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October 2006

Last week AIME return from holidays and both the year 9 and 10 workshops we're really productive. The year 10 crew are doing really well and their projects are lookin like they will be ready for the Gala night on the 27th October. Tuesday 24th will be the last session for the year 10 program. Except they will be involved in the Gala day on the 27th October.

Gala Day - 27th October, 10am - 2pm, Sydney Uni no. 1

Sydney University Sport are hosting AIME for a touch football spectacular.
NSW Waratah Al Manning will join six of the Uni rugby players to conduct the workshop it should be a great way to end both the year 9 and 10 programs.

Gala Night - 27th October, 7.30pm - 10.00pm, Hermann's Bar, City Road Syd Uni

Hermann's Bar will be the location for the end of year function. The night will showcase the completed projects from the year 10 AIME proram. Entertainment will also be provided with Wire MC and The Street Warriors performing their unique mix of Hip Hop music. The night will also screen the AIME 2006 DVD for the first time. If you are interested in coming along please email kooriklub@gmail.com. Places are limited and it is invite only. Kids and mentors bring you parents or a friend along it will be a mad night.

Peace to you all

AIME crew

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Interesting internship opportunity for postgrads or students. The job is at ActNow, an online political network for young people.

Any interest let me know, I have a line to the boss haha.

clifton.evers@arts.usyd.edu.au

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The University organises a group of functions within which "gifted students" visit the campus in order to see what they might study and learn and experience at university. These are senior students who are selected as particularly able to gain things from that experience. Departments are offered the opportunity to provide a demonstration or presentation of either the training they offer or the topics they address.

Our department has offered presentations in previous years on topics like "Gender in the Media". This year, we proposed a group effort - a mix of both Gender Studies and Cultural Studies perspectives on the contentious question of pornography - on some of the debates around what pornography is for and the kinds of problem it is often seen to be. Four of us agreed to present short pieces on different approaches to debates around pornography.

So far so good. Pornography is certainly one of the issues where both gender studies and cultural studies have a lot to say, and an issue that's clearly of general public interest as any survey of mainstream media indicates. But the organising body within the university came back to us with the decision that pornography was not an appropriate topic to offer to these students experiencing what university is like.

It's a strange decision, given that "current affairs" and "social issues" segments in newspapers and on television which these same students will be encouraged to consider as a valid field of public debate address similar questions. It would be a rare 17yr old who had no opinion on the various debates around pornography and those people could clearly choose not to select our session from among those available. It would, indeed, be a rare 17yr old who had never encountered a piece of pornography (although we were never intending to show any).

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I wanted to relate a teaching experience I had earlier this semester. As you may know, I teach an undergrad unit, Cultures of Masculinities. After the introductory lecture a male student approached me and asked if the course was 'feminist'. He told me that he was a committed masculinist and that he had struggled in other courses in which one J Butler appeared in the set reading list. I replied that disagreement with any particular argument or reading is fine, but that students are expected to engage with those ideas. (ie disconnected ranting can't pass muster)

Afterwards, I thought about how my reply might sound like a cop-out with a 'pedagogical' response to what at first blush looks like a 'political' question. But more on that later.

Week 2: On the menu is Sedgwick's concept of homosocial desire and homosocial bonding. The next day the avowed masculinist (well, I'm assuming it's him) posts a comment on a forum page of 'Dads on the air', a father's rights community radio station based in Sydney. He commits himself to reporting on what the Dep't of Gender Studies thinks about men. The tone of his post about Cultures of Masculinity is set early. He comments about Sedgwick's ideas:
'Homosociety and Power: How males force society to look at itself as male-centric, and why fathers aren't as capable of looking after their kids as their mothers.'

What's interesting about this comment, I think, isn't that he got it wrong. (I didn't say anything even closely resembling those comments.) But why - or how - did he get it wrong in this particular way? The instructive point for me, then, has been the realisation that it is because this student is engaged in a conversation with 'committed' others, he's not able to engage in dialogue with, say, Sedgwick. Returning to the question of pedagogy I raised earlier, however, I wonder if the emphasis on engagement can highlight (for the student) what it is that his political investment blinds him to? I hope so.

