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Pam Papadelos and Samantha Williams

Further information

About the author

Pam Papadelos has a PhD from the discipline of Gender, Work and Social Inquiry at the University of Adelaide. She is currently the co-ordinator of the Fay Gale Centre for Research at the University of Adelaide.

Samantha Williams completed Bachelor Degrees in Social Sciences and Health Sciences at The University of Adelaide in 2007. Continuing her studies in public health and gender studies, she completed an Honours Degree in Health Sciences in 2009, focusing on young people's attitudes to, and perceptions of, a variety of sexual behaviours and lifestyles. Samantha is now working in the area of HIV and STI policy and programs in South Australia. Her research interests include sexualities, bodies, sexual health and wellbeing, and perceptions and understandings of these constructs.

Publication details

Volume 24, May 2011

Emerging Spaces: New Possibilities in Critical Times

The Australian Women’s and Gender Studies Association Conference,
Adelaide 30 June – 2 July 2010

The 2010 AWGSA Conference held in Adelaide, South Australia, was jointly organised by the Women’s and Gender Studies departments of South Australia’s three Universities: University of South Australia (Research Centre for Gender Studies), Flinders University (Women ’s Studies Department), and University of Adelaide (Discipline of Gender, Work and Social Inquiry). The conference was located at the University of South Australia, City West Campus. It was cold and wet in Adelaide. Approximately 180 people attended the Adelaide Conference.

The keynote speakers were Professor Zillah Eisenstein (Ithaca College, New York), Professor Dorothy Broom (Australian National University), and Professor Lyn Parker (University of Western Australia). In association with the conference, Dr Aileen Morton-Robinson delivered the inaugural South Australian Women’s Studies and Gender Studies Public Lecture.

Professor Eisenstein gave the opening keynote for the conference. Her paper titled “Audacious Feminism: and their Newest Sexes, Races, Genders, and Globes” explored ‘new’ ways of acting politically to combat gender oppression in a global context. Dorothy Broom’s keynote address, “Accounting for Obesity: Confusing Findings, Deficient Explanation” explored the role of gender and class in the production of ‘fat kids’. Dr Megan Warin and Dr Michelle Jones responded to Broom’s paper with theoretical models (academic) and policy initiatives (government) that inform and complicate obesity discourses, and which lay the foundations for preventative programs. Professor Lyn Parker’s address titled “Where are the Women in Multiculturalism? Contributions on Culture Religion from an Anthropologist of Multiculturalism in Indonesia” drew comparison between multiculturalism in Indonesia and Australia in order to identify the failure in western scholarship to deal with religion and gender. A version of the keynote papers will be published in Australian Feminist Studies.

The conferences hosted five panel discussions: an Indigenous Women’s Panel; Feminist Scholarship in Australian Universities in the era of ERA; Gender, Power and Service Delivery: Critical Perspectives for Human Services; Changing women, Changing society in Japan; and Re-emerging Spaces: Working with Class. I was fortunate enough to attend two of these sessions.

The Indigenous Women’s panel was chaired by Kokatha woman, Yvonne Clark, a clinical psychologist from the University of Adelaide. Karen Glover and Professor Margaret Allen shared their personal experiences of working with Indigenous people. Allen spoke of the rewards and challenges of teaching and supervising Indigenous students. Glover focused on health services for Indigenous women, and the challenges faced by Indigenous women workers in the government sector.

Associate Professor Barbara Baird, Professor Alison Bartlett, Dr Anne Genovese, and Associate Professor Mary Spongberg reflected on the state of feminist scholarship in Australian Universities. Particularly striking was the way that current research practices, including ERA but not exclusively, disadvantage feminist academics. They stressed the need for feminist academics to be active in the review process of the Excellence for Research in Australia (ERA) implementation by the Australian Research Council, in particular as the journal ranking process does not recognize gender studies as a field of research, and consequently marginalizes important feminist journals. Moreover, they discussed the precarious place of gender studies in the university as generally underfunded and under threat. The information presented by this panel was informative and encouraging in these ‘critical times’.

