Southern Notes #4

Bruce Curtis, University of Auckland:

We live in interesting times. I’m just back from the first industrial strike action at the University of Auckland in over a decade. Meanwhile, colleagues at Victoria University (Wellington) have also taken action over a pay dispute. Theirs was a little more creative than the noisy and well attended rally here in Auckland. The Radio New Zealand website notes: “Staff at Victoria University are seeing red over disagreements regarding their employment negotiations. As part of their protest, the 850 Tertiary Education Union [TEU] members will play the 1978 Split Enz song ‘I See Red’ each hour, every hour on their computers, laptops, tablets or phones, while they are at work today.” Perhaps, given Aucklanders’ penchant for sombre dress, the Smiths’ song ‘Unlovable’ would be a better choice up here: “I wear black on the outside, ’cause black is how I feel on the inside.”

Certainly interesting stuff is happening all over; the Third Social Movements, Resistance and Social Change Conference being one of them. Chamsy el-Ojeili provides the details: “The conference was held at Victoria University, 1–3 September. Organised by Dylan Taylor, Amanda Thomas, Jonathan Oosterman, Murdoch Stevens, Deborah Jones and Leon Salter, and a team of volunteers, the conference theme was the academic–activist interface. With 400 attendees and more than 100 presenters and facilitators, this was the largest of these conferences so far, and it was an exciting, dynamic affair, beginning in spirited form with an opening address by Tere Harrison, Leonie Pihama, and Moana Jackson, and a keynote panel with Sue Bradford, Wendy Larner, and Pala Molisa. In lively, well-attended paper sessions, spanning an array of issues – for instance, art and activism, sovereignty and Treaty [of Waitangi], gender and sexuality, the politics of knowledge production, feminism and critical theory – the conference was marked, for me, by the papers given and interventions made by an impressive younger cohort of activist intellectuals. In this way, and others, there seemed something of a landmark quality to these Spring proceedings, which closed with the launch of the left-wing think tank ESRA, Economic and Social Research Aotearoa.” You can find out more about the Economic and Social Research Aotearoa think tank at https://esra.nz/introducing-esra/, in which a younger generation of sociologists stand out.

 

The academic–activist interface also figured prominently in a research café held on 5 September at the University of Auckland as part of the ‘I, Too, Am Auckland’ initiative. The café was called ‘Switching on digital activism’ and was led by David Mayeda: “In the 21st century, social media’s ubiquity has reshaped the ways activist groups function. Online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Vimeo have been central in stimulating and sustaining major social movements, including the Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter campaigns. On the other hand, some scholarship has suggested that ‘push button activism’ or ‘slacktivism’ can limit social media’s effectiveness in provoking tangible changes in society. This research café will explore the strategies that marginalised communities employ when utilising social media to enact social change. Online campaigns aspiring to tackle discrimination faced by Indigenous peoples, students of colour, women and other marginalised groups will be addressed.” I, Too, Am Auckland released several videos:

I, Too, Am Auckland – Decolonising Education: and,

I, Too, Am Auckland – Brown People Get Everything They Want

It is nice to see my boss, the Dean of Arts, agreeing with me in his citation for Associate Professor Tracey McIntosh for the Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards 2016. Many of you will no doubt also concur; this is from the Ako Aotearoa webpage: “I cannot think of anyone in our University more meritorious of such an award,” writes Dr Robert Greenberg, Dean of Faculty of Arts, proudly commending Tracey for bringing principles of Kaupapa Māori to all her teaching; for recognising the intellectual and personal needs of students and for focussing on workable, innovative, empowering solutions that in turn empower students. Students attest to Tracey’s kindness and warmth and of her being “truly an inspiration in my life who helped me to become the man I am today” and “an amazing woman who made a massive impact on my life.” Tracey is indeed amazing – teaching over 500 students a year across courses she designed, and revolutionising Sociology at the University of South Pacific previously. It is not surprising that Tracey is so highly regarded. She writes, “Teaching is my greatest satisfaction, it is a privilege”. Tracey exudes motherly type ‘aroha’ for her students, which enables her to engage better with them.”

