2014 Research Workshop: Summary and Highlights

The Identity Research Network ended an exciting first year with a day-long multidisciplinary workshop on December 3rd at Swinburne University on engagements with ‘identity’. Bringing together established and early-career academics across disciplines, from Melbourne and interstate, and representing all our research nodes, we had an exciting and engaging day of presentations, discussions, questions and informal conversations.

For those who couldn’t be there (or those who want to remind themselves of this excellent event), we’ve summarised the workshop in this blog post. We hope it will help link ongoing conversations and prompt broader discussions within and beyond the Network!

Morning Sessions: From the National to the Intimate and Back Again

We started our day with interesting papers from Katie Linnane and Sarah Smith in our first session. Sarah argued that UN’s approach to East Timor had a gendering role and actually ‘flattened’ women’s complex involvement in conflict and peace. Katie took us to the Keating and Howard eras of Australian politics to explore these PMs’ contrasting formations of Australian identity within their foreign policy demonstrating how both reflect a ‘vernacular of national identity’.

We shifted gears for our second session in which Monique Scott, Bronte McLeod, and Andrea Wallace approached identity from a psychological perspective asking us to consider in various ways the formation or maintenance of self in the context of mental illness. Monique prompted the workshop to consider a more complex understand of hearing voices as reflections of self, while Bronte explored personal recovery from mental illness and then effect of self-stigma in that process. Andrea rounded off the session by reconceptualising OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) as shame-regulation strategies.


From the personal to the national—our third session featured Chris Mudaliar and Alex Stewart who both extended our understanding of national identity formation in official discourse in Fiji. While Chris was interested in how historical context, ethnic identity and the construction of an overarching national identity through formal institutions creates contemporary Fijian identity, Alex explored how Fiji projects its identity in the international community seeing Fiji’s self identity as deeply connected to how it engages in regional politics.

At this half-way point of the workshop, although our stomachs were ready for lunch, question time provoked a range of interesting discussions linking these diverse presentations. Can psychological approaches to ideas of guilt and shame link to analyses of national identity? Do approaches like Sarah’s which complicate institutional processes provide a way to engage the personal within the national/international and vice-versa (structures within the personal) that the other presenters were exploring?

Afternoon Sessions: Mediated, Mobile, and Marginal Identities

crystaltwitterpicofworkshopWith our hunger sated, we  we exploited the magic of technology to have Crystal Abidin present her paper from Perth via Skype to kick off our fourth session. Crystal talked about microblogging and identity formation, prompting a flurry of questions from audience about the commercialisation of the self, ‘authenticity’ and importance of reflective practice in ethnographic research such as Crystal’s. Next in this session was Helena Liu with the provocative idea that sexuality/eroticism in relation to identity formation may have a place in the workplace. Helena explored the way Asian men in Australian business contexts are constructed as subservient and asexual by patriarchal norms and how they reclaim eroticism to challenge this. Rounding out our session on mediated identities, Diana Bossio asked how journalists negotiate their professional and personal identities in online spaces, proposing three approaches: conflicted about what to show, see social media as a professional ‘brand, and see the personal and professional as fused.

True to our commitment to multidisciplinary approaches our fifth session featured Michaela Callaghan and Omid Tofighian talking about dance and music in diverse contexts of identity formation. Michaela discussed her fieldwork that explored how dance practices in Ayacucho, Peru hold identity and embodied memory and are used/claim post conflict. In a fascinating discussion of complexity of identity, culture and conflict Michaela explored the choreography of place. Omid brought us closer to home with his discussion of how the Australian rap and hip-hop scene reflects issues with multiculturalism and marginalisation. Migrants, refugees, indigenous performers and others connect to make a new form of music in Australia.

In our final session of the day Riccardo Armellei, Samid Suliman, and Helen Berents brought questions of mobility, migration and marginalisation into the mix of ideas already presented in the workshop. Riccardo’s complex paper explored the politics of Romanies in Italy arguing for the space of the camp as one of oppression but also resistance. The ‘camp system’ is a deeply rooted exogenous tool of control, but also as a endogenous tool of the occupants to fight back. Samid moved smoothly from Riccardo’s paper to explore how the transnational movement of people challenge borders and concepts of identity; borderlands challenge ideas of sovereign self and evidence that everyday life happens despite borders. Helen rounded out the day by exploring the complications of belonging for internally displaced populations in Colombia and their use of space to claim back identities and notions of citizenship and rights.


Complexity and Diversity: Conclusions of the IRN 2014 Research Workshop

workshopdrinksAt the conclusion of the day the final discussion and questions drew attention to the multiple and complex ways that identity can be discussed across disciplines and in all times and spaces. There was recognition that marginalisation and marginal spaces present challenges to dominant ideas of identity whether that is the ethnicity of a businessman, the traditional dance practices of Ayacucho people, or those who live on and across formal borders. Identity is linked to place and space, to collective belonging, and individual self-formation.

Presenters and attendees continued to explore these threads and ideas at the pub that evening. However, before the workshop concluded Chris Agius noted that the IRN would pursue publication opportunities for the papers presented in the workshop, so those who couldn’t make the workshop can look forward to reading these ideas in greater detail. Chris, Dean and Helen wanted to thank all the presenters for making the workshop the stimulating event that it was, and for all our attendees for prompting interesting and engaged discussions throughout the day.

Onwards to 2015!

We were so excited to end our first year on such a high note. We are thoroughly looking forward to extending these conversations and starting many new ones via our monthly seminars and other events with you all in 2015!

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