Those familiar with contemporary British culture would be all too aware that ‘Hello Possums’ is the catch-cry of the entertainment character Dame Edna Everage. Dame Edna – in reality the actor Barry Humphries – has the unique capacity to cast a critical eye over UK society while simultaneously poking fun at Australia and its presumptions.
The link between possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) and regional concerns is not as great a reach as we may first think. I recently attended a Regional Summit in the town of Clare, South Australia. The Clare Valley is famous for both its natural beauty and the quality of its wine, especially Riesling. The local Mayor, Allan Aughey, (resplendent in a burgundy and green tartan suit, with gold cravat) acknowledged the traditional Aboriginal people of the area, the Ngadjuri, and noted that prior to European occupation they were known for their prominent role in the possum fur trade. Aboriginal Australians, of course, had substantial and complex trade rates, with goods and information traded over thousands of kilometres.
This observation highlights the way each region is unique, with history (or pre-history) location, relationships with other places and position in global production and consumption networks shaping places and their residents. This means that we need to experience other places and in order to understand these complex trajectories of growth and change, and thereby draw insights into both the distinctive and common features across regions.
The RSA’s conference in Sydney from the 3rd to the 5th of July gives the Association’s members, practitioners working in the field, policy makers and scholars new to the field, the opportunity to broaden their personal and academic perspectives. The Conference focuses on emerging regional dynamics in the developed and developing world. As discussed in an earlier blog, new political movements in Australia such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party and the Nick Xenophon Team, have combined populism with a distinctive non-metropolitan agenda.
Within many urban areas there has been marked growth in support for the Greens, especially in the inner city, and this process of political fragmentation points to increasing a spatial divide that reflects growing inequality, as well as the emergence of cultural and other differences. The parallels with the US Presidential vote in 2016 and the UK’s decision to exit the European Union are significant.
These are issues of growing international concern, with supranational organisations increasingly paying attention to questions of inclusion and the development of an economic and social fabric where all citizens feel that they are a stakeholder. The OECD, for example, is using its June 6-7 Conference to focus on Bridging Divides (https://www.oecd.org/forum/home/) where it will focus on the need for policies that have the capacity to win back the confidence of those who feel left behind, and who are fearful of the impact of globalisation, increasing migration flows, and the unprecedented speed of technological development. The theme of the OECD’s forum will be one of inclusive growth and it will place a central emphasis on the need for policies that place people’s well-being at the centre of government action and thought, moving from diagnosis and analysis of increasing levels of inequality to actionable solutions.
The OECD appears to be arguing that the key challenge for governments is winning back the confidence of those who feel treated unfairly, and who are fearful of the impact of globalisation, increasing migration flows, and the unprecedented speed of technological development. This strikes me as a bold departure from the previous policy prescriptions of the OECD and comparable organisations.
As a non-European, I can only wonder if we are witnessing the inception of a cohesion policy for the rest of the world?
The RSA’s Conference in Sydney uses these recent developments as a backdrop for understanding the social, economic and political drivers of regional change and policy responses, in a post-truth world. The Conference will examine globalisation and responses to its impacts, as well as the development of new forms of state intervention in society and the economy, and the changing relationship between, and within, state actors, civil society, the not-for-profit sector and corporations.
If you have any interest at all in themes relating to the urban, rural and regional aspects of social, cultural and economic changes in contemporary society, this conference should be on your ‘must do’ list. There will be specific sessions in the conference relating to:
- Sydney as a global city;
- Changing urban and regional systems in the developed and developing world;
- Place, urban and regional leadership;
- Food, social welfare and sustainability;
- Local government and regional development processes.
Sign up here https://www.regionalstudies.org/conferences/conference/rsa-australasia-2017 and join the conversation.
Finally, when you come to the conference in Sydney you would have the opportunity to travel on to South Australia and the beautiful Clare Valley, where I am sure Allan Aughey will do his best to make you feel welcome.