ICS Seminar Series - Ien Ang, Gay Hawkins, Alana Lentin and Zoë Sofoulis

Date: Thursday, 30 April 2020
Time: 11.30am–1pm
Venue: This seminar will take place ONLINE via Zoom. Please join via the following link: https://uws.zoom.us/j/95919845423

Intersecting Crises

Following discussion at the ICS planning day and seminars devoted to the bushfire summer and Coronavirus, the April 30 seminar engages the theme of “intersecting crises.” There is a growing sense that the world faces a concatenation of deeply inextricable crises: ecological, political, economic, epidemiological, racial, social reproductive, and so on. Is the concept of crisis (with its implicit narrative of pre-existing conditions, turmoil and recovery) appropriate to grasp the challenges of the moment? If we posit a confluence of crises, do we risk obscuring the ways in which one crisis might presuppose or underlie others? Is the performative act of declaring or identifying a crisis in a certain field carried by a call for present action that talk of other crises threatens to drown out? Or is the recognition of “intersecting crises” politically enabling?  Four speakers will grapple with these questions and ask how ICS research might draw on its strengths and adapt to meet challenges new and old, now and in the future.


Ien Ang

Ien Ang will frame the theme of the seminar by describing how the current crisis surrounding COVID-19 lays bare a broader and deeper organic crisis permeating all levels of society, both nationally and globally. She will reflect on a number of political and intellectual barriers to overcome if we are to respond to this organic crisis.

Ien Ang is Distinguished Professor of Cultural Studies at ICS, of which she was the director until the end of 2014. Her latest, co-authored, book is Chinatown Unbound: Trans-Asian Urbanism in the Age of China (2019).

Gay Hawkins - Crisis, Critique, Speculation, Imagination

If crisis provokes anything it is critique: the demand to sift, sort and assess the elements of a situation and judge how to respond to it. This pragmatic account of critique is easily overlooked in much critical theory which often appeals to transcendent truths, and the authority of the critic to tell us what’s really going on; to offer us a disenchanted realism. This talk explores other modes of responding to crises such as speculation and imagination. Rather than being anti-critical or apolitical, these intellectual practices involve different relations to a crisis focussed on how it can be given flesh. If we stay with the trouble, as Haraway insists, how can we be open to its provocations; to the questions, issues, ethical dilemmas and divergent interpretations that it proposes. And how can this speculative practice generate new collective imaginations and what ifs that get beyond despair?

Gay Hawkins is a research professor in the ICS. She works in STS and the environmental humanities with a particular focus on political materials.

Alana Lentin

The Coronavirus pandemic has been shown to disproportionately affect people from Black, Indigenous and minority ethnic communities in the Global North. However, the refusal to have serious public or scholarly discussions about the history or sociology of race, has created a dangerous situation in which equivalences are drawn between this fact and racial determinism. Rather than seeing the rates of Covid-19 infection among racialised people, particularly in the US and the UK, as related to the operations of racial capitalism, commentators interpret the data in ways that re-compound false biological narratives about race. In this short presentation, I argue that decades of debating the existence of racism in the interests of equally representing what is portrayed as ‘both sides’ in a debate about whether it still exists, has enabled the re-emergence of eugenics talking points as ‘mere ideas’ on the ‘marketplace of ideas’. Notions such as ‘positive’ or ‘liberal eugenics’ find a home in reputable journals and are promoted by libertarian academics who portray themselves as ‘brave contrarians’ in an era portrayed as ‘anti-free speech’. This ambience lays the groundwork for the possibility of necropolitical policy thought bubbles such as ‘herd immunity’ that have already had unspeakable effects on the population in several countries. Showing how such ideas are thoroughly racial in their inheritance is important work, but one generally disregarded by academics.

Dr Alana Lentin is Associate Professor in Cultural and Social Analysis at Western Sydney University. She is a European and West Asian Jewish woman who is a settler on Gadigal land. She works on the critical theorization of race, racism and antiracism. Her latest book is Why Race Still Matters (Polity, 2020). www.alanalentin.net

Zoë Sofoulis- ‘Oh bugger! We’re on Planet C!’

The government’s action to contain the COVID-19 disease is compared to passivity on the climate emergency,  a crisis of complex causality it lacks the capacity or will to address. The Coronoavirus crises spells catastrophe for many, but for some the lockdown is a welcome caesura, a pause for reflection and reorientation in transition towards a different normal. Lockdown laws that force families together while criminalising intimacy for singles suggest we need an alternative social unit to include kith as well as kin: the co-viral group or ‘cove’.

Zoë Sofoulis, an adjunct at ICS, is an interdisciplinary researcher known for practical applications of qualitative cultural research and humanities perspectives in fields where technology and engineering predominate, especially water. Her work has helped define a cultural and sociotechnical perspective on metropolitan water and demand management.