Department of Gender and Cultural Studies seminar series 31 May – School of Humanities Department of Gender and Cultural Studies seminar series 31 May – School of Humanities

Department of Gender and Cultural Studies seminar series 31 May

GCS seminar #6

Christopher Neff | Jessica Kean

What Sharks Can Teach us About Political Emotional Manipulation

Christopher Neff

The emotional manipulation of the public by politicians following tragic events is the worst possible politics. It is a lie wrapped in emotion, which is designed to give it authenticity. A feeling of empathy and care for others that is embedded in an issue to make it “good” work, when it is really a political tactic. A scam to defraud the emotional well-being of the public for mere political gain. That in a nut-shell, is one of the main flaws in the human-shark relationship. A tragic shark bite occurs and politicians jump in front of waiting ambulances for the chance to profit on sorrow.

I will be sharing the lessons we learn when these flaws are revealed by reviewing the findings from Flaws: Shark Bites and Emotional Public Policymaking, a 2019 release from Palgrave. Here there is a focus on the media as well for it’s frenzy over emotional tragedy. The discourse of shark “attack” is one that transcends even the most docile human-shark interaction. It is not merely a false descriptor in many cases, but a one-dimensional articulation designed to incite terror to sell newspapers. Thus, this political scam is also a media scheme to take the meaning of these events away from people so they can be commercialized and sold to the public. And here we see a second flaw find its way to the ocean surface. Together, the discourse and media lead to policies that blame fish for swimming through the ocean and leave politicians off the hook.    

Dr Christopher Pepin-Neff is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Government and International Relations. His first book, Flaws: Shark Bites and Emotional Public Policymaking is due out April, 2019.

Education without expertise

Jessica Kean

Teaching in university settings is notionally licenced by content-related expertise. Academics typically come to teaching by way of their research and training in a relevant scholarly field. This content knowledge is often the only claim a lecturer will have to the role of educator: the few teaching-related workshops that are mandated for new educators at the University of Sydney, for example, fall far below the level of pedagogical qualification we expect of teachers in other institutions of formal educational. So what happens when academics are asked to teach beyond their expertise?

In response to its new Strategic Plan, in 2017 the University of Sydney began rolling out new Industry and Community Partnership Units: semester-length, small-group, interdisciplinary projects for undergraduate students across the university. These projects are based around complex, ‘real-world’ problems brought to us by external partner organisations. Under the guidance of an academic ‘project supervisor’, third-year students are grouped with peers from a wide range of disciplines to research and design responses to the challenge set by the partner. Educators in this program are working significantly, and necessarily, beyond their content-expertise. Even if their own research presents them with an angle to the problem at hand, their primary task is not to communicate their content-knowledge to a diverse group of students, but rather to support those students to learn about the topic from their own diverse disciplinary perspectives. What does an otherwise-untrained academic educator have to offer if not their knowledge of a field? How can someone with a PhD on polyamory teach students about the impact of climate change on the insurance industry?

This paper draws on my own experience of teaching beyond my expertise as part of the Industry and Community Partnership Units, alongside other moments in university education where claims of expertise are stretched in lesser ways. Early career academics in particular are frequently invited to teach content they would not claim mastery of. It is also not uncommon for academics to take on the supervision of research projects with nothing more than a tangential scholarly connection to the student’s work. Drawing on contemporary scholarship on teaching and learning, this paper reflects on the impact that teaching without expertise has on feelings of professionalism and academic fraudulence. Ultimately, I suggest that moments of anxiety about one’s authority to teach can fuel broader reflection on the nature and process of learning itself.

Jessica Kean holds two posts at the University of Sydney, Australia: Academic Fellow in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, and Interdisciplinary Lecturer with the Education Enterprise and Engagement Unit, Office of the DVC Education. Her research explores marginalised intimate cultures, with a focus on queer theory, feminism and negotiated non-monogamy. She has an emerging research interest in pedagogy in higher education.



The Department of Gender and Cultural Studies hosts a lively departmental research seminar series. Participants include staff, associates and postgraduate students from the department, as well as presenters from other University of Sydney departments and from outside, both nationally and internationally.

Please join us after the seminar for drinks at the Holme Courtyard Bar

Everyone is welcome to attend.

2019 Seminar Series convenors:
Thom van Dooren and Elsepth Probyn
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May 31 2019


2:00 pm - 4:00 pm


This event is free


General Lecture Theatre, Quadrangle A14


Gender and Cultural Studies
+61 2 9351 2759

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