Month: February 2012

Cultural Sociology Thematic Group – Invitation to join ‘Food Studies Group’

Dear Members,

Recently we were approached by Barbara Evers (Murdoch) to see if there was interest amongst the group for a ‘food studies group’ within Cultural Sociology. Please see a synopsis of the group’s intentions below;

“The food study group seeks to encourage and promote the sociological analysis, both theoretical and empirical, of research of/on all aspects of food and social relationships. The group emphasises the way in which individuals, groups and other social networks relate to food within a cultural and historical context. Furthermore the group seeks to develop understanding on the rich interplay between food and other cultural phenomenon such as slow food movements, festivals, tourism, lifestyle mobility and others.

The aim of the group is to provide a forum for stimulating debate amongst academics, and others interested or involved in social science research on food scholarship. It will be actively promoted and supported by the Cultural Sociology Thematic Group through the blog, e-newsletter and other avenues.

Other than supporting active discussion on all aspects of food scholarship (on, amongst others, the Cultural Fields blog) however, the group would work towards special sessions at the yearly TASA conference and establishing links to other (international) food networks (BSA, US Food Culture organisation, etc.).”

Interested parties who would like to become part of this exciting venture should email Barbara Evers ( or Nick Osbaldiston ( for further information and to join a mailing list.


Commentary: Ideology and its Naysayers

Ideology and its Naysayers

During the recent crescendo in media reporting of the Melbourne branch of the Occupy movement’s activities in Treasury Place I began to hear the sorts of right-wing denialism that we have come to expect in the discursive spaces of Australian politics. One particular urban legend struck me more than others. I was told through the proverbial rumour mills that the Occupy protesters were hypocrites since they were regularly seen abandoning their posts on the frontlines of the anti-globalisation movement to go to a nearby McDonalds. This rumour seems to always be delivered by conservative thinkers swimming in the glory of their highly functioning irony detection systems, always accompanied by facial expressions of haughty derision.

I want to briefly comment on two dimensions of this claim as they relate to the rise and maintenance of ideology in cosmopolitan Australian society. First, I don’t believe that the purveyors of this myth saw any Occupy protesters enter a McDonalds at all. The wonderful thing about claims such as these is that they don’t need to have been witnessed in order to completely believe in the ideological coordinates that make young people entering a McDonalds in a major metropolis an inevitable and everyday occurrence. It must be true, must it not? It is the perfect ideological short-circuit for those seeking to dismiss the concerns of the young people claiming to be the 99% (an ideological short-circuit of their very own). Secondly, and significantly, is this not itself the very proof of what the Occupy movement is fighting and the naysayers are denying? Would it not be the best proof of the legitimacy of the Occupy movement’s cause that even their own members cannot resist the seductions of that which they hate the most? If the myth were true it would surely be the death blow for corporate greed, the final and lasting proof that the ‘misguided’ activities of the 99% are perhaps all attributable to what psychoanalysts would call its absent Real-cause – organisational immorality.

Unemployed young people, thugs and professional protesters setting up a tent city in the heart of Melbourne? Why has the purity of the economic model failed to provide employment opportunities and wealth to everyone? We know they are willing to put in the effort, turn up on time, and deliver an ideological message. They are here aren’t they?

I am forced to wonder whether those who are deemed most responsible for greedy corporatism – usual suspects that often include lawyers, merchant bankers, accountants and the much loathed CEO – are complicit in the ideological universe occupied by Occupy protesters.

In a well-know scene from the Mary Harron film American Psycho (based on the book by Bret Easton Ellis) we witness this tale reach something of a conclusion in the scrawled letters on the wall of an apartment where merchant banker/serial killer Patrick Bateman plies his gruesome trade.  Die Yuppie Scum was Bateman’s confession, and his confession, as we know, meant nothing. I was reminded of this moment by a colleague several years ago as I joined him in crossing a line of protesters as we entered a major counterterrorism conference. “Shouldn’t you be joining them?” was his satirical barb. I didn’t join them, but his comment left its mark just as the Occupy protesters have left theirs. Their success is assured so long as they keep taking their lunch breaks at McDonalds.

