the social. Via this critical process, we can remove our selves from everyday life, seeing the social in the personal. This year’s TASA conference focused on neoliberalism and how it has effected the Asia-Pacific. Through stepping back and thinking “ourselves away” from the milieu, we approached this problem via many sociological frameworks that addressed a variety of structural, agential, empirical and theoretical topics. However, over the course of the conference, I could not help but notice a succinct trend within each of the presentations. Despite the diversity of the lenses being used the view the issues at hand, we were mostly discussing the systemic problems of a late modernity that overly favoured elite interests and economic rationalities.

    Let me explain this via some examples. Read more…

  • TASA’s Response to PM’s Statement on Innovation

    Posted on December 9, 2015

    The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) broadly supports a renewed emphasis on innovation and cross-sector research, but has concerns that the Federal Government’s apparent focus on the economy, and partnerships between universities and business, neglects the opportunity to encourage an ‘ideas boom’ with impact beyond science and the economy.

    TASA President Associate Professor Katie Hughes explained:

    “The definition of innovation must include social as well as technical innovation. Projects that create new opportunities for strengthening communities enhancing resilience, social inclusion, equity and respect are essential for Australia’s future social and economic flourishing. Such projects hold the potential for a more sustained and dynamic change than any narrow focus on commercialization or economic impact.” Read more…

  • Sociology and the 2015 ERA results

    Posted on December 7, 2015

    Jo Lindsay writes:

    The ARC have released the 2015 ERA results and the full report can be found here.

    As a discipline, we have impressive reach across institutions – 27 Higher Ed institutions across the country submitted information on Sociology – more submitted under sociology than any other social science or ‘Studies in human society’ discipline area. Sociology reported the highest research income in the group too with just over $90million.

    We are second only to Politics in terms of number of staff included in the ERA assessment (476 FTE) and total number of outputs (4992). Read more…

  • #TASA2015: Thoughts and Thanks from a Postgrad Delegate

    Posted on December 2, 2015

    [By popular acclamation, #TASA2015 in Cairns was a resounding success. We’re hoping to keep its wonderful #socmed momentum going by switching from tweeting to blogging. First up is Christian Mauri, a doctoral student from Murdoch University in Perth.

    If you’d like to blog your TASA2015 conference experience, please email Dr Mark Bahnisch, TASA Blog Editor, at this address ]

    Christian Mauri writes:

    I just arrived back home in Perth, smelling like a week in the tropics topped off by a plane ride in dirty bamboo socks. My last day in Cairns was spent on a hostel couch, where I slept and stewed in a climate which a bunch of people were right to call oppressive. Now that I’m back I feel refreshed and refurnished, renewed by the tropical weather. I was in Queensland for the annual conference of The Australian Sociology Association (TASA). Though I’ve been to sociology conferences before, I can safely say that this one, my first with TASA, was the best one. What follows are some of the thoughts I saw drifting above yesterday’s couch.

    Lessons from #TASA2015

    Read more…

  • Seeking refuge in a sea of troubles

    Posted on November 19, 2015

    Andrew Jakubowicz, University of Technology Sydney

    During September, while Europe was experiencing the ever-intensifying movement of populations from the Middle East and Africa fleeing natural and human calamities, I was on a field trip to China. My contact with the crisis came from the constantly recycling footage on BBC and CNN, topped up with China Daily reports, and occasionally an online hit from the ABC. Read more…

  • Why grant wins hurt us all

    Posted on November 13, 2015

    Dr Kay Cook writes:
    When the ARC Discovery project funding was announced, I was among the lucky few who read their name on the outcomes table. But my reaction was not one of elation, but a strange mixture of pride and guilt. Grant success: I’m doing it wrong!

    I’ve spent the time since the announcement trying to figure out why this was the case, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s not something wrong with me (well, not related to grant funding, anyway), but that there’s something terribly wrong with the funding system, especially for women and early career researchers.

    The success rate for this year’s Discovery projects was 17.7 per cent and for DECRA projects, 16.4 per cent. As a successful DP applicant, I was among the lucky few. But these figures hide two other tales. One is of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of investigators who were unsuccessful and received no acknowledgement of the time and effort spent preparing their applications. For these researchers, the opportunity costs are enormous. Not only do they have no grant to show for their efforts, but they have also forgone months of time that could have been spent writing publications or seeking other, smaller scale funding. This is wasted time and a lack of output that only further hampers their future ARC efforts. Read more…

  • Blog Editor

    Posted on November 6, 2015

    The TASA blog was launched in January, 2015.  In June 2015, Mark Bahnisch was appointed as blog editor.  TASA members are invited to contribute to the blog space via

  • Raewyn Connell on the Logic & Practice of Writing For Research

    Posted on October 22, 2015

    Raewyn Connell writes:

    Myths and realities

    There are two great myths that distort our picture of writing – one old, one new.

    The old myth is that writing is simply a matter of genius and inspiration.  Someone blessed with the gift sits down on a fine morning with pen in hand, the ghostly Muse whispers in his or her ear, and a brilliant text springs forth.  No-one understands how.  All we can do is gasp in admiration – and hope that the Muse will whisper in our ear, next time.

    The new myth is less poetic.  It arose in the brains of neoliberal managers and reflects their obsession with competition.  In this myth, writing is no more than a marketable product, which dedicated individuals manufacture and sell in their competitive struggle for achievement.  The best profits, in terms of prestige and promotion, come from targeting the highly-cited journals.

    Both myths have enough contact with reality to seem plausible – at times.  Much writing is actually done by someone sitting down alone with a pen or computer and agonizing over their ideas.  Increasingly, writing for research is published through a competitive and commercialized industry.

    But both those myths distort the reality of writing, in dangerous ways.  Read more…

  • Abyan, reproductive justice and human rights

    Posted on October 21, 2015

    Kate Galloway writes:

    I have rarely seen such a retweeted story in my timeline as Guardian Australia’s story about the secret repatriation to Nauru of the asylum seeker known as ‘Abyan’. This Somali refugee is pregnant, allegedly as a consequence of rape on Nauru. She begged to be brought to Australia for a termination and in the face of a widespread campaign, the Australian government did bring her here.

    According to her lawyer, George Newhouse, she sought counselling before consenting to any medical treatment. Guardian Australia reports that in doing so, the Australian government took her failure to consent immediately as a refusal of treatment. While her lawyers were bringing an application for an injunction before the Federal Court, the Australian government chartered a flight and flew Abyan back to Nauru.

    Abortion is illegal in Nauru. Read more…

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