Western Sydney: existing for 365 days a year… not just during elections

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In a fantastic piece written for Fairfax, columnists Peter Hartcher presents a compelling argument for the decline of Malcolm Turnbull’s popularity. He argues that there are two types of leaders:

  • Standard transactional leaders: that it, you vote for me and I will give you something; and
  • Transformational leaders: those that want to change the structures and shape of society.

According to Hartcher, Turnbull came to us as a transformational leader and has now proven himself to be a standard, run-of-the-mill transactional leader. In this way, Hartcher argues that there is nothing separating Bill Shorten from Malcolm Turnbull.

The last truly transformational leader, argues Hartcher, was Gough Whitlam – and no where is this truer than in Western Sydney. Whitlam saw the potential for the arc that is now described as greater western Sydney.

Every election, I get phone calls from media who are wondering what the people from the west are thinking. I keep on making the point that this is an incredibly diverse area and there is a complexity here that is rarely, if ever, captured by our political leaders.

I have been at Western Sydney University for almost 10 years and I have noticed a massive change in the region. While we all welcome announcements that improve the quality of life in greater western Sydney, many folk rightly ask: ‘why has it taken you until now to do this?’

In other words: an announcement about infrastructure is not doing the West any favours. Rather, it is simply a government doing what it was elected to do: serve the cultural, social and economic needs of the people. Continue reading

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Vanishing Point: The latest work by Luke Cornish (ELK)

xgdub6vpbegcqjs85zmvThe following essay is part of the Catalogue for the amazing Luke Cornish’s (ELK) latest work: Vanishing Point.

Luke is an amazing artist whose work has moved from the street into the gallery and back again. I have been honoured to work with Luke before and have written about his ability to reflect society through his art (essay is here).

His latest work takes us into the city… how we can vanish… it is must see work… I hope you enjoy the essay…

 

Vanishing Point: an essay reflecting on the work of Luke Cornish

It is easy to vanish in a big city. I do not mean disappear or go missing, but be lost and anonymous amongst the flowing tides of people.

Cities have now become the place where most of humanity lives. In the middle of 2009, the number of people living in urban centres surpassed those that live in rural areas. Across the world, people are drawn towards cities: sometimes by choice, and sometimes because of displacement. This is a trend that resulted in the emergence of 34 megacities across the world: that is, metropolitan areas with a population in excess of ten million people. They can emerge as a single city expands or when two or more metropolitan areas converge.

How should we understand these trends?

For some, it is a source of despair as cities are seen as alienating, promoting a sense of isolation and exclusion. Despite living in an environment where we are surrounded by millions – and sometimes tens of millions – social commentators such as Robert Putnum1 argue that we have never been more alone and unable to experience meaningful social contact.

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Invasion: and why ‘Get over it’ is the dumbest response to Australian colonialism

cover170x170When I was at school and we did history lessons, we learnt that Australia was an ’empty land’ and that it ‘belonged to no-one – a terra nulls. Yes, there were Aboriginal people here but they were considered nomadic, uncivilised and as they had not started traditional farming as Europeans recognised, they had no relationship to the land.

Europeans, we were taught, came and brought civilisation to the land and the people!

While embarrassing to admit this now, this was very much the popular view of history. That is, until the inspiring Eddy Koiki Mabo challenged this view in the High Court Australia and in 1992 won with six of the seven High Court judges upholding the claim that this continent were not terra nulls.

This ‘formally’ changed the understanding of history: this was a land occupied by many nations of indigenous people who lived here for millennia. Ever since then, Australia has struggled to come to terms with how to respond: some have been hostile, many indifferent and others – both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – passionate on finding a place of reconciliation.

If the land was occupied, then the peaceful settlement I learnt about was a fiction and this was an invasion: a colonial displacement. The indigenous population has not only been displaced, but there is evidence of frontiers wars, murders, slaughters and enslavement.

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Sociologic Melbourne Book Launch… 22 March 2016

CoverAnnouncing the Melbourne book launch of Sociologic….

Why are there pirates in the supermarket? How do we understand our cultural obsession with cars? Should you trust a doctor that you know well? Why did I take lamb to my first lecture?

If you are in Melbourne 22 March, please come along to the book launch of Sociologic: Analysing Everyday Life and Culture.

Details are as follows:

  • Date: Tuesday, 22 March 2016
  • Time: 5pm for 5.30 (finished by 7.00)
  • Location: Deakin City Campus:
    • 3rd Floor, Deloitte Building,
    • 550 Bourke Street
  • Launched by:
    • Professor Emeritus Gary Bouma
    • Dr Ben Eltham
    • Dr Anna Halafoff •
    • Professor James Arvanitakis

Join us for drinks and canapés 

 

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The complexity of progress…

IMG_1460One of my favourite contemporary philosophers is Ronald Wright, who wrote an amazing book called A Short History of Progress (2005).

In this book, Wright challenges the concept of progress by showing that civilisations throughout history have believed that they have progressed from primitive to advanced states only to eventually collapse. He uses some excellent examples but ends by focusing on our contemporary society.

