Seduction and desire: the power of spectacle

Bronwyn Davies, Professorial Fellow University of Melbourne, Emeritus Professor Western Sydney University

Since January 2017 we have been witness to an extraordinary spectacle. Courtesy of the e-media we can get up each morning to gaze aghast at the latest episode of a drama we have fast become addicted to — America’s “very big” real life reality tv show. Such spectacles, in their capacity to engage avid, global attention, work on us all, in ways we are not necessarily conscious of. There is a dynamic at work in this spectacle that is, I will suggest, the culmination of neoliberal ideology and practice, and is made possible by the global explosion of internet usage. The task for qualitative researchers, I will argue, is to bring concepts to bear on the micro and macro elements of the spectacle, to make sense of how January 2017 and its aftermath became possible; and to produce an insightful analysis of the lines of force at work shaping and produced by the spectacle. Never have we had such rich data to work with! The video clips of Trump, and of his Greek chorus cheering him on; his tweets; the protesters; the comedians; the political activists; the judges; the journalists of the alt-right and those holding the ground of critique. Our job as social scientists is to pry open the dynamics of the spectacle to discover how they work—and how to deconstruct them. In this paper I will mobilise Baudrillard’s concepts of seduction and desire to see how they might be put to work in such an analysis.


Stitching Tattered Cloth: Reflections on Social Justice and Qualitative Inquiry in Turbulent Contexts

Karen M. Staller, University of Michigan, School of Social Work, Ann Arbor, MI USA

Chaos, it appears, is the order of the day.  Democratic practices, principles, and institutions are under attack. Freedoms of religion, movement, assembly, and speech are being threatened. Hostilities, fears, and suspicions of “others” are being stoked based on differences by nativity, ethnicity, race, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and ability status.  Political and social battlefronts have sprouted everywhere: borders and bathrooms, coastlines and clinics, embassies and airports, sacred lands and sanctuary cities. All seem to require immediate attention. We are facing troubled times, giving rise to questions about the role of qualitative inquiry in these turbulent contexts.

Historically, qualitative researchers have asked questions about the politics of evidence; but what does that look like in an era of “alternative facts” and “fake news”?  We have resisted the ‘audit culture’ in the academy, but what happens when the academy itself is under attack?  We have asked whose interpretation or narrative counts; but how do we honor local and situated knowledge when those views may deeply offend our own sensibilities and appear threatening to human rights?  We have advocated community engagement but what is the role of action-based and participatory methodologies, where action is being called for on both sides of ideological battle lines?  Is it possible to ‘give voice’ to others and take action in a world comprised of political camps informed by fundamentally incompatible views of reality? In general, we have used qualitative inquiry to expose fault lines and resist oppressions but have we done enough to bridge differences, to find common ground, or to stitch seams along frayed edges?

This keynote will be based on a year long project musing about the role of qualitative inquiry in turbulent times. Using critical inquiry and social work values this keynote will be pieced together from scraps gathered in a diary of field notes reflecting on conversations in classrooms, on campuses, at community forums, between protesters, over email, through tweets, or derived from news accounts, political cartoons, or other threads of qualitative evidence.

For over a decade the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry has incubated ideas and conversations in a cozy cocoon. More than ever before the time feels right to reflect on its significance as an organizing space for global advocacy and as a collective force for infusing a more hopeful, compassionate, and forgiving worldview by inviting all those who share similar values and principles to join the movement.