[csaa-forum] Another attack on CS in the Oz

Gregory Noble G.Noble at uws.edu.au
Fri Jul 28 13:28:34 CST 2006

Hi all

Whether Emma Dawson is a decent person or not is beside the point - the article in questions rests on a dubious leap that is too frequent in contemporary journalism. The author says it is OK for academics to engage in abstract theorising, but then says we can't do it in relation to this topic. Indeed, it takes what is a simple call for papers and makles it stand for what the author sees as the left's failure to communicate with a broader public. That's just plain silly, for several reasons.

1. This is a document designed to address academics - and it's not particularly obscure in any case. If it is OK for academics to talk amongst themselves at some point, then it is ok for them to use a language that those addressed will comprehend.
2. To say we can't do this because the topic is of public importance is like telling scientists and engineers not to use terms drawn from mathematics and physics when they are considering solutions to Sydney's water supply and usage.
3. The conference is designed to get academics thinking differently about multiculuralism - get out of ther attack/defend mode and generate new approaches to understanding the complexity of the day-to-day experiences of diversity - this has ramifcations for informing interventions in public debate, but this process always requires some spoace for thinking away from the pressure of translating this into public debate.
4. The article assumes that because some academics use theory to talk about issues germane to everyday life that they are unwilling or incapable of changing register and communicating with a non-academic audience at other times. This is, of course, a non sequitur. It would be like me assuming that because the author has made a mistake in her logic that she is incapable of engaging with intelelctual debate.
5. Related to this, it claims that, apart from 2 exceptions, that academics have not engaged in public debates about multiculturalism specifically in the aftermath of the Crionulla riots. This is just factually wrong - I could name more than a dozen Sydney academics who have been involved in public discussions about these issues - it is a sdhame the author hasn't come across these items in the press, TV and radio - and on the internet

I have read other work by the author and yes there are better examples of an engagement with these issues - and talking with her rather than against her is the best way to proceed. Perhaps the conference organisers might ask her to attend and give her paper and listen to others - maybe a specific session on the issues she raises.

(oh, and by the way, let's not get sidetracked on the left/right terminology debate - they are the author's terms in any case)



Dr Greg Noble

School of Humanities and Languages
University of Western Sydney
Bldg C - Penrith campus
Locked Bag 1797
Penrith South DC, NSW 1797, Australia
The Centre for Cultural Research
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Tel  +61 2 47 360 365

Co-author of 'Bin Laden in the Suburbs' (Sydney Institute of Criminology, 2004)

-----Original Message-----
From: csaa-forum-bounces at lists.cdu.edu.au on behalf of Laknath Jayasinghe
Sent: Fri 28/07/2006 1:07 PM
To: csaa-forum at lists.cdu.edu.au
Subject: Re: [csaa-forum] Another attack on CS in the Oz
  Sorry. I really do apologise for the repeat post, but that should read: "not remain on separate islands...".

Laknath Jayasinghe <think_broadly at yahoo.com.au> wrote:
    Hi all--and good afternoon.
  Actually, to be fair, I know Emma; and I know that both her politics and her heart is firmly planted in the right place. Although there are some things I could pick apart in the article, she does make a legitimate criticism--that cultual and media studies researchers should also engage with the broad community. I thoroughly agree with that. We do much exciting work in fresh and interesting areas, but quite often it seems that the ideas just don't get out to the broad public. Of course, given the climate of Nelson-Bishop, McGuiness and Bolt, the task is more difficult. We have to be more creative and more persistent.
  In fact, this is something that Graeme Turner alluded to in a paper he delivered in 1999, arguing that--apart from the academic stuff we do--we should be doing more work in the 'public sphere', the broad public sphere, that is. I take my cue from him. I believe that we should build academic bridges, but remain on separate islands. The mass media here in Oz, from both my professional and academic experience, are open to articles and letters that take new and exciting ideas to the public--from all political positions. Of course, language must be modified and the ideas recrafted and tailored to the audience; very few allusions to Bhabha, Butler or Bourdieu here!  
  Also, must we always 'dichotomise' our debate into 'left / anti-left' etc.? I remember having a brief chat with Toby Miller after he presented a paper here  in Melbourne a few months ago, and he was aghast at the polarity of discourse in some Australian cult studs work. Much of the work we do is so inspiring--politically, ethically and academically. I know I'm guilty of this at times, but does our politics move within frames of the "either/ or"; or is it really a case of a trillion shades of grey? 
  Were the Cronulla Beach rioters, for example, "racist"? I don't think so. We need a more nuanced language to describe contemporary Australian, indeed global, politics. Left and right (and upper, middle, working class etc) seem such ancient terms and they so imprecisely get at what is really going on in contemporary everyday life. What do these terms mean, particularly at the level of a rapidly globalising and shrinking everyday? Perhaps commercial research organisations such as Roy Morgan Research and AC Nielsen are more on the ball in terms of describing and classifying some of the social and cultural trends in contemporary Australia. 
  I recently completed my MPhil in cultural studies at UQ, where I examined masculinities in Nick Cave's early performances. Now I'm at Unimelb's Melbourne Business School, researching a PhD in marketing (using much cultural and media studies research, by the way). It's certainly a more conservative space from the one I previously moved within. Ian Harper, an economist over here at MBS, was recently appointed by John Howard to chair the IR / Fair Pay Commission. Does that mean I must abdicate my "left-ish" politics? I certainly hope not!
  Anyway, look forward to hearing the many and varied takes on this issue.

Laknath Jayasinghe
BSc, BBus (Mktg), MPhil

PhD student (Marketing)
Melbourne Business School
The University of Melbourne 
200 Leicester Street 
Carlton 3053 

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