Author: australianculturalsociology

Cultures of Authenticity Symposium and upcoming M/C journal ‘authentic’ issue

IMG_4085On the 28th of November 2014 the TASA Cultural Sociology Thematic Group hosted a symposium on ‘Cultures of Authenticity’ at Flinders University in Adelaide. The event was organised by TG convenors Sara James and Nicholas Hookway. TASA granted funding for two postgraduate scholarships, which were awarded to Lisa Farrance and Ramon Menendez. Our thanks go to Eduardo de la Fuente, Brad West and Nick Osbaldiston for their assistance in facilitating the symposium; to John Carroll who gave a key-note presentation; and to Claire Baker whose reflections of the day can be found below.

A number of papers from the symposium will be featured in the upcoming ‘authentic’ issue of M/C journal, edited by James and Hookway:

‘Cultures of Authenticity’ Symposium

By Claire Baker, PhD candidate at the University of New England

The difficulties involved in pinning down exactly what is meant by ‘authenticity’ was evident in the different approaches taken by each of the speakers at the Cultural Sociology Thematic group’s Cultures of Authenticity Symposium held on 28 November, 2014. The day presented a fascinating array of material and highlighted the interplay of internal and external referents in the search for authentic experience and ways of being. There were 14 presentations from a mix of early, mid and senior academics, including a keynote presentation by Professor John Carroll.

The morning session highlighted the differing conceptions of authenticity of place, and that the subjective interpretations of authenticity attributed to these spaces influences both the actions borne of and the meaning drawn from these interactions in and with place. The session included presentations from Eduardo de la Fuente on the difficulty of maintaining authentic experiences of culture in a globalising world of increasingly homogenised aesthetics; Brad West presented on the dialogical remembering of the American war in Vietnam as a quest for authentic meaning for the tourist; and Nick Osbaldiston drew a link between differing forms of place-based rationalisation and ideas of the ‘authentic’ beach.

The second session looked at the central role of authenticity in religious and cultural identity and expression, including presentations by Steve Taylor who drew upon understandings of authenticity within the context of alternative worship; Naama Carlin whom problematized the social marking of circumcision within Jewish communities and the effects this has for authentic religious identity; and Ramon Menendez Domingo presented a qualitative study that considered cultural background and individual understandings of authenticity.

IMG_4120The keynote presentation was given by John Carroll, and remains an intriguing and thought-provoking memory of the day. Taking Shakespeare’s line “All the world’s a stage…” as the centre of his meditation, John’s presentation spanned a metaphysical sociology of art that interrogated the twin concepts of an authentic self as an indicator of moral character and virtue, and the notion of life as a pageant, itself an essential fabrication that enables reflection and access to deeper existential truths.

This use of dramaturgical analysis provided an interesting backdrop to the development of the idea of the way in which un-real or hyper-real (in some sense, then, in-authentic) spaces hold value in their ability to reveal the importance of authenticity, including Marcus Maloney’s exploration of video games as a mode of narrative from which participants can draw authentic emotional experiences despite illusory autonomy; Tim Graham’s observation of the illusion of authenticity online through his critical analysis of review and recommendation constructs; and Shai Diner’s analysis of the role of authenticity in traditional Columbian music.

The final session of the day saw presentations that each looked at authenticity and gendered experience. Lisa Farrance presented on the use of personas in the roller derby scene to empower participants toward an authentic embodied experience of themselves; Tamika Sharrad explored how female firefighters challenge notions of authenticity in a professional field marked, deeply and internally, by the male norm; Akane Kania’s presentation considered self-branding through an appeal to authenticity to differentiate feminine identities on Tumblr; and Annette Mallon presented on the difficulties inherent in any authentic female identity performance.

Thus the papers presented throughout the day provided a wide-ranging field of reflection on the cultures of authenticity. Ultimately authenticity is positively valued and presented as analogous to virtue, present when what we observe is judged to hold with some ideal – whether this be an internal value of integrity or some external normative criterion. Crucially, the day revealed the insight held within John Carroll’s speech: that of the basic human need for the pageant (the in-authentic fabrication) as a mode of reflection upon the failings and accomplishments of our authentic character and our authentic experience in the search for authentic meaning.

We all thank the Cultural Sociology thematic group leaders Sara James (LaTrobe) and Nicholas Hookway (UTas) for organising such a valuable and thought-provoking symposium for the group.


