Wednesday, November 26, 2014

USYD Sociologists at TASA Conference 2014.

Talking about knowledge and education.
Mathew Toll is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney.  He completed his BA (hons) in 2012. His current research is in digital sociology and the sociology of knowledge, looking at the deficit model of public understanding of science, political deliberation and knowledge formation online. 

Abstract: Sociologists often view the authority of knowledge as a reflection of social power. Educational research mirrors with theories that treat knowledge as primarily “knowledge of the powerful” (Young 2009:13).  This study employed conceptual tools from Legitimation Code Theory (Maton 2014) and Systemic Functional Linguistics (Eggins 1994; Martin 1993) to explore university student’s perceptions of knowledge claims and if knowledge is deemed to be shaped both by social relations and epistemic relations.  Sixteen semi-structured interviews were conducted in 2012 for an honours research project with participants from four Sydney based Universities.  Results indicated that students perceive knowledge to have its own organizing principles, its legitimacy and power not reducible to who have the social power to claim knowledge.
Alex 'talking back' to the settler state.
Alexander Page is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney. He completed a BSocSc Hons. (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. His current research embodies urban Aboriginal approaches to service delivery as resistance and reflexivity to the structures constructed by Australian governmentality. This project seeks to understand the role of Indigenous institutions and organisations as mediators; between state expectation and control on the one hand, and the needs of community on the other. Understanding such inter-relationships reveals the dynamics of power existing vertically and horizontally between the state, community organisations and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of Blacktown, Western-Sydney.  His blog can be found here.

Abstract: The positioning of sociology as a critical response to the continued unfolding of colonisation in Australia could not be more vital. The current climate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander politics demands that we take on the modern Settler-State and enduring structures of marginalisation with Indigenous peoples. This paper seeks to provide the reader with some theoretical foundations of a sociology for social justice. Using structures of the Australian Settler-State as the focus of the critique, this paper outlines a paradigm of a critical Indigenous research methodology to challenge state practice. It calls for continued assessment within the contemporary political arena of the Abbott Coalition Government. Such a research paradigm seeks to: critique structures by talking back to power; foster hope for alternate futures by highlighting the possibilities for change through community agency; and aims for research outcomes which provide practical value for Indigenous peoples and their communities in the self-determination movement. Sociologists have the unique research tools, the passion for social justice, and the prime position to speak back to power in a continued effort to change the world for the better.  

Jessica Richards’ research interests broadly focus on the sociology of sport, with a particular emphasis on sport fandom and spatial geography. After graduating from the University of Sydney with a B.A (First Class Hons), she was awarded an Australian Post-Graduate Award to pursue further study in the field of the sociology of sport. Following work experience at a research agency, Jessica is now working full-time on her PhD, and is currently living between England and Australia. In Australia, she tutors in the Sociology and Social Policy department at the University of Sydney. In England, Jessica works as an Honorary PhD Student in the Management School at the University of Liverpool. Twitter: @j_richo1990

Title: ‘Beers, Balls and Banter’: The Maintenance of Gender Boundaries in Sporting Spaces.

Abstract:  This paper argues that sports stadiums are inherently gendered spaces that celebrate and protect physical and cultural representations of masculinity. Although sports stadiums are often read as uncontested or innocent places, this paper considers how they are physically and socially constructed, rather than a void or empty ‘stage’ on which actors perform. Drawing on ethnographic data generated from participant observation and semi-structured interviews collected during observations on Everton football club during the 2012-2014 seasons of Premier League football, this paper explores how the physical and social environment influences and encourages various types of sports fans behaviour within particular locations. It draws its theoretical support from the work of Cohen and his symbolic construction of the ‘boundary’, where the powerful symbolism and collective identity of sport means that it has the potential to reinforce feelings of belonging, providing a source of stability and community. However, at the same time it is these symbolic and collective principals that also have the ability to segregate, exclude, and marginalise. Additionally, the boundaries that surfaced remained tied to wider issues, including how both sports communities internalised the debates surrounding authentic and inauthentic ‘types’ of fandom and sport culture. The importance of physical sporting spaces in maintaining and legitimising the social, cultural, and masculine histories of the localised community and sports team it represents are the focus of this paper. However, whilst sporting spaces reproduce and reinforce normative gendered discourses, this paper also considers how they can also create space for counter hegemonic and resistant practices.

Daniel HedlundJorquera is a PhD Candidate from the University of Stockholm who is a visiting postgraduate researcher at the University of Sydney.

Title: Legislators’ Perceptions about Unaccompanied Minors.

Abstract: This study forms part of a larger PhD thesis project about perceptions about unaccompanied refugee minors in the asylum process in Sweden. The findings of this qualitative interview study is that chronological age becomes a key sign for how legislators understand the life situation, needs and best interests of unaccompanied refugee minors. Age was central for a legitimate asylum claim. Legislators’ strong differentiation between how to understand adolescents contributes to varying accounts interchanging between suspicion and protection. Contrary perceptions about unaccompanied minors depict them as either innocent or potentially threatening. Also, the findings from this study suggests that that the moralizing welfare ideology of the past is still present in political discourse and social planning, construing unaccompanied minors as an ambivalent category between civilization and savagery. The findings from this study indicate that legislators enact reforms of importance for unaccompanied children without considering them as agents of their own future, with their own motives and reasons to seek asylum.Thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke 2006) was used in order to identify and analyse patterns in the interview data. The theoretical understanding of the identified themes and their meanings was informed by Willig’s (2012) insights on interpretation in qualitative analysis, with regards to how the findings were conceptualized and communicated, in particular interpretative phenomenology.

