Blog #6: A Conference Critique


My final blog looks at a pre-recorded presentation shown at the AAAs on November 9th, 2011, in Montréal. Australian anthropologist Katherine Gibson’s presentation titled Capitalism, Feminism, and the Politics of the Possible, discusses the affects of community-based economies in Southeast Asia. The following is a short outline about her presentation style, much of which we have already touched upon in class. Tone, content, and visual representation are just some of the attributes well presented here.

The first thing I immediately noticed was her style and tone. Although she did not physically attend the conference her poise and gaze were direct and fixed on the camera. I did however suspect that her ‘on-stage’ behaviour might be different had she been talking in a large room of people, so to test this I viewed one of her recorded lectures. Her style stayed the same. And not only was it similar, she seemed more excited to discuss her research with the audience. Gibson’s tone during her pre-recorded interview somewhat lacked this bit of excitement. Behaviour like this is telling and lends a small element of truth to the idea that performers draw on the energy from their crowds. Maybe more than a small element, no doubt, yet her excited engagement with her lecture audience was too noticeable to overlook. In the end though, her performance was relaxed and conversational, only speaking to the written text in her hands a few times.

The second thing that caught my eye was her visual presentation. Here Gibson provided the viewer with more pictorial representations of her research, drawing little on data arranged in complicated and clustered charts (although she did have one slide showing a sequence of pie charts). Instead Gibson chose pictures depicting the community researchers involved in her project. She depicted their involvement with the local communities in question, ranging from remote areas of the Philippines to the Solomon Islands. Apart from the economic foundation of her presentation, her research also involved gendered perspectives on labour. One of her slides, and a move that I thought was rather crafty, showed the number of male versus female members in their labour force using sticky notes. Although simple, her display showed that not only were the researchers involved in collecting information, but also the community participants of the study.

Gibson’s research is important. It is important because she framed her research towards the future betterment of these Pacific communities. She did this by discussing the big questions regarding the future direction of her research, stating: “How do we create ethical communities that help us survive all together, to build on social commons and surplus.” Her vision is far-reaching, helping to establish community-based organic food programs using recycled materials along with equal equity distribution for those communities involved. Her economic stance thus took an ecological one, suggesting that these de-centralized economic entities would use materials in a sustainable manner by re-using discarded items and saving seed for crop production. This aspect, for me, highly influenced how I viewed her research. Gibson’s holistic integration of economic sustainability with environmental change in this region will surely be unpopular with neoliberal naysayers. Nonetheless, her charged activism with grass-roots organizations are sure to re-claim local markets first destroyed by the liberal policies initiated by Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford in the early 1970s. Furthermore, she has published a book, entitled Take Back the Economy: Any Time, Any Place, which was translated into Spanish and subsequently distributed to educational institutions throughout Latin America.

My general opinion with respect to her presentation style and content is good. I do think she could have expanded a little bit more when she mentioned the dreaded word ‘globalization’, though. It is a loaded term that requires a lot of unpacking. Had she also introduced the viewer to the widespread implications that ‘free trade’ has on local developing economies, implications that are increasingly detrimental today, she might have been in a better position to justify her research aim. By doing this Gibson’s take on the ‘why’ question may have been more forceful: that globalization implies monetary control at an international level, most of which lying outside the control of the average citizen, ultimately in the hands of corrupt dictators that we, ‘the West’, have no problems supporting. Perhaps this would have added more impetus towards her prospective goals. Still, Gibson does a fantastic job in the end.



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11 thoughts on “Blog #6: A Conference Critique

  1. Hi Matt,

    Again, great blog post. I really liked how well you unpacked Gibson’s talk.

    You mention that Gibson could have improved her talk by introducing the viewer to implications of ‘free trade’ on developing economies, and I was wondering what (in your opinion) some of those implications are.

    • Hi Lia,
      The idea of ‘free trade’ is a misnomer. There is nothing ‘free’ and there is no ‘trade’ going on, for the most part at least. Countries outside of the developed world (where most of the natural resources and low-wage labour exists) are expected to lower tariff costs on imported and exported goods to those countries wealthy enough to invest in their markets. This (usually) happens in two stages. The first stage is to get the government of a developing country (and when I say ‘get the government’ I actually mean ‘overthrow the democratically elected official and install a Western friendly dictatorship) to borrow large sums of money from international monetary organizations (like the World Bank and IMF, or any wealthy investment firm) then sell your national assets. Now, the money that is borrowed is never utilized to develop infrastructure in these countries. Instead the money is embezzled by the select few wealthy despots at the top of the social hierarchy, never to be seen by the average citizen. The second stage involves creating low-wage labour among the poorest classes of these countries to manufacture and/or assemble the goods and products (whatever they may be) to then be resold in Western markets at some ridiculously inflated price. Things have gotten so out of hand that even the World Bank and IMF have relocated their main headquarters outside of North America and Europe, basing themselves mainly in the Caribbean, the Cayman Islands in particular. This way these organizations are able to move LARGE sums of money across international borders without having to pay the national taxes (what remains at least) that could cut profit by as much as 20% in some cases. Unfortunately, countries of the Pacific and Latin America are definitely more impacted by these policies. Indonesia’s General Suharto is just one case in point of a military dictator put in place by the United States. This lead to the extermination of roughly half the population of East Timor. Across the pacific, and taking a slightly different route, Hugo Chavez decided NOT to sell Venezuela’s natural gas reserve to foreign petrol companies. And we all know how the media portrayed that relationship. It’s a lot and maybe that’s why she decided to leave that part out of her presentation. Thanks for the question though Lia, Cheers!