Staging power: David Williamson’s portrait of Citizen Murdoch

James Cromwell as an older Rupert Murdoch in David Williamson’s show Rupert. AAP Image/Dean Lewins


The Melbourne Theatre Company’s (MTC) production of David Williamson’s 2013 play Rupert has finally made it to Sydney, via Melbourne and Washington, in late 2014.

Along the way, the MTC has acquired the services of American actor and Oscar and Emmy nominee James Cromwell to play the ageing Murdoch. By the time Rupert was staged in Sydney (where it continues until December 20) the script had been updated to cover the latest developments in the UK phone-hacking prosecutions. Such are the demands on theatre that engages with contemporary lives and events.

Rupert is at the Theatre Royal, located only a short distance from News Corp Australia’s headquarters and also from the site of an infamous 1960 Murdoch Crew v Packer Posse fist fight over a printing press. The play roams across a Murdoch universe that expands from sleepy Adelaide to embrace London, New York and Shanghai.

With its hyperactive ensemble cast (including well-known local actors Jane Turner and Danielle Cormack) and frantic pacing, director Lee Lewis has simulated the whirl of Murdoch’s big life. As Cromwell’s Murdoch sardonically observes the derring-do of his younger self (played by Guy Edmonds), the action unfolds in a frenetic mix of farce and cabaret.

When the MTC commissioned David Williamson to write an unspecified “big canvas” play, the UK’s Leveson Inquiry into the role of the press and the police had already become an unlikely television hit. Audiences were rapt in the nightly courtroom-style drama of tabloid horrors, thespian barristers and squirming witnesses.

Author Kristin Williamson and playwright David Williamson in 2010. AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy
Click to enlarge

Williamson saw his chance and took on what he calls in his play the “Apex Predator” of media and politics.

There is some irony in this choice given that, despite the divergence in their politics and life histories, Williamson and Murdoch have something in common.

Australia’s most commercially successful playwright is generally regarded by Australian theatre critics as a populist peddler of middle-brow, middle-class witticisms. Its most prominent media mogul, not dissimilarly, is widely viewed by media critics and academics as achieving commercial success by pandering to the lower expectations of audiences – and then lowering them further.


After Phillip Hughes’ death, it’s time for a post-traumatic Test

By David Rowe

Reblogged from The Conversation


Adelaide Oval, Phillip Hughes’ most recent state cricket home, will play host to this week’s first Test match between Australia and India. AAP/Michael Ramsey


The first cricket Test match of the Australia summer is usually a happy occasion. Its retro sights of white-flannelled figures and the comforting sound of bat on ball herald the holiday season even for those who don’t care much for the game. But not this time.

Australian batsman Phillip Hughes’ death on the field of play barely a fortnight ago is a reminder not of carefree fun, but of mortality. Players, officials and sports journalists have displayed the trauma on their faces. Legions of cricket fans, and even people who had never previously heard of Hughes, have publicly displayed their grief.

The much-coveted Google landing page carried the viral image of a leaning, unattended bat. Overseas football matches saw displays of sorrow for the death of a sportsman.

Days of saturation media coverage preceded the funeral in rurally picturesque Macksville attended by teammates, celebrities, politicians and locals. There was the usual glib talk of closure, but how can cricket and its followers return so quickly to business as usual and efficiently expunge the awful images of an incident given such intensive, repeated exposure?

If there is to be a genuine healing process it is necessary to confront some uncomfortable home truths. It has been all too easy to dismiss Hughes’ death as a “freak” accident. In part, this was legitimate reassurance to the bowler of the fatal ball, Sean Abbott, who could have scarcely imagined that a regulation bouncer to an armoured batsman would have such dire consequences.

But it is important to understand how the accident came to happen, and not simply to attribute it all to malign, capricious fate or rule out justifiable questioning of the staggering scale of the response to it – as the usually astute observer Greg Jericho has done.

Piling up all the apparently unique combination of factors in this case – “cricket, fame, youth, style, media attendance plus a multitude of other things [that] contributed to the response” – Jericho declared:

Let us honour him by not using his death to beat our own drum.

Certainly, any event as heart-wrenching and newsworthy as Hughes’ tragic death is certain to draw out all manner of axe-grinders and ideological opportunists, as well as those who are just trying to make some sense of what happened and to prevent its recurrence.