Natalia Maystorovich Chulio is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney.  She completed her B Socio-Legal (hons) in 2012 and a BA in 2004. Her research interests include humanitarian and human rights law; transitional justice; the archaeological recovery of mass graves; and the capacity of social movements to elicit social, political and legal change as they seek justice for victims.  Her focus is on socio-legal research and qualitative methods in an attempt to merge her political and social interests with a scholarship which may enact social change. Since 2012 she has worked with the Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica (ARMH – Association for the Recovery of Historic Memory) in an attempt to draw attention to the difficulties experienced by victims and their relatives in the recuperation of their missing.

Abstract: The local exhumation movement to recover, identify and rebury victims of the Spanish Civil War and Franco Dictatorship has emerged as a challenge to the prevailing dominant discourses regarding the defeated victims.  The bodily recovery of victims and the public testimonies told at the gravesites provide stark imagery while incorporating a historical context of the past, which remains socially; politically; institutionally and legally silenced for almost 80 years.  This movement, initially a grass roots operation, commenced in response to the Spanish states failure to provide the necessary institutional and legal support to investigate past political crimes.  The social movements have utilised transitional justice discourses and mechanisms to challenge the states choice of impunity to manage the transition to democracy.  This has forced symbolic and legal changes, however, the recent global financial crisis coupled with a change in government to Partido Popular has severely hindered the expansion of the movement.  Given the contentious and disputed nature of the period, those undertaking the exhumation of mass graves encounter varying responses from support to outright hostility and institutional impediments.   This has been the experience of groups such as ARMH, in attempts to recuperate the missing and their personal histories during interactions with the social, political, institutional and legal fields. How successful has ARMH been in challenging the official narrative of the past?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

First Paper.

I've managed to get my first conference paper through the peer-review process and I'll be speaking at the Australian Sociological Associations annual conference hosted at the University of Adelaide this  November in the sociology of education stream. The paper is a condensed and sharpened version of my honours thesis.  The abstract is as follows: 

"Sociologists often view the authority of knowledge as a reflection of social power.  Educational research mirrors with theories that treat knowledge as primarily “knowledge of the powerful” (Young 2009:13).  This study employed conceptual tools from Legitimation Code Theory (Maton 2014) and Systemic Functional Linguistics (Eggins 1994; Martin 1993) to explore university student’s perceptions of knowledge claims and if knowledge is deemed to be shaped both by social relations and epistemic relations.  Sixteen semi-structured interviews were conducted in 2012 for an honours research project with participants from four Sydney based Universities.  Results indicated that students perceive knowledge to have its own organizing principles, its legitimacy and power not reducible to who has the social power to claim knowledge." 

The citation will end up being something like this:
Toll, M. (2014), “Discerning Knowers: Exploring University Students’ Perceptions of Knowledge Claims”, The Australian Sociological Association Conference Proceedings, University of South Australia,  Adelaide, November 24- 27.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Is there no alternative?

                    From The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan and  Quentin Fiore.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sociology as Disembodiment.

A view from my desk, notice spatial disorganization and inspirational quotes. 
Fellow PhD candidate, Alexander Page, over at his new blog ‘Sociology as Self-Defence’ has written a blog post on sociology as embodiment and elaborated for us what he thinks constitutes a good sociologist and how he endeavours to embody that normative standard.  I thought I’d write a parallel post on what I think about the practice of sociology and how I employ my time as a first year PhD candidate.

Throughout my undergraduate degree I’d too receive the same snide remarks about the economic value of doing a B.A. and majoring in sociology (all my sibling went into the physical and medical sciences, and I cop the periodic jibes about who is going to be the real doctor).  I didn’t respond that I wanted to be a professional activist, which, even though I’m aware of thesis eleven, sounds a little too vanguardist, as if you should prioritize political ideals over the pursuit of an unclouded understanding; rather, I responded that I wanted to be an academic and researcher and struggled to list alternative career plans.  The normative idea of a good sociologist I hold is someone who is motivated by a desire to understand the social and cultural formations and unravel the infinity of threads that inform our current situation.  I’m not naïve enough to imagine that social scientists maintain a perfectly disinterested search for truth and aren’t, at least sub-consciously, guided by extra-scientific and normative considerations.     

Early sociologists of knowledge, particularly Karl Mannheim, had examined how social location influenced the formation of peoples’ understandings and ideologies and demonstrated that individuals cannot be ‘unbiased’, thought is always thought from a particular social standpoint. Though Karl Popper argued that when sociologists of knowledge applied this approach to science they fundamentally misunderstand their object of study because they failed to recognize that science is an inter-subjective project of an epistemic community and not the project of lone scientists.  In effect, Popper argued sociologists failed to understand the sociality of science and how this helps knowledge building.

Now, personally, I’m well aware that my choice of research topic stems from deeply personal concerns. Yet, I believe that objectivity and progression within an intellectual discipline is not achieved by individual participants crafting a view from nowhere, but a relative objectivity is achieved through mutual criticism and a desire to kick the ball forward and put together a better understanding of an object of study.  The sociologist might try to embody sociology, but sociology is a disembodied project irreducible to the sociologist.

As I haven’t been published academically, I haven’t been subjected to a formal peer-review or PhD review board for that matter.  I’m still in the process of refining my research question and rationale, reading as much of the research and theoretical literature that has been written on the discourse around climate change and the internet as possible. But I look forward to being able to contribute something to our collective understanding (and, perhaps, help deal with an important social problem).   My view right now would seem to undermine the ‘epistemic community’, inter-subjective, disembodied ideal of sociology I've been pushing:
Desk in post-grad centre, Fisher Library.

But than, this is the start of the process, gathering up the previous sociological accounts of the object of study to identify a gap and formulate a new conjecture that might help us gain more explanatory power.