When faculty first gathered, more than a year ago, to discuss issues of inequality, in preparation for a conference at Western, no one anticipated the political climate 2016 would establish. Brexit. The election of Donald Trump and the ensuing socio-economic discussions in the United States. The momentum of populism in Europe.
Recent political events and social movements, according to faculty, have only heightened the importance of Organizing Equality, an international conference that aims to broadly address the issue at Western this weekend.
“As everyone is aware, social and economic inequality is a massive global problem. The latest OXFAM report documents the eight richest men in the world own more wealth than the bottom 50 per cent of the world’s population – some three billion people,” said Nick Dyer-Witheford, one of the conference organizers and a professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS).
It was important to organize a multidisciplinary, international conference that would not only discuss issues of inequality worldwide, but would offer up a space to discuss practical ways to address the issue, he added.
“We felt it was really important to put the emphasis on the types of solutions that are emerging form the struggles of various movements – whether they are movements of labour against capital, or movements around gender and racial equality, or many other dimensions of this issue. These are the places where this idea, for ways to alter the gross disparity, can be addressed,” Dyer-Witheford noted.
Because practical solutions will be key to addressing diverse and multifaceted manifestations of inequality around the world, it was likewise important to leave the conference open and accessible to all. Organizing Equality brings together academics, activists, artists and members of the community to discuss the issues. For this same reason, it will be held at Museum London, with free public access to anyone who wishes to attend, he continued.
“Efforts like this are going on around the world, and particularly at this moment. I think this event now has a special timeliness, because of the way issues of gender, race and economic equality have been so sharply highlighted by the outcome of the U.S. election. And I believe there’s now a widespread feeling there is a real point of crisis around these issues,” Dyer-Witheford added.
Plenary speakers include alumna Vandana Shiva, Indian scholar, feminist, environmental activist and anti-globalization author; Indigenous scholar Glen Coulthard; world-renowned epidemiologist Kate Pickett, as well as representatives from Black Lives Matter Toronto, panels on labour, health inequality, social inequality, identity and politics and more.
“We hope the conference will make a contribution to the sharing and advancement of thought and strategies for movements that are fighting for a more equal society. This will connect with wider currents and name an aspect of our identity as a university; it’s going to name our commitment as academics to these social justice struggles and say this is an important element of what happens at Western,” said Dyer-Witheford.
The interdisciplinary connections surrounding discussions of equality and inequality are essential for progress, added Amanda Grzyb, who also teaches in FIMS.
“I don’t think we could have anticipated how the election in the U.S. would go, and really how much importance and resonance some of these questions would have in the current political climate. The rise of populism and the xenophobia and racism, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee sentiment that comes with it – definitely heightens the importance of what we’re trying to achieve at the conference,” she said.
“I think one of the really exciting things about the conference is the range of interdisciplinary scholars we’re bringing together – people who work in epidemiology, activists, community leaders, scholars, artists – I think it’s going to be a tremendously successful weekend.”
With more than 100 presenters from around the world, organizers hope the conversations that emerge at the conference will continue well beyond. They plan to devise means of maintaining communication and collaboration after the event is over.
IF YOU GO
Organizing Equality, is set to take place at Museum London March 24-26. For more information, visit organizingequality.com.