Symposium: The changing face of families and relationships

Written by Luke Gahan, TASA Public Engagement Portfolio Leader

Last October the Families, Relationships, and Gender Thematic Group held a two-day symposium on the theme, ‘The Changing Face of Families and Relationships.’ Fifty-one people attended the event, including academics and students from Australian universities, sociologists from outside of academe, and one person from each of Singapore, Hong Kong, and New Zealand. The symposium was generously hosted by the Bouverie Centre, Victoria’s Family Institute at La Trobe University, and was launched by Victorian Member of Parliament, and leader of the Australian Sex Party, Fiona Patten MLC.

We were extremely fortunate to host two brilliant academics as our keynote speakers, Director of Research and Public Education for the Council on Contemporary Families, Professor Stephanie Coontz from Evergreen State College (USA), and former TASA President Professor Michael Gilding from Swinburne University.

Stephanie Coontz_Symposium

Stephanie Coontz

Michael Gilding_symposium 2015

Michael Gilding







Professor Coontz is the author of a number of books, but of particular interest to the symposium was her book, Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage (2005). In her address, Stephanie Coontz discussed the evolution of marriage and family life from 1965 to 2015 and shared with us her thoughts on how they might evolve in the coming years. Professor Coontz’s visit to Australia sparked great interest from the local media and during her stay she appeared twice on ABC radio, and was featured in an article by Fairfax newspapers.

It was a great pleasure to welcome our former TASA President Professor Michael Gilding as the keynote speaker on the second day of the symposium. Professor Gilding is an Economic Sociologist and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Business and Law at Swinburne University. Michael is the author of The Making and Breaking of the Australian Family, a pioneering study of the historical sociology of Australian families published in 1991. His address to the symposium explored how Australian families have evolved in the 24 years since the book was published, reinterrogating his theories from 1991 with a contemporary lens.

Complementing the keynote speakers, delegates delivered 24 presentations over five thematic sessions, ‘Gender and Sexuality,’ ‘Kinship Practices,’ Family Formation and Negotiation of Relationships,’ ‘Migration and Ethnicity,’ and ‘Intersectionalities.’ Presentations included topics such as women’s relationships with bisexual men, Australian naming practices, HIV serodiscordance and family life, families and migrant worker in South China, and sex and the Australian New Christian Right.

To coincide with the symposium, TASA organised a public event in the evening at Hares and Hyena’s bookshop in Fitzroy. The aim was to share family and relationship sociology with the non-sociology world, and to explore the symposium theme from both academic and community perspectives. Dr Raelene Wilding from La Trobe University and Anne Hunter from Polyamory Victoria joined the symposium speakers Stephanie Coontz and Fiona Patten MLC in sharing their thoughts on the changing face of families and relationships.

Raelene Wilding_public event

Raelene Wilding

Fiona Pattern_Public event

Fiona Pattern

Anne Hunter from PolyVic at the Public Event

Anne Hunter







As is always the case at TASA events, the greatest highlights of the two-day symposium were the wonderful conversations (both academic and non-academic) and the creation of lasting friendships with like-minded colleagues. The Families, Relationships, and Gender thematic group thank TASA for providing thematic group funding towards this event, acknowledge the generosity of our hosts the Bouverie Centre, and express our gratitude to our keynotes, Professors Coontz and Gilding.

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