While all this was happening some of us went to the fair. The regional Science Fairs, to be precise, which are aimed at years 7 and 8 school kids. The fairs are intended to foster interest in science, and the format of the competition, to present posters about various experiments reflect a hard science focus. The Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand has started funding a social science prize at as many regional fairs as we can contact.

Avril Bell (University of Auckland) and Trudie Cain (Massey University) went to the NIWA Auckland City Science and Technology fair and judged all entries, considering the extent to which the project was informed by sociological principles or was carried out in accordance with appropriate social science methods. Let’s name the winners! Three prizes were awarded. Avril says that: “The first prize of $50 went to Jude Ellis for his project titled ‘Multi-tasking myths: Are girls better than boys?’ Jude’s project on gender and multi-tasking demonstrated a clear understanding of sociological principles, social science research methods, and gendered roles, both in the past and in contemporary Western society. He accounted for complexity in the existing evidence and in his results. He concluded that girls are better at multi-tasking and raised questions and concerns about the impact this might have on boys’ education.

The second prize of $30 went to Zachary Lerner. Zachary’s research project examined the relationship between vision (‘the eyes’) and smell (‘the nose’). Titled ‘The nose knows?’ Zachary used sociological categories (age and gender) to examine this relationship and accounted for gendered and aged experiences that might (or might not) inform smell. Zachary also considered the implications of his research results.

The third prize of $20 went to Maikel Tuala and Chicago Doyle. Their project titled ‘Taste Me: Ethnicity’ explored people’s appreciation for sweetness. They analysed the results by ethnic group (Maori, Pasifika, Asian) and concluded that Maori have the sweetest tooth and Pasifika “will eat anything”! Their research was beautifully presented and included Chinese script as well as Māori and Pasifika images, demonstrating the students’ sensitivity to inclusive ways of working.

A final highly commended award was presented to Millie Caughey. Millie’s project tested the efficacy of a range of skin care projects that are marketed specifically to women. Although Millie’s project was not sociological per se (and so fell outside of our judging criteria) she began with a clear understanding of the gendered nature of the beauty industry and the power operating within both the production and consumption of beauty products.”

Ruth McManus (University of Canterbury) attended the Canterbury–Westland Fair. Jo Barnes and Jo Schmidt (both University of Waikato) judged the Waikato event. At Waikato, all the money went into a humongous main prize: “Those projects that did include a little of the ‘social’ were of good quality, but one stood out for its direct engagement with sociological themes. This was all the more commendable since the project itself had a decidedly hard science focus. The winning exhibit was ‘What affects our personalities’ by Talia Nicol from Waikato Diocesan School for Girls. Talia had done significant work on genetic influences, but had also considered age, living circumstances and birth order as further influences on personality traits. Her conclusions were consistent with her data and she extended her consideration of social influences by suggesting that her next project might also incorporate gender/gender socialisation as a contributing factor.”

These were fun and pleasing events and the SAANZ Executive has decided to explore the possibility of setting a specific ‘sociological question’ for the kids to experiment on. If you have any great ideas on what might be appropriate for year 7 to 8 school children, please contact me at: b.curtis@auckland.ac.nz

Back in Auckland, there has been a transfer of the editorship of our journal New Zealand Sociology, from the team based at Auckland University of Technology in the form of Charles Crothers and Rob Webb. The two of them have carried an enormous burden for about a decade, all on a volunteer basis. Sociology in New Zealand is enormously indebted to them. Charles has moved on to edit Kōtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences Online. Rob now leads the criminology programme at the University of Auckland, and has agreed to stay on as an associate editor with the new team based there (here). The new co-editors are Bruce Curtis and Louise Humpage, while Steve Matthewman, Tamasailau Suaalii-Sauni and Rob Webb will be associate editors.

Meanwhile our Prime Minister, John Key, had the most important day of his life when he addressed the United Nations Security Council and more-or-less solved the crisis in Syria. John is a big supporter of free trade, mobile populations and transnational careers. He currently earns only NZ$448,569 (less than most Vice Chancellors) and may well be interested in a senior position in Australia. You can contact John with offers at: j.key@ministers.govt.nz

 

 

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