Luke Howie is in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University.

New Article: ePortfolios and eGovernment: From technology to the entrepreneurial self

Peter O’Brien, Nick Osbaldiston and Gavin Kendall – Journal of Educational Philosophy and Theory –


We analyse the electronic portfolio (ePortfolio) in higher education policy and practice. While evangelical accounts of the ePortfolio celebrate its power as a new eLearning technology, we argue that it allows the mutually-reinforcing couple of neoliberalism and the enterprising self to function in ways in which individual difference can be presented, cultured and grown, all the time within a standardised framework which relentlessly polices the limits of the acceptable and unacceptable. We point to the ePortfolio as a practice of (self-) government, arguing that grander policy coalesces out of a halting, experimental set of technological instruments for thinking about how life should be lived.


The Australian Cultural Sociology Thematic Group Annual Meeting – Minutes.


Thursday, December 1st 2011, 12.30-1.30pm

TASA Conference, Newcastle,

Cummings Room, City Hall.


Convenors present:                                                  Absentees:

Cathering Strong (Chair)                                          Nick Osbaldiston

Michael Walsh                                                           Luke Howie

Theresa Sauter (Minute-taker)

Members attended: 8 at max.

  1. Welcomed members to meeting; conveners and members introduced themselves.

2.   Provided review of year 2011

(a)  The Ron Jacobs Public Lecture held in June with TASA and Thesis 11.

(b)  The provision of two postgraduate scholarships for this even to Ms Theresa Sauter and Ms Geraldine Donoghue. Made members aware of reports in NEXUS and newsletter.

(c)   The establishment of the Blog to replace the newsletter and the loss of the website. Unable to show website (no internet connection) but made members aware of blog site address. Encouraged members to make use of the blog as a site that will potentially become a hub for cultural sociology in Australia in the future.

(d)  The loss of Kate Maher (temporary) as a member of the convening team and the addition of Theresa Sauter after a competitive process – elected without competition.

3.  Opened up floor for discussion of plans for 2012.

(a)  Ideas for an edited collection in Australian Cultural Sociology

  • keen interest.
  • Proposed themes:
    • Theoretical middleground (proposed by postrgrad student Chris Driver)
    • History of cultural sociology in Australia (proposed by Peter Beilharz); would work well with 50 yrs of TASA celebration in 2013; à much enthusiasm for this suggestion
  • Action to be taken:
    • Eduardo de la Fuente suggested as pre-project/ mini research project to document the longer pre-history of cultural social scientific reflection in Australia; mentioned work of Joanne Finkelstein.
    • Send out a call for ideas on blog
    • Clarify who the call for papers will be open to à Thematic group members only? Or wider academic community?

(b)  Ideas for TASA Thematic Group funding in 2012

  • Ideas from the floor:
    • one-day symposium to plan special issue in Australian Cultural Sociology; provide funding for postgrads to attend again
    • editing workshop for members to discuss work in progress and network to find others to publish with; also, provide postgrad funding if possible.
    • NB: members were keen that any event that we host should have the outcome of opportunities for publishing.
  • Action to be taken:
    • Consider whether both ideas could be accommodated
    • Draw up ideas for where to hold event(s)
    • Draw up budget plan

(c)   Called upon members to find someone to do a review of the TASA conference 2011 for blog

  • not much response. Postgrad Chris Driver proposed to think about it
  • Action to be taken: contact Chris?

(d)  Upon late arrival of Andy Bennett, raised issue of possibility for an international conference/workshop with Griffith’s Cultural Sociology school as suggested last year

  • Andy Bennett: funding possibilities for 2012 pretty much exhausted; proposed to keep the idea for the following year 2013; would know more about available funding in November/December 2012.
  • Action decided to be taken:
    • Concentrate on one-day symposium, workshop and Australian Cultural Sociology special issue for 2012.
    • Return to possibility of conference/workshop together with Griffith in 2013.

