Sociologic #4: The 2016 fed election & Pauline Hanson

cover170x170It is hard to imagine that a few months have already passed since the federal election.

One of the reasons that it feels so recent is that it was only just decided. In fact, the  Senate puzzle was only sorted over the last week.

There are many talking points that emerge from the election – key amongst them being the re-rise of Pauline Hanson and her ‘One Nation’ Party.

For those of us who see the future of Australia as diverse, integrated, progressive and enlightened, the re-emergence of One Nation is concerning. Pauline Hanson has shown herself as an opportunist who is revisiting hateful rhetoric: moving from ‘Asians’ – the source of her fear-mongering 20 years ago – to ‘Muslims’ – the target of her campaigning today.

The absurdity of her statements cannot be over emphasised.

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Moral licensing: insights into personal justifications…

Sourced from the world wide web

Sourced from the world wide web


I am not sure if you have heard of the concept of ‘moral licensing’.

It is a fascinating concept and refers to the idea that if you do something positive – such as voting for the first black president of the United States, or go to the gym first thing in the morning, or march for reconciliation or the rights of refugees – then you may well be more likely to be able to justify immoral behaviour. As a consequence, you then more likely to make immoral choices! (See Business Insider for an interesting discussion.)

This is the focus of a podcast by one of my favourite authors, Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell has written some outstanding books including my personal favourite, Outliers. (If you have not read Outliers, it is seriously a must read.)

In his new podcast Revisionist History, Gladwell goes back and reinterprets “something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood.”

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A scholarly life: reflecting on my week


Student notes from my presentation at Inspire Sydney 2016

Over the last week I have been fortunate enough to be involved in three inspiring events that have me reflecting on the life I get to lead as an educator and scholar – or a ‘scholarly life’ as I have heard it described.

The first event was the Inspire Sydney 2016 conference aimed at higher degree research students and was organised by the five Sydney-based universities. Over 250 students attended including many from outside Sydney.

The focus of the conference was on how to build a career in both academia and beyond. The message was clear: a career cannot be thought of in isolation but is part of a balanced scholarly life. I was so impressed with the students: their passion, their ethics, their insightfulness.

The second event was the Senior Management Conference of Western Sydney University looking at thriving in a time of uncertainty. While the focus was on the university itself, we undertook a whole of sector analysis.

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Brexit: Musings from a progressive non-expert…

BrexitThe decision of the majority of the population to leave the European Union – or the so-called ‘Brexit’ – has sent shockwaves around the world.


It seems that very few people expected this to actually happen: even the leaders of the ‘leave’ campaign felt that they did not expect to win.


Many people have written about what it means and the likely economic, social and political consequences. We have already seen the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, resign. Many in the extreme right across Europe have started celebrating as they see this as the demise of the European Union with the rise of ultra nationalism emerging – something that allows right wing parties to flourish.

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



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

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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