Tuesday, September 2, 2014

On power-hungry time-keepers during conference panels and cultural insensitivity

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Last week, during one of the conference panels I decided to attend, the chair and discussant, who I will call Dr. X, was extremely conscientious about time-keeping. Normally, this is a good thing. You want to make sure that panelists have enough time to talk, that the discussant has enough time to provide feedback, and that the audience has enough time to ask questions. With a 15 minute window to go to your next panel at the end of each session, and with the conference spread out between three hotels, it is especially important that the panels end on time. 

In this case, though, Dr. X was clearly lording over his power. At the end of the first two presentations, he kept saying that it was good that the two speakers spoke within their allocated time allotments, but then stressed that the remaining speakers needed to stick to their time because otherwise, when it was time for him to speak, he “won’t be able to say good things about the papers.” Someone in the audience tried to lighten the atmosphere by saying, “wow, Dr. X, you have good things to say about the paper,” which led Dr. X to throw a deathly glare at the person in response.

The third speaker then stood up. It was clear that English was his second language, and he started his presentation, saying, “thank you so much to everyone for attending this panel, to the organizers of this section…”

"Yes, yes, yes, just get on with it. Stop blathering,” Dr. X barked, his arms crossed.

The poor presenter turned red and then begun his presentation. It was clear that Dr. X’s intervention rattled him, though, and that it was difficult for him to recover.

I’ve observed the same power-tripping time-keeping tendencies among overly-eager chairs in other settings, including a human rights conference where most of the participants were non-native English speakers and clearly needed more time to articulate their thoughts. In this instance, it didn’t help that the chair had an obnoxious habit of snapping her fingers then banging her hands on the table once the allotted ten minutes each speaker were given was up. “STOP. YOU ARE OUT OF TIME. STOP. YOU ARE OUT OF TIME,” she would bark. 

Conferences, particularly those where a lot of the attendees are from non-English-speaking countries, should make allowances for folks who need more time communicate their thoughts. It is extremely culturally insensitive and rude to cut people off so abruptly. Also, academics, who have a tendency to become power hungry over the most inessential things, including time keeping, really need to chill the fuck out.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

When listening to a conference panel and it is clear that the discussant did NOT read the papers

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I think everyone in this room is incredibly embarrassed. Should we leave? Should we pretend that this didn’t just happen? Let’s all avoid making eye contact, shall we?!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014 Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How I feel about conference panels starting at 7:30 am

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Looking at the schedule for the upcoming American Political Science Association conference, it completely baffles me to see the schedule packed from 7:30 am…until 11 pm, when different association receptions are supposed to end. And this takes place over a period of five days. I like nerding out as much as the next academic, but how do you survive five full days of poli sci?! And to think I was bitching about conference panels starting at 9 am a full two years ago!  Does this mean that next year, I will be going to conferences that start at 6 am? Hey, here’s an idea: why not just have all day and all night panels. Let’s not sleep at all! We all know that genius strikes when we’re delirious!

Monday, August 25, 2014 Sunday, August 24, 2014
I die.

I die.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Do you want to prevent live-in caregivers from getting deported? Do you want to make sure they get landed status? Then do something!

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I previously blogged before about why I became part of Canadians for an Inclusive Canada and why I think it is important for people to take part. Since launching our website, we’ve had a great response. One of our major campaigns, which calls on people’s individual MPs to give live-in caregivers landed status upon arrival, got 500 signatures a few days after we launched it. Our goal was to get 500 signatures by August 31 so we quickly surpassed that goal! And the petition is still ongoing so please inform as many people as you can about this and maybe get them to sign. We are tracking how many letters get sent to each MP, and the more letters people send, the more we can persuade them to act on behalf of live-in caregivers.

Even if you don’t necessarily want to sign the petition, however, and if you feel that there are other mechanisms - and other calls for action - that need to be made on behalf of live-in caregivers, I encourage you to go ahead and act. As someone who wrote an entire dissertation on social movements, one of the biggest ways to oppose harmful policies is to do something - anything to signal your opposition to these policies.

A key reason for why live-in caregivers were able to get the opportunity to apply for permanent residency in the first place in the late 1970s/early 1980s was because different groups of people from divergent political and cultural backgrounds became active. Some marched. Some had petitions. Some directly lobbied government ministers. Some wrote articles. Some handed out pamphlets. Some had sit-ins. Some went uninvited to private government meetings to talk. Some knocked on the doors of different households and spoke to employers and domestic workers about what was happening. Some had press conferences. Most did a combination of these actions, even if they were contradictory, just to show that they felt strongly enough about the changes that they would resort to all possible means to get their voices heard. This meant that activists I interviewed spoke of picketing and protesting in front of Immigration officers’ buildings one day, and then meeting government officials the next to lobby them individually. All of these were strategic maneuvers designed to get them the policy outcome they sought: landed status for migrant caregivers.

And yet, as is the norm for government policy, they got what they asked for but with a catch. Migrant caregivers had to live and work with their employers for 24 months before they could even apply for permanent residency. This was NOT what activists sought because they wanted permanent residency upon arrival, which, as mentioned repeatedly in this blog, is still the call activists are making. And the government, under the Conservative party, is putting the issue on the table and threatening to remove live-in caregivers’ ability to apply for permanent residency.

History is repeating itself but with harsher and more punitive consequences: the federal government is going to remove live-in caregivers’ automatic ability to apply for permanent residency even when this goes against what migrant caregivers and Canadian families want. The federal government is going to do this even when this doesn’t accord with people’s democratic wishes because Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has the power to pass these changes through ministerial prerogative - there will be no parliamentary debate on this issue.

Also, since the proposed changes to the LCP will lead to a much reduced number of live-in caregivers getting permanent residency (click here for more information on why), then what will happen to the live-in caregivers who do not get permanent residency? Much like the temporary foreign workers under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) who found their contracts suddenly cut, it is very likely that the live-in caregivers who do not get PR will have to leave Canada. Those who don’t because they cannot afford to do so will become undocumented and, if caught, risk deportation. There have been more deportations under this current government than in any other period of history, according to human rights activists.

Get folks together. If you have an organization, figure out what you want to do. Do you want to write a joint letter to Chris Alexander? Do you want to start another petition? Do you want to plan a picket or a protest or a sit-in? Do it! NOW. Even the simple act of talking to current live-in caregivers and preparing them for what may happen is an important political move. So please, get involved and do something. Changes are going to be announced in the fall - likely in October - and if we don’t act now, it may be too late.

(For former and current caregivers who are reading this and who live in Toronto, please consider going to a planning meeting organized by our friends at the Caregiver Action Centre. Details can be found here).

Thursday, August 21, 2014

How I decide which of the many conference cocktail receptions I will attend

Option One: cash bar

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Option Two: open bar

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Option Three: open bar with appetizers

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Overheard: “I only do theatre when I’m in it.”

Girl: Hey, want to watch Shakespeare in the Park tonight?

Boy (sniff): No.

Girl : Why? You busy?

Boy: No, I only do theatre when I’m in it. Also, Shakespeare in the Park doesn’t count as real theatre. They bastardize Shakespeare.

Girl: Wow, you’re such a dick.

Boy: One man’s dick is another man’s thespian.

Girl: I don’t even know what you’re trying to say. Shut up.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

When backpacker nomad meets discerning traveler

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I have long written about the differences between me and MOTL’s traveling styles. In fact, we often joke that we would both be easily cast in”the Amazing Race” because our personality contrasts make us fodder for reality TV. 

Funnily enough, we may very well be witnessing a transformation in our relationship as the two of us embark on our next travel adventure yet…

…Traveling around India.

To be clear, I’ve lived in India. When I was in my early twenties, I was able to secure a placement in a now-defunct-human-rights-fellowship program sponsored by the Canadian government. My stay in India wasn’t without its challenges, which were mostly related to the fact that I was initially assigned to an organization with a corrupt and unethical white Canadian male boss with a disturbing colonialist fetish for South Asian women (a story saved for later). That said, my time in India was by far the best year of my life. I realize that I am probably thinking back to that year with rosy-eyed nostalgia but I don’t think my recollections diverge that much from reality. I lived and traveled with a group of brilliant, spirited, and generous women, all of whom I am still in contact with today. And I made a lot of great friends who very kindly welcomed me into their homes (and fed me endless plates of pakoras!) So returning back to India, a full decade after I first arrived there, is a meaningful homecoming of sorts for me. 

And so it follows that I am truly excited about showing MOTL the places where I used to go and having him meet my friends. MOTL has heard countless stories of our escapades there and I am certain he would love to put faces to names. 

Rather than merely visiting friends, though, MOTL and I are also taking the time to play tourist. And that’s when potential conflicts may arise. In fact, conflict number one started tonight:

Me: Ok, this is too much money to pay for a hotel.

MOTL: How much?

Me: $70!!!!  

MOTL: You’re kidding.

Me: No. I’m not. Listen, I’m already agreeing with you that we would only stay in places with hot water and air-conditioning. If you knew how me, and J, and M, and J traveled…*shakes head* Hot water is for wimps. Who needs hot water? 

MOTL: You’re no longer a poor intern. We can afford to stay in a nicer hotel.

Me: That’s not the point.

And on and on it went. There were, of course, points of compromise we learned to make in the course of our conversation. Though I traveled on sleeper class (un-air-conditioned train berths) all over India and even once took a bus ride from Jodhpur to Jaipur standing up for the entire 8 hour ride because the travel agent we consulted double-booked our tickets - which meant there were already other people in our seats when we boarded the bus - I recognize that MOTL might be more comfortable staying in air-conditioned carriages and might prefer booking tickets through official channels. In hindsight, my friends and I really should have done this back then. 

Still, will our moments of compromise be rare? How will the backpacker nomad compromise with the discerning traveler? Will the backpacker nomad realize that she is too damn old to travel like a hippie and that so-called luxuries like air-conditioning and hot water and comfortable mattresses are worthwhile investments in her advancing age? Will the discerning traveler come to the epiphany that perhaps life is best lived without an itinerary and that places “with character” - as his backpacker-hippie-nomad-partner calls them - are actually a great way to experience a community?

Check this space again in two months.