5. Asked members for further feedback and discussion from the floor;

(a)  Member Sally Hourigan raised whether it would be possible for members to receive prompts via email or Twitter when new blog posts have been posted.

  • Action to be taken: look into setting this up.

(b)  Member Sally Hourigan voiced frustration about not being able to present in the Cultural Sociology stream at the past two TASA conferences despite indicating it as a preference.

  • Response: we have raised the issue with conference organisers.
  • Action to be taken: talk to conference organisers ahead of time next year to ensure all members can be accommodated

(c) Member Chris Driver suggested setting up a special section on blog for

sharing work in progress.

  • Response: good idea; will look into it; in the meantime though, you can send us any work in progress and we can post it on the blog.
  • Action to be taken: look into setting up separate section.

(d) Member Andy Bennett raised the problem of field of research codes;

urged to make clearer for others what Cultural Sociology is (NOT Cultural Studies!) to avoid having papers in stream that clearly do not belong there.

  • Action to be taken:
    • raise issue with conference organisers.
    • more vigilance in review process.
    • re-direct papers to more suitable streams if necessary.

     (e) Congratulations from Peter Beilharz and acknowledgements of our hard  

            work and efforts in making Cultural Sociology the biggest single section in    


6. Thanked attendees; called for any other feedback, comments, suggestions, ideas to be directed to us at any time.

7. Closed meeting

The Australian Sociology Association Annual Conference 2011 – Newcastle


Peter Beilharz and Katie Wright at her book launch for 'The Rise of Therapeutic Culture'

The 2011 Annual TASA conference held in Newcastle from November 29 to December 1 was an enjoyable and stimulating event that came as a welcome marker for the end of another long academic year.

The conferences’ stimulating keynote addresses addressed highly pertinent issues in current sociology. All three talks were united in their concern with how wider social, political and economic processes are impacting on the lives of modern subjects and where the possibilities for resistance and defence against some of these processes lie. On day one, Saskia Sassen kicked off with a thought-provoking talk on the ‘Savage Sorting of Winners and Losers’. She addressed the way in which the deepening of advanced capitalism is resulting in the expulsion of people from more traditional forms of capitalism. Through poignant examples and alarming statistics, Sassen suggested that modern capitalism has developed highly advanced and complex processes and structures that produce an elementary brutality. She highlighted in particular the financial sector as the most aggressive and most capable factor in this savage sorting. Sassen’s address raised pertinent questions around the role of international politics/law in such processes, the possibilities for resistance, and the dangers of capitalism becoming self-destructive. The second keynote speech by Johanna Wyn summarised the Life Patterns longitudinal study, which provides a provocative analysis of the social processes that have shaped young Australians’ lives. Wyn outlined how policies and related discourses around neo-liberalism, individualisation, responsibilisation and the acceleration of time have had wider social implications for the biographies of members of ‘Gen X’. She emphasised the increase in educational participation, particularly by women. She suggested that many of the hopes and promises the young Australians held at the outset of the study in the 1990s remain unfulfilled or disappointed today. On the final day, Mitchell Dean spoke on ‘Neo-liberalism and the Irresistible Event’. Dean highlighted the critical function of events for power relations, both as a way of strengthening and extending dominant power structures and of challenging and redefining them. Furthermore, Dean re-examined the notion that “the King reigns but he does not govern” through Carl Schmitt’s political theology, Foucault’s genealogy of arts of government approach, and Agamben’s theological genealogy of the economy and government. Ultimately, Dean suggested that the event is the crucial point of articulation of two poles of power defined by Reign and Government, Sovereignty and Economy, and Law and Order. The bipolarity of power relations represents, according to Dean, possibilities for resistance, counter-politics and counter-knowledge. This highlights how politics holds the possibilities of translating problematisations into actions for change.