But accidents and the responses to them don’t just happen in isolation or speak for themselves. It is imperative to look beyond the moment, even if we feel a powerful compulsion to succumb to sentimentality’s warm embrace. The drum beat cannot be so easily stilled or its repercussions denied.


Scandals are forever for FIFA as World Cup hosting saga drags on

In the wake of a controversial new report clearing Qatar’s successful World Cup bid, FIFA has never appeared more foolish, deluded and self-serving. EPA/Walter Bieri


Hans-Joachim Eckert, chairman of the independent Adjudicatory Chamber of football governing body FIFA’s Ethics Committee, announced on Thursday that his committee had exonerated Qatar and Russia over the controversial bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting rights.

A report to Eckert’s committee also criticised England and Australia, whose respective bids for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments yielded princely votes of two and one.

In response, FIFA felt emboldened to “welcome the fact that a degree of closure has been reached” and announced that:

… the evaluation of the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cups bidding process is closed for the FIFA Ethics Committee.

But within hours of the report’s release, Michael Garcia, chairman of the independent Investigatory Chamber and a former US federal prosecutor who had spent two years looking into the allegations, said that the 42-page summary of his 430-page report:

… contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations.

“Closure” never looked more open-ended. FIFA has never appeared more foolish, deluded and self-serving.

The ABC recently broadcast Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond, a two-part series about the literary creator of James Bond. Fleming died in 1964, two years before England’s sole victory in the FIFA World Cup. It is a shame that he never turned his attention from SMERSH, the fictional Soviet spy agency in the James Bond novels, and international espionage to take on the murky world of FIFA and international football.

With a ready-made cast of villains, sundry convoluted plots and a raft of shady transactions, it would have been easy for Fleming to take some minor fictional liberties with FIFA’s shenanigans and bash out From Zurich With Cash or The Executive Committee Member Who Milked Me.


Five ways to fight online abuse with good manners

The abuse unleashed online can be devastating at times. Flickr/Spyros Papaspyropoulos , CC BY-NC-ND


Online and social media’s capacity to enable anyone to communicate their ideas and views is much celebrated. So why do so many people feel nervous about getting involved with online debate?

Too often, the reason is they have had vitriol poured all over them, or seen that happen to others.

This was the experience of one of this article’s authors (Helen), who recently wrote an opinion piece for a popular Australian website, Mamamia, which ran with the headline Why I’d never be with a man who always pays the bill. And the public response to what was her first foray into writing for a major website left her wondering if it’s worth repeating the exercise.

Beyond this single anecdotal example – just one of the millions of blog posts and articles published every day around the world – why does online incivility matter?

It matters, in part, because recent research has shown that the content and tone of comments on articles can actually affect the way people read and interpret the original article.

One online experiment examined attitudes to nanotechnology by taking a neutral blog post on the subject and exposing its participants to either rude or polite comments to see if it affected their views. The research revealed the “Nasty Effect”, showing that:

[…] those who are exposed to uncivil deliberation in blog comments are more likely to perceive the technology as risky than those who are exposed to civil comments.

So what each one of us posts online matters. And as we’ll show, there are ways to improve the general standard of online comments and to not let trolls get the better of you.

Faceless bullying

Sociological discussions of incivility have tended to focus on everyday urban encounters between people in spaces such as streets and public transport.

But although urban incivility attracts a great deal of attention and may result in action by the police, the practice of aggressively insulting strangers is being given a new lease of life online.

As is common in such pieces of “confessional journalism”, when writing for Mamamia Helen used examples from personal experience to dissect broader social values: in this case, gendered assumptions about who pays for restaurant meals. It was intended to be a critique of gender inequality wrapped in the garb of benevolent sexism.

The response from readers in the comments below the article and particularly on Mamamia’s Facebook page was frequently savage. While it was a bruising surprise for Helen, sadly when you look at online comments around the world, the comments she got were not particularly unusual.

That prompted us to reflect on some examples of how online media can easily function as a vehicle for harshness and abuse, often against – as well as by – women.


Dead Poets Society meets Team Australia under captain Abbott

Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbott is uncommonly fond of sport metaphors, not least when addressing the domestic terror threat. His latest championing of “Team Australia” in trying to sell his government’s proposed national security reforms symbolically turns Australia into a giant dressing room and stadium.

