On November 22 2018 I gave a paper at The Australian Sociological Association annual conference on Sociological Fiction and the Neoliberal Imaginary. In this I explored how the neoliberal imaginary is not just normalised but naturalised and legitimised in contemporary society, being tied up with both economic and evolutionary discourses and inferring culturally meaningful implications for people. I then unpacked how art – and sociological fiction in particular – can help us understand, illuminate and challenge this imaginary by helping us get at the relationship between aesthetics and imaginaries. I argued that doing this (affectively challenging the neoliberal imaginary) is an important project because neoliberalism challenges the conceptual foundations of sociology as a discipline.
This masterclass explored ways of practically extending critical and feminist social research with art – specifically photography, sociological fiction and zine making. These arts practices are valuable for opening up how we critically explore, analyse, collaborate on, and share experiences and understandings of the social world.
I focused on the convergence of writing and research practices in sociological fiction. I charted a background of social scientists who have written fiction, discussed So Fi Zine, and outlined some stylistic criteria for writing and evaluating sociological fiction. Using these criteria I made some practical and conceptual suggestions for aspiring sociological fiction writers.
On February 15 2018 I gave a paper titled Fiction as Method at ‘Modern Methodologies: Developments in Doing Sociological Research’, an event I convened that was co-hosted by The Australian Sociological Association and Western Sydney University Institute for Culture and Society, School of Social Sciences and Psychology, and Graduate Research School.
In this paper I outlined the methodological approach I use in my PhD, a mixed-methods project involving the creation of a sociological fiction novel. In this workshop setting I used my own experience to raise broader questions about art in sociology including: What value can creative methods add to our research, beyond being ‘interesting’? In creative projects, how do we balance the need for functionality without creating art that is overwhelmingly didactic? And how can we better talk about the contribution that arts-based research makes to our disciplinary knowledge, so this value is clear for institutions, participants, publics, and other researchers?
This workshop brought together select postgraduates and ECRs to discuss and develop their methodological approaches. Over the two days we saw paper presentations and participant-led panel discussions on topics ranging from critical ethnography and working with vulnerable populations, to creative approaches for interviewing and representing field work. Overall, we focused on issues of reflexivity, positionality, cultivating good intellectual practices, collaboration with other researchers and participants, and ways of communicating the work we do as social researchers.
On November 30 2017 I gave a paper titled Braiding a ‘Society Ethic’ with Spinoza and Sociological Fiction (or What is the point of sociological fiction???) at The Australian Sociological Association’s annual conference, Belonging in a Mobile World, held at the University of Western Australia, Perth.
This paper focused on what novels and fiction can bring to the project of public sociology, and summarised the key argument of my PhD project.
On June 9 2017 I gave a paper titled Social Science and Fiction: fiction writing as a method and analytical tool at Birmingham City University as part of their Experimental approaches to writing research event.
The event was an opportunity for doctoral students in ADM and beyond to expand their horizons in terms of writing style and postgraduate publications, benefitting from the expertise of internal and external speakers from a range of backgrounds applicable to Arts, Design and Media, in addition to Sociology and English.
It was a great creative event involving lots of practical sessions – we cut and coloured and pasted and wrote and wrote and wrote about our research. I really enjoyed being challenged to visualise elements of my work, doing various kinds of poetic free-writing, and also the genius crazily fast writing challenge: to handwrite for a minute non-stop following the prompt It was a dark and stormy night, ten times over, to engage a completely different writing practice and see how many words we can manage a minute. The top score from the group was 75! Apparently if you wrote at this pace you’d hit your PhD word requirement in just twenty hours…
My paper focused on two reasons for using fiction in social research:
- writing can help us see (ie writing is a way of seeing, a way for knowing, a constructive and not just representative endeavour) and fiction specifically can be a useful creative endeavour for exploring, embodying and flexing academic concepts
- writing can help us show (ie writing is how we communicate ideas) and fiction writing can help us illustrate core themes of sociological analysis – class, race, age, gender, identity, inequality – in intersectional, big-picture and everyday ways