In particular, the conference had an outstanding showing of papers dealing with cultural sociology. In the cultural sociology sessions, the quality of the papers was very high, and the range of subject matter that was discussed showed Australian cultural sociologists exploring many aspects of culture, from everyday life through to in-depth theoretical approaches. We were impressed with the amount of papers that were presented into the cultural sociology stream and in particular were highly impressed with the diversity of interests and methodological focusses that were brought along.

The dedicated cultural sociology stream had 5 concurrent session panels across the conference, and a number of other sessions also contained papers with a cultural flavour. One example of this was the inaugural John Western Plenary session on Tuesday morning entitled ‘Alternative, DIY and Subcultural Careers: Leisure, Lifestyle and Youth Transitions’. The panel looked at the relationship between participants in subcultures and the world of paid work using a variety of case studies. Airi-Alina Allaste explored the development of music festivals in Estonia, while Chris Driver examined participants in the Brisbane hardcore scene and the options open to them for converting subcultural capital into economic capital. Finally, Ross Haenfler presented data on aging straight-edge punks, giving a fascinating account of how the ideals of the straight-edge scene continue to inform the decisions of those who had been or still were straight-edge as they established careers. In particular, he noted how the DIY (do-it-yourself) ethic of the scene was applied in people’s work lives as a way of maintaining what they saw as being important about their subcultural identities. The panel as a whole showed how the worlds of work and ‘adult responsibility’ and subcultural scenes, which are sometimes thought of as being quite separate, interact with and merge into each other in complicated ways, especially as people – and the scenes themselves – age.

The Thursday morning cultural sociology panel lost two of its presenters, which was ultimately fortuitous as the two remaining papers provided more than enough material for the full session. First, Michael Walsh and Eduardo de la Fuente spoke on “Framing through the senses: Sight and sound in the shaping of everyday life”. Their argument that the role that sound plays in defining the public and private spheres is changing and needs to be considered in more detail prompted lively discussion from the audience – mainly over the extent to which ipod users can be likened to audiences for classical music because of their bodily attitudes! The second paper in the session, Catherine West-Newman’s “Emotion and Imagination in Intrepid Shopping” also raised much interest. Catherine’s paper described her experiences on a tour of India that incorporated a lot of shopping, and presented an ethnographic account of the way western tourists in exotic and unfamiliar locations negotiated these unusual experiences of consumption. The concept of ‘intrepid shopping’ that she used to describe such tours clearly got the room thinking, with suggestions from the audience that it could be expanded to incorporate shopping experiences within our own culture that are ‘off limits’ or embarrassing, such as buying a wig or sex toys.

A further stream of outstanding quality and cultural value was the workshop on ‘The Sociology of Affect’, organised and hosted by ANU scholars Maria Hynes and David Bissell. Maria and David kicked the session off with a valuable introduction to the topic, highlighting the distinction of affect from emotion and the transitory nature of affect, as well as the links between affect and the body and the modulation of affect through media. David then presented a case study of “Affect, somnolence and habits of movement”, talking his audience through the affective experiences involved in a plane journey. Next, Maria came on again to highlight how indifference represents a flattening of affective response. Sarah Maslen then presented her fascinating research on the way in which aural perception acts as a form of foundational knowledge. She highlighted some particular examples from her study of the aural skills of groups like musicians and Morse-operators that generated much interest from the audience. Finally, Gavin Smith looked on the other side of CCTV cameras by reviewing his empirical work with CCTV operators. He presented his audience with partially disturbing, partially amusing original CCTV footage to highlight the multi-dimensional hyperrealities involved in CCTV surveillance.

On the final day we also held our annual thematic group meeting. The minutes of this will be posted later.

As a final note however, we would like to take this opportunity to thank all who attended the sessions at TASA and for your support throughout the year. As 2012 kicks off, we anticipate that we will be able to take on board some of your suggestions that we have received through emails and through the meeting at the conference. In particular, the group is keen to continue advertising and making space for academics to present their work not only in published form but also works-in-progress.

The Cultural Sociology Thematic Group Conveners.