On July 27, 2018, I received the following email in my Western Sydney University Inbox:
*Sent on behalf of Professor Tony Bennett*
The Australian Academy of the Humanities is holding a Colloquium to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of its Cultural and Communication Studies Section. The Colloquium, convened by myself, Professor John Frow, Associate Professor Chris Healy and Professor Elspeth Probyn, and hosted by Professor Gerard Goggins, will be held on 14 November in the Department of Media and Communication Studies, University of Sydney.
The Colloquium engages with on the theoretical, political, and institutional challenges they have confronted Cultural and Communication Studies over the last 20 years, and the directions in which they are headed.
Speakers and discussant for the day are: Dr Crystal Abidin, Professor Jill Bennett, Distinguished Professor Stuart Cunningham, Associate Professor Fran Martin, Professor Meaghan Morris, Professor Brett Neilson, Emeritus Professor Tim Rowse, Professor Wanning Sun, Dr Shawna Tang, Professor Julian Thomas, Emeritus Professor Graeme Turner, and Professor Gillian Whitlock.
The event is open and free. Registration is essential as places are limited. For further details and access to the registration process, please visit http://bit.ly/2LUE1qW
Professor Tony Bennett AcSS FAHA (Western Sydney University) — Head of the Academy’s Cultural and Communication Studies Section
THE HUMANITIES AND THE ACADEMY
Professor Meaghan Morris FAHA (University of Sydney) — Learned Academies: Why Bother?
Professor Brett Neilson (Western Sydney University) — The academy as logistical institution
Emeritus Professor Graeme Turner FAHA (University of Queensland) — The Humanities as Heuristic: Coordinating the sector
Respondent: Distinguished Professor Stuart Cunningham AM FAHA (Queensland University of Technology)
Chair: Professor John Frow FAHA (University of Sydney)
NEW DIRECTIONS IN CULTURAL STUDIES
Professor Jill Bennett (UNSW Sydney) – Embodied subjective experience and the limits (and possibilities) of empathy
Dr Shawna Tang (University of Sydney) — Sexuality in cultural studies
Dr Crystal Abidin (Curtin University) — Interdisciplinarity
Respondent: Professor Gillian Whitlock FAHA (University of Queensland)
Chair: Professor Elspeth Probyn FASSA FAHA (University of Sydney)
MATTER, TIME AND PLACE
Professor Julian Thomas FAHA (RMIT University) – Digital media and automation
Emeritus Professor Tim Rowse FAHA (Western Sydney University) – Cultural Studies and Indigenous issues
Associate Professor Fran Martin (University of Melbourne) – Australian Cultural Studies in the Asian century
Respondent: Professor Wanning Sun FAHA (UTS)
Chair: Associate Professor Chris Healy FAHA (University of Melbourne)
Head of the Culture and Communications Studies Section
Research Professor in Social and Cultural Theory
I was surprised that the topic, ‘Cultural Studies and Indigenous issues’ was not being presented on by an Indigenous scholar. I contacted the rest of the ACRAWSA executive and we decided to write a letter to the President of the Academy, Professor Joy Damousi. We put the letter online and asked our colleagues in the scholarly community to add their voice of support via a Google form. To date, 73 concerned people have signed our letter. The letter reads as follows:
Dear Professor Damousi,
I am writing to you on behalf of the executive committee of the Australian Critical Race & Whiteness Studies Association and members of our scholarly community. We note with concern that the Cultural and Communication Studies Section’s Twentieth Anniversary Colloquium to be held next November will discuss ‘Cultural Studies and Indigenous issues.’ While we do not wish to challenge Emeritus Professor Tim Rowse’s expertise in this matter, it is surprising and disappointing to us that the colloquium’s organisers and the Academy did not consider it more appropriate for an Indigenous scholar to speak on this topic.
The Australian Critical Race & Whiteness Studies Association promotes scholarship and other activities which respect the existence of and continuing rights deriving from Indigenous sovereignties in Australia and elsewhere and critically investigate and challenge racial privilege and the construction and maintenance of race and whiteness, both past and present. For these reasons we feel strongly that Indigenous scholars, whose research guides and informs our work, should always be given priority of speaking on issues of Indigeneity.
We do not, of course, feel that Indigenous issues should not be treated by settler scholars; quite to the contrary, we believe that it is vital that the entire scholarly community participates in active interrogation of the ongoing nature of coloniality in Australia and takes serious steps towards the critical interrogation of whiteness as it continues to operate hegemonically in Australian academy as in society at large. However, in the case of the colloquium under discussion, there is only one speaker on the topic and, hence, we believe it would have been fitting to invite an Indigenous scholar to speak guided, as we are, by the maxim ‘Nothing About Us, Without Us.’ Indigenous scholars are still far more likely to be the object of white study than be the listened to as the agents of their own knowledge production in the Australian academy.
At this stage, we understand that the programme is fixed. However, we feel it important to raise these concerns in the hope that they will be taken into account in any further programming by the Academy.
Associate Professor Alana Lentin
President, Australian Critical Race & Whiteness Association (2017-19)
On 1 August, a visit to the Australian Academy of the Humanities website showed that the original title of the talk by Emeritus Professor Tim Rowse had been altered from the original, ‘Cultural Studies and Indigenous issues’to ‘Non-Indigenous Engagement with Indigenous Culture.’
Later that day, I received an email from the Head of the Culture and Communications Studies Section of the Academy, Professor Tony Bennett, explaining that he and his colleagues had taken note of our letter and had consequently published ‘the full title’ of Professor Rowse’s talk. In the email, Professor Bennett also let me know that the organisers had put aside funding for a Welcome to Country and had made it clear on the web announcement of the Colloquium that this would be the first item on the agenda for the day’s events.
He clarified that the program was not in fact fixed as implied in the email sent out announcing the event, and acknowledged that inviting Indigenous scholars to contribute directly to the Colloquium was ‘entirely appropriate – partly in the spirit of “Nothing About Us, Without Us” – but also because of the contributions that Indigenous scholars have made to the concerns of Australian cultural and communication studies more generally.’
He also thanked ACRAWSA for drawing attention to the lack of direct contribution by Indigenous scholars to the program, and stated that the Academy was ‘now in the process of addressing this shortcoming.’ Therefore, a new line was included in the announcement on the Academy website: The title ‘Program’ was altered to ‘Draft Program’ and under it the following line was included, ‘Further details of additional presenters and abstracts will be released closer to the event.’
As ACRAWSA, we would like to thank Professor Bennett and the Academy for addressing our concerns directly and would welcome the opportunity to suggest names of Indigenous scholars who have made vital contributions to cultural studies in Australia and who could make a wonderful contribution to the Twentieth Anniversary Cultural Studies Colloquium.
In recognition of the strength of feeling about the importance of giving prominence to Indigenous scholarship in Australian academia in general, and cultural studies in this instance in particular, we will nonetheless be sending our letter and a list of all its signatories to the President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.
Thank you to everyone for your support.
Alana Lentin, ACRAWSA President (2017-19)
* I have used an image of Stuart Hall to illustrate this post. Stuart Hall is often thought of as the father of cultural studies.