Australian artist, Bronwyn Platten, conducted a lunchtime workshop called ‘Mouths and Meaning’. Participants explored experiences of embodiment by concentrating on their mouths. An enjoyable and illuminating time was spent, part of which included eating chocolate (not just any chocolate but Haigh’s - beautiful South Australian chocolate), whilst drawing impressions of our palates and other parts of our mouths, with our eyes closed.

Following tradition, the conference was preceded by the Postgraduate Day program: ‘Life after a PhD or Masters’, which comprised of practical workshops like ‘writing a CV’. The postgraduate day was convened by Toni Delany, Clare Bartholomaeus, and Gabriella Zizzo from the University of Adelaide and Danielle Hanisch and Lisa Hodge from the University of South Australia. Information about applying for grants and post-doctoral opportunities, publishing, mentoring, travel opportunities, and teaching/supervision were covered. Speakers from Government (Office for Women and SA Health) and Non-Government Organisations (Service to Youth Council) gave advice about non-academic careers. The day ended with a keynote speech from Professor Emerita Chilla Bulbeck where she spoke about the challenges and rewards of pursuing a career in academia by drawing on her own experiences. In all, 68 people attended the Postgraduate Day, 59 being postgraduate students. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

The conference was a wonderful reminder of the interdisciplinarity of gender studies. The papers presented at the Adelaide Conference extended to, but were by no means limited to, themes such as family life, cultural studies, emerging technologies, mental health, and sexualities.

A number of scholars presented research into aspects of family life, with parenting being a common theme. JaneMaree Maher, Suzanne Fraser and Jo Lindsay, and Toni Delany explored constructions of motherhood when confronted with children’s ill health. Delany examined discourses of maternal responsibility during pregnancy and in the face of mothering a child with a congenital health problem. In turn, she highlighted the silencing of paternal responsibility replicated in health promotion resources, by medical professionals and by the mothers she interviewed. Maher et al. similarly analysed the mobilisation of notions of motherhood and responsibility in the context of the ‘childhood obesity epidemic’. In particular they explored conflict between constructs of maternal roles as caring and nourishing, and the framing of maternal responsibility as withholding or managing their child’s food consumption. Mario Chan-Ching Liong also addressed constructions of parenthood, focusing on fatherhood. Using his case study of the contemporary men’s movement in Honk Kong, Liong argued for the need to re-construct notions of fatherhood within the politics of men, masculinity, and gender ideology, to accommodate fathers who may feel inferior, including divorced or single fathers and ‘househusbands’.

Liong was among many conference presenters showcasing research conducted overseas, with several presentation streams dedicated to international studies. I will focus on three studies which utilised both Australian and international data to explore issues of gender and education. Edith Miguda took a ‘big picture approach’, when discussing her experiences of teaching about women’s movements in Africa, the United States, and Australia. Miguda described women’s multiple oppressions and the subsequent advent of various women’s movements such as black feminism, African feminism, womanism, and white feminism. Focusing on divisions and conflicts between such movements, Miguda offered insight into potential arenas for global coalition in feminist activism. Kanchana Bulumulle and Shu-Hua Chao explored issues for women in educational settings in their home countries and in Australia. Bulumulle presented some findings from her PhD research where she explored gendered privilege in Sri Lankan and Australian universities. Similarly, Chao reflected on gendered academic privilege by comparing practices in Taiwan with practices in Australia. In particular, she discussed the low female enrolments in tertiary computer studies courses in both countries, and presented some of the social and psychological factors, which she argues contribute to the low numbers. While, focused on Australia, Karen Starr and Kim Toffoletti presented the preliminary findings of their research project, which investigated policies, practices, and work cultures, that support or hinder gender equity in Australian universities.