His point is that we are probably the most advanced society ever known in the history of humanity: we send people to the moon, have advanced computer games, and know how to control our environment through irrigation and cloud seeding. Despite this, we do not have the social or political will to solve some of the biggest challenges we are facing: global warming, poverty, starvation, war and conflict. This is the case even if the solutions seem obvious. For example, it would take a fraction of the world’s military expenditure to adequately house and feed the world’s population.

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Sociologic: Symbolic Violence and the ‘Noble Savage’

So here i34222014_ms a challenging one – which I must say, I find very confronting!

Last month Coalition MP Dennis Jensen controversially told Parliament he does not think the Government should be funding people to live a ‘noble savage’ lifestyle in remote Indigenous c
ommunities.

Say what???

To label Indigenous Australians as ‘noble savages’ – particularly in 2016 – is deeply offensive (or as Sociologists may say, is an act of symbolic violence). To suggest that the decision to live in remote communities is a ‘lifestyle choice’ ignores the deep-rooted and intrinsic relationship Indigenous Australians have to their country: something that has been well outlined and researched in many reports including some great work by Amnesty International

Mr Jensen’s words echo previous comments made by Mr Tony Abbott (who was then PM) when he backed a plan to close more than 100 remote Indigenous communities in Western Australia.
In Dr Nikki Moodie’s chapter on ‘Aboriginal Australia’ in Sociologic, she discusses the ways contemporary societies reproduce historical patterns of control and domination on Indigenous people, specifically the ways Western worldviews tend to ignore the social and cultural reality of many Indigenous Australians.

After reading Anna Henderson’s article for the ABC, and having a look at Moodie’s chapter, what do you think?

How does the idea of the ‘noble savage’ reproduce racist assumptions about Aboriginal people?

And – more broadly – how do Jensen’s comments reproduce the historical patterns of control and domination experienced by Indigenous Australians?

james and Alex

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Sociologic: Technological divides in connected cities

IMG_4431Have you done any online shopping, banking, or random googling today? Or have you used Facebook Messenger or email to stay in touch with family, friends or work colleagues? I sure have!

 

Digital technology, indeed, plays a central role in the organisation of our everyday lives. It’s something most of us take for granted.
Dr Justine Humphry (who wrote Chapter 14 ‘Work and Society’ in Sociologic), recently published an article in that looks at the uneven access people have to digital technologies, specifically the everyday struggles faced by those experiencing homelessness to stay digitally connected: “How do we stop people falling through the gaps in a digitally connected city?” – written for The Conversation.

 

Justine explains that for those experiencing homelessness, the risks associated with not having regular, reliable and affordable access to digital technologies, such as mobile phones, can be life threatening.

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Sociologic: Let’s Think Sociologically About the Current Asylum Seeker Debates

IMG_3880Two Mondays ago the High Court controversially rejected a challenge to the Australian Government’s operation of the immigration detention centre on Nauru as unlawful and unconstitutional. The move could see 267 asylum seekers (including 37 babies and 54 children), all of whom are currently residing in Australia, deported to Nauru.

 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who is in agreement with the High Courts decision, told Parliament that the operation ensured: “Our borders are secure. The line has to be drawn somewhere and it is drawn at our border.” 

 

Check out this news coverage: http://www.abc.net.au/…/asylum-seekers-on-nauru-to-…/6828130.

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Paris: How do we react to this madness?

Solidarity for ParisThe events in Paris have left us all feeling bewildered. I, along with the rest of the world, watched in horror as everything unfolded.

 

Though I love Paris – it is a place close to my heart as I have visited a number times, worked there, briefly lived there, certainly enjoyed wine, cheese and food there – it was not the point. The point was the extent of the human tragedy. Paris followed Beirut, and was quickly followed by the attack in Bamako, Mali.

 

As an academic who walks students through their first year of sociology and cultural studies discussing race, violence and colonialism, and at the same time promoting tolerance, diversity and peace, my inbox was swamped with students asking me: How do we understand these events? How should we react? What can I do? What is the way forward or are we doomed to violence and a clash of civilisations.

 

I have been pondering these same questions and here are some thoughts.

 

Firstly, these are not the acts of madmen.

 

These are deliberate acts to undermine the very basis of contemporary society: trust. As I have written before, the famous sociologist Anthony Giddens, writes that modern societies are based on trust: we trust the mechanic to fix our car, the engineer to build a bridge that will not collapse, the pilot to fly us safely home and, most relevant here, we trust the stranger to act like a stranger. The stranger sits quietly on the train or walks past us, and we mutually agree to ignore each other.

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Should a University re-brand?

urlAs many people know, Western Sydney University recently rebranded (we ‘killed the bird’ logo replacing it with a shield and changed our name from University of Western Sydney).

 

This caused outrage in some quarters, mirth in others and a great deal of excitement elsewhere. After watching the debates go round for a few weeks, I noted on my Facebook page that I supported the re-brand: the many reactions reflected this broad range of feelings.

 

Criticisms levelled at the University fell into two broad areas:

 

  1. The amount of money spent on the re-branding; and
  2. Why should a university worry about branding?

Continue reading

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