TASA President’s Letter. Belonging and recognition in a mobile world of sociology

Dan Woodman, University of Melbourne:

In August, I attended the American Sociological Association Meeting for 2017. Every few years, the ASA leaves the USA and heads North to Canada for its conference. This year’s meeting was in the vibrant bilingual city of Montreal. It’s been booked in for a few years, but it was serendipitous timing to cross the border and allow international delegates to skip the USA during the first full year under their new President. The chance to visit Montreal helped convince me to attend the ASA again, for the first time in almost a decade. It is one of the biggest and most important gatherings of sociologists, yet I struggle to find a place for my work when I attend.

I study young adulthood and generational change. At TASA conferences I know my paper will almost certainly fit with the sessions of the Sociology of Youth Thematic Group, while at International Sociological Association events I find my people in RC34 – Sociology of Youth. RN30 – Youth and Generations is a home for my work within the European Sociology Association. The ASA is harder. There is a Childhood and Youth Section, and I have given a paper in this section before, but they are almost exclusively focused, at least empirically, on children and teens. This time I tried the Life Course Section. My paper on the impact of precarious transitions through people’s 20s on their relationships patterns fitted with their call for papers, and they were happy to accept it, but most of the other papers were about ageing. My panel was mostly about transitions to retirement.

The panel did have a nice theme, Life Course insecurities, and a good mix of USA-based and international scholars. This was an improvement on my last visit, where the only common factor across the papers in my session seemed to be that all presenters were ‘international’. The ASA is a vibrant association. The sociological community in the USA is large, the resources available significant, and the country itself so diverse. These, and certain historical factors, can lead to a type of inwardness. Much of the interaction at ASA meetings happens at evening receptions (run by sections, interest groups, large departments, and publishers). I received an invite to a relatively modest ‘Reception for Scholars with International Research and Teaching Interests’. This was puzzling for an Australian sociologist. I cannot think of a single colleague in TASA who doesn’t fit this description of having ‘international interests’ to some extent.

Given this inward tendency, it is a remarkable achievement for an ‘international’ scholar to win one of the ASA’s major awards. The highlight of the conference was watching TASA’s own Professor Raewyn Connell receive the Jessie Bernard Award, given to a scholar whose work has ‘enlarged the horizons of the discipline of sociology to encompass fully the role of women in society’.  You can read Raewyn’s comments on accepting the award here.  Shanthi Robertson, our Association’s treasurer, was also at the ASA, and together we took Raewyn out for a celebratory dinner on behalf of TASA. Congratulations, Raewyn!


Raewyn Connell (ASA Jessie Bernard Award winner), Dan Woodman (TASA President), and Shanthi Robertson (TASA Treasurer), with the Jessie Bernard Award.

Professor Margaret Abraham, the President of the International Sociological Association, also attended the ASA Meeting, and we took the opportunity to meet for lunch to discuss the ISA World Congress of Sociology. The 19th Congress is next July, also in Canada. And over the past two years TASA has been making its way through the bidding process to host the 20th Congress in Australia, in 2022. We were announced as the preferred hosts last year, and this meeting allowed us to settle a couple of final sticking points. Soon after I returned to Australia, I received official confirmation that the 20th World Congress will be coming to Melbourne. This was the culmination of many years’ hard work, starting with a bid for the 19th Congress, led by Jo Lindsay and Katie Hughes. Our bid, and I believe its success, was built around TASA’s regional and global orientation, and conference planning will be guided by a Regional Organising Committee (including Asia- and Oceania-based sociologists along with TASA members).

The international horizons of Australian sociology will also be on display at our own annual conference for 2017, now less than a month away. Our theme for TASA 2017 is Belonging in a Mobile World, and we have a stellar bunch of Australian and international scholars to guide us through the week: Mimi Sheller, Anthony Elliott, Sharon Pickering, Matthew Tonts, and Alison Phipps. Our plenaries are fittingly focused on decolonising research and justice, as we discuss mobility and belonging at the University of Western Australia, on the picturesque Swan River, the lands of the Noogar People. I hope you will be able to join us, as TASA heads to WA for the first time in over a decade.

Dan Woodman

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