Presentations about sexualities, sex, and constructions of subjectivity were also diverse. Sandie Price asked her audience to consider what ‘falling in love’ means, why it is considered romantic, and whether romantic love has a legitimate role for contemporary Western women. Angelique Bletsas discussed pornography in terms of ‘subjectification effects’. She challenged the singular idealised and highly normative feminist subjectivity, which is used to problematise misogynist cultural forms, and instead suggested that this type of subjectivity forecloses the possibility of recognising ‘difference’ and the constitutive nature of gendering processes. Monique Mulholland also discussed aspects of ‘pornification’. She mapped pornification as a discourse, drawing on the ways in which the ‘normal’ and the ‘illicit’ are discursively produced in media, government, community and academic responses to a supposedly pornified culture. Samantha Williams discussed desire from young people’s perspective by posing the question: ‘What is casual sex anyway? Her research with young people showed that a diverse range of sexual practices could fall under the umbrella term ‘casual sex’, including both short-term encounters and long-term partnerships. However, young people challenged the traditional notions of casual sex as indiscriminate, meaningless, or immoral. Finally, Damian Riggs asked, ‘What makes a man a man?’ Using the case study of Thomas Beattie, a transman who has since given birth to two children, Riggs challenged the focus on bodies to legitimise identity and the ways in which the uncoupling of bodies and identity can marginalise and pathologise transgender people.

A gendered lens was also used to explore mental health issues. Monica Dryburgh focused on self-injury as a significant health issue in contemporary Australia that disproportionately affects women. Dryburgh highlighted that literature about self-harm, written for the medical community and for the general public, fails to take into account any gendered perspective. She compared this to literature about other mental health issues including anorexia and depression, which successfully employs a feminist perspective to highlight the gap in understanding self-injury. Katrina Jaworski’s research continued discussion about self-harm and gender. She challenged the widespread gendering of suicide as masculine. An interesting discussion ensued about how to further understand suicide, given that the voices of those who have been ‘successful’ cannot be heard.

Technology, in its various forms, was another contemporary theme of the conference, with aspects of online technology and social networking in particular a focus of several presenters. Penelope Robinson analysed a recent advertising campaign in which mothers were invited to take part in an online ‘digital makeover’, suggesting that women are technologically illiterate and therefore needing help to navigate digital landscapes. In contrast, Amy Shields Dobson explored online media as a vehicle to form and replicate female identities. Dobson looked at young women who use social medium MySpace, and the ways in which they perform gender and ‘hetero-sexiness’ to produce identities as sexual objects.

The conference hosted five book launches. Congratulations to Megan Warin for Abject Relations: Everyday Worlds of Anorexia (Rutgers 2009), Damien Riggs for What about the Children! Masculinities, Sexualities and Hegemony (Cambridge Scholars Press 2010), Catherine Kevin (ed.) for Feminism and the Body: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Cambridge Scholars Press 2010), Betty McLellan for Unspeakable: A Feminist Ethic of Speech (OtherWise Publications 2010), and Lekkie Hopkins and Lynn Roarty for Among the Chosen: the Life Story of Pat Giles (Fremantle Press 2010).

The 2010 AWGSA conference was also important because one of the chief convenors, Associate Professor Margie Ripper from Gender, Work and Social Inquiry at the University of Adelaide, retired from academia. Margie has had a tremendous impact on Women’s Studies/Gender Studies scholarship. Many colleagues and former students celebrated Margie’s many achievements over drinks during and after the conference. While Margie received an emotional farewell, we also celebrated her continuing contributing to Women’s Studies/Gender Studies as Adjunct Associate Professor at Flinders University.

Another significant event was the awarding of the 2010 Inaugural AWGSA PhD Award for the most outstanding doctoral thesis completed at an Australian university with the last 2 years that clearly and extensively engages with feminist paradigms. The joint winners of the award were Dr Sally Newman (Monash) and Dr Jessica Cadwallader (Macquarie). Congratulations to them both.

The conference title, ‘Emerging Spaces: New Possibilities in Critical Times’ was reflected in the breadth of representation of gender and feminism at the AWGSA 2010. We look forward to another instalment of contemporary research and free-flowing discussion at the next AWGSA conference in Sydney in 2012.


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