Anyway, his post was the catalyst for a number of other posts which attacked gender studies courses on masculinity and men. The author of one such response ended up complaining to the Sex discrimination office at Sydney Uni.

As the legal entity for such an accusation the School replied to this complaint, but I was involved in drafting the response. This was a useful exercise because it got me thinking about what it is that a course like Cultures of Masculinity does and why it matters. While I'd like criticisms of what I do to be less paranoid and hostile in advance of my actually doing or saying anything, the whole episode was a reminder that gender is something people think and feel very strongly about. So what we do is important (and risky) because it interrogates those thoughts and feelings.

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Last week I went to Macquarie University to the Everyday Multiculturalism Conference [Day Two on Cronulla] to present a paper on the Cronulla Riots. My paper was on bonding processes for groups of young men and localism - a territorial process of surfing.

Key to the day was the involvement of community groups, as well as academics. In fact, the organisers copped a bit of flak for the language being used in the call for papers. It was suggested that the general public wouldn't be able to take part in the dialogue if the material to be presented wasn't made accessible enough.

On the day I found myself struggling with the abstraction that kept being put forward in the papers, and obtuse language being used to address the issues arising out of December 11, 2005 and its aftermath. While some papers, such as the opening address of Greg Noble, tried to make sure everyone would feel comfortable at the conference, many of the other papers didn't. There was repeated reference to dense academic theory and abstraction. Just backing, say the work of RW Connell or Emmanuel Levinas, up to the event and using it to explain what happened doesn't work. (In fact Connell is wrong about gender, but that's another post) Such a tactic distances us from what happened, the people involved and says: 'the evnt is interesting to my work and career'.

Theory IS important to analysis, and new langauge has to be used to unpack diffcuolt events. However, there is a time and place for it. Nothing was learnt by some speakers from the attack on the organisers [who tried to set up the community academic engagement from the outset]. I overheard a lot of comments asking what the hell the speaker meant and what planet they were from. Some people were polite about it, others were not. In the sessions, it often felt as if the speakers were talking 'about' Cronulla rather than engaging with it. Many papers felt very 'academic' and pretty far from what happened. All nice in theory, but so what? What were the speakers going to do with the material politically? How were their lives affected? What could be done on the ground?

In the afternoon there was a special session by community workers from Cronulla and other suburbs that were implicated. The speakers were very clear in the way they spoke - too many powerpoints but - yet simplified what were important areas, like racism etc. They also were pretty passive aggressive against the academics present, and some even challenged the academic analysis by refuting some of the confusing questions asked of them. I felt that the community workers still had the old 'ivory tower' opinion of academics.

What happened was that there was far too little to and froing in discussion as people had their guards up, so to speak.Future collaborative work was put in jeopardy.

We need to address the disjuncture between the theory we use as academics, the way we analyse things, and what the community wants , and quickly. I can't really blame the community and general public because they came along to the conference in the understanding that the talks would be in everyday langauge. But they weren't. Hence the frustration that bubbled along.

As academics we need to be situated in our talks, and work hard at translating the theoretical material so that others have access to it and the opportunity to debate it alongside us. It's not easy and can be very draining and expose us to critique more. Particularly when we are the work. We have to work twice as hard to make our work theoretically sound, but also very accessible. Our ocmmunity engagement needs to be very visible. Not to blow our own horn so to speak but to evidence our solidarity with community work and be seen to be 'putting ourselves politically on the line too' (in ways the public understand to be political). In this way we won't alienate the very people who would like to work alongside us and we would like to work with.

I know academics do community work all the time, but something was missing at the conference. Soething that demands us to revisit when we want to engage in very public debates and speak in ways that allow others into the work we do.

NB: Crossposted at blownglass

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