Presiding over the nation as team captain, Abbott assumes the mantle of unassailable Bradmanesque hero rather than a Shakespearean “scurvy politician”.

Abbott recently told the South Australian Liberal Party’s annual general meeting about a Muslim community leader who:

… said to me on Tuesday in Melbourne, in a booming voice full of exuberance, he said: ‘You know we are all part of team Australia’ – and he looked at me and smiled – ‘and you are our captain.’ I have never been more proud and I have never been more exhilarated than to hear that statement.

Captured smilingly receiving applause in the television lights, Abbott resembles nobody more than (the recently deceased) Robin Williams playing school teacher John Keating in the famous “O Captain! My Captain!” scene from the 1989 film Dead Poets Society.

Beloved by Abbott’s ideological fellow traveller Alan Jones – a former teacher and sports coach and now prominent radio broadcaster – Dead Poets Society’s stirring tale of a maverick teacher in an elite private all-male school chimes well both with their biographies and mutual idealisation of the beloved “captain”.

It is a view of the world shared by another prominent conservative, former prime minister John Howard, who once ruefully observed to another right-wing radio man, the late Stan Zemanek, that the most important job in the country was really that of Australian men’s cricket captain.

Not all teams are of a sporting nature. But there is little doubt that Abbott the pugilist, rugby player and ironman has sport in mind when he describes Australia as a team.


World Cup: round ball, square eyes and hungering to excess

 By David Rowe

Reblogged from The Conversation


Television audiences may be fragmenting, but sport happens in the moment and demands instant – and lucrative – congregation. EPA/Fernando Bizerra Jr


Just before a critical World Cup game against Spain in Rio de Janeiro, scores of ticketless Chile fans broke into the expensively rebuilt Maracana Stadium at its least secure point – the media centre.

Surprised sports journalists got a close-up view of the frustrated invaders crashing through the glass doors and flimsy walls of their workspace, but quickly generated pictures and stories of this literally “breaking news” to the outside world.

This incident dramatically contrasts the scarce opportunity of attending the World Cup with the virtual impossibility of avoiding it via the media. About 75,000 people can fit into the Maracana, but FIFA, association football’s world governing authority, estimates that the 2014 World Cup will exceed the 3.2 billion audience reach of the preceding 2010 tournament in South Africa.

In other words, most of us who like football are symbolically compelled to be big-match gatecrashers through the media centre.

The media dominate mega sport events because of the obvious mismatch between stadium access and interest in what happens there. Scale and popularity make them prime-time news in their own right, much to the chagrin of those who couldn’t tell Lionel Messi from a boutique label of Argentinean malbec.

Sport permeates and sustains all media, but it was television that brought it vibrantly live into the lounge room and ensured massive – if incidental – attention to advertising and branding. For this reason, television corporations have been prepared to invest huge sums to secure broadcast rights – US$1.7 billionfor Brazil 2014 alone.

Broadcast television is under obvious threat from new media technologies, and it is live sport that has helped keep it alive. Television audiences may be fragmenting, but sport happens in the moment and so demands instant – and lucrative – congregation.

However, singular dependency on a “box in the corner” is long past. Brazil 2014, like the London 2012 Olympics before it, is a multi-screen experience enabled by the transition from analogue to digital media. This has been described as “the first truly digital World Cup” (by app performance company AppDynamics), but it is more convincingly the latest advance in networked media sport, which here draws football, fans, communication and commerce into an ever-more-intimate embrace.


A Scottish spectacle of sport and politics: the view from Australia

 By David Rowe

Reblogged from The Conversation
The 2014 Commonwealth Games celebrates the old British Empire, yet the host country is considering independence. Gareth Fuller/PA Wire/Press Association Images


Sport mega events such as the Commonwealth Games are routinely described as global spectacles, but they always focus intensively on one part of the globe for a short period.

For the hosts, this is the essence of their appeal and justification for all the expense, trouble and risk: the “whole world is watching”, the value of the publicity is priceless, and it is hoped that all that media interest can be translated into long-term tourism profile and return on investment.

Scotland is the latest country to take the mega event bait – in this case snagging a big sports party out of the remnants of an Empire that somehow reinvented itself as a Family.

Sport has played no small role in the symbolic survival of a time when red blotched much of the world map, overshadowing even Hollywood as a cultural force spreading out from the West.