  2. Hello Matthew, and thank you for another eloquent post!
    I have always struggled with the concept of reading or presenting a lecture, and you discussed that this presenter barely utilized her notes. Do you think it is better to have a structured talk and read from the notes, to have more of an informal discussion with the audience without the use of any notes, or some middle ground where parts are read and parts are more informal? I find that if I have a ‘script’ I have difficulty not reading from it in a crowd; whereas if I opt not to use a script for the entirety of the presentation I still say what I want to, but it is not as eloquently worded and a bit more informal.

    • Hi Kat,
      Yes, I think about this all the time actually. Personally, I like practicing orally without any notes, sort of shoot-from-the-hip style of presentation. However this does not work for everyone. I think this is because some people are better at articulating their points through writing, and this is something that I struggle with. I thought about toying with a bit of writing, but it the end I just find myself ignoring my print and conversing instead. I don’t think there is one right way to go about this; it is whatever the presenter feels most comfortable in doing. Cheers!

  3. Hello Matt,
    I thoroughly enjoyed this conference presentation! Regarding your blog post, you mentioned that the “presentation style and content was good”, I was wondering whether or not you felt this presentation was appropriate for a larger audience. Why or why not? What purpose does it serve for the primarily audience? (i.e. knowledge translation, action-research etc.).

    • Hi Priscilla,
      First I hope your presentation this weekend went well, as I’m sure it did! And yes, I do think her presentation was appropriate for a larger audience. I thought her presentation style touched on a few things we read this week, namely the Savage Minds blog on how to write a AAA paper. I thought she did a very good job at conveying not only her research, but herself, her confidence, and ability to connect and make her research relevant to public inquiry. Her action-based research, I think, served both a means to translate current knowledge with respect to local economies and, more importantly, how to become engaged. Cheers!

  4. Hi Matt,

    Great post! You point out that one of the strong points of this presentation was that the presenter did not rely on “data arranged in complicated and clustered charts (although she did have one slide showing a sequence of pie charts).” Do you think that using complicated charts is always a negative feature of a presentation, or is the use of this type of visual sometimes appropriate or necessary? If so, what do you think determines whether they are useful or not – in your opinion, would it primarily be the type of data/analysis, the audience, or some other factor? Or, is this never an appropriate thing to include in a presentation? Also, what do you think pushes a chart over the edge from being understandable to no longer useful?

    • Hi Laura,
      No I don’t think complicated charts are always negative, they have their place. However for this presentation it just made sense for her to be more descriptive than quantitative. Her focus, I think, was more on the humane aspects, the direct implications that these small economic units might have of the local populations themselves. I think for Gibson’s presentation this made sense. On the other hand though, if the point is to get across relationships with quantitative data, then I do like seeing those results in structured chart-like-diagram-like form. Cheers! 🙂

  5. Hi all,
    Thanks Matt — interesting talk. I plan on talking a little more about charts — and why you should always avoid “complicated charts” (although you should use clear charts to explain complicated data!) — tomorrow. You say that the presenter drew on the energy of the crowd in her talk. Any ideas of ways/tools/structures to build that into your talk itself? So that you can make your paper more dynamic, and draw in AND on your audience?

    • Hi Andy,
      I think a big part of drawing in your crowd is the energy provided by the speaker him or herself. I suspect that after that has been established it works rather like a feedback loop (does that sounds right?). Good data representation using clear charts and tables with large labels I think is key, too. In terms of the structure, being able to integrate your data into a larger framework, talking the big questions, and making these questions relevant to the participants of the conference talk I think help in keeping those interested on the edge of their seat. Cheers!

  6. Hey Matthew,

    Thanks for the post. I noticed you have a trend in some of your blogs regarding terminology. In Blog 5 you talked about using terms rather carelessly and that specificity in language in so important in your discipline. Again here you mention “Globalization, Free Trade ” etc, as loaded terms that should only be used if the author or speaker is prepared to unpack them. Would you concede that perhaps clarification could be had in some type