Conference 2014

THE FUTURE OF SOCIAL RELATIONS: RETHINKING PREJUDICE AND TOGETHERNESS IN TIMES OF CRISIS

21st-23rd May 2014, Cutlers’ Hall, Sheffield

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In the 1990s J.K. Galbraith suggested that contemporary western societies were characterised by a ‘contented majority’ – who were economically successful and secure, and had little in common with, or concern for, excluded minorities. In the 21st century Jock Young (2007) argues that this culture of contentment is a myth. He points out that the rapid social and economic change that has characterised the recent past has made the world seem a less reliable or secure place for majority as well as minority communities. The global demand for flexible labour and the impact of the global financial crisis have reverberated through the employment structure creating chronic job insecurity even amongst the professional middle class.

This economic insecurity has been exacerbated by a process of individualisation in which individuals now have greater choice about how to live their lives than previous generations but are also increasingly held responsible for managing the social risks that ensue from this freedom. At the same time, de-traditionalisation and a growing awareness of the pluralism of values has meant old institutions of family, community, and religion no longer offer the same levels of security/certainty.

The pressures of these economic and social transformations are knocking onto communities as well – with population change, mobility and economic/social uncertainty all creating insecurities over the competition for resources and rights between social groups. As a consequence there is a risk that social responsibility, trust and social cohesion may become casualties with the consequent (re)emergence of a heightened intolerance of difference; the desire for stricter (real and symbolic) boundaries between self and other; and the increasing scapegoating/demonization of certain groups in society producing new patterns and forms of prejudice (evidenced for example by an increase in support for far right and extremist parties across Europe) – despite the development of equality legislation.

In this context a number of scholars have begun to argue that we need to rediscover a broader framework of social solidarity, recognising that the insecurities of the risk society demand an ‘ethic of care’ for those unlike ourselves. Yet, while there is growing evidence that the growing proximity of difference is producing positive encounters which have been celebrated as cosmopolitanism, the question of how such everyday interactions predicated on acts of care or kindness for ‘others’ can be scaled up to achieve wider social change and a truly progressive society remains unanswered.

In response, the conference was comprised of papers that critically engaged with the future of social relations to stimulate further debate about the changing nature of prejudice and intolerance in the 21st century and to identify new strategies for developing inclusive societies and creating togetherness.

The conference was attended by over 100 delegates, from 15 different countries, including the United States of America, Australia, Brazil and Taiwan.

The conference ran for 3 days and consisted of 16 sessions on topics such as:

  • Negotiating meaningful contact;
  • Domestic diversity;
  • Faith and secularism;
  • Creating solidarity;
  • Race and Racism;
  • Gender, sexuality and prejudice;
  • Refugees and asylum seekers;
  • And, migrant encounters.

Keynote Speakers and Panellists

  • Halleh Ghorashi, Professor of Diversity and Integration at VU University of Amsterdam and author of Ways to Survive, Battles to Win: Iranian Exiles in the Netherlands and US.
  • Aleksandra Jasińska-Kania, Professor of Sociology, University of Warsaw, author of Poles among Europeans
  • Ted Cantle, Founder of the Institute of Community Cohesion
  • David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the study of Anti-Semitism
  • Lisa Doyle, Advocacy and Influence Manager of the Refugee Council
  • Ghaffar Hussain, Managing Director of Quilliam Foundation

For further information a copy of the conference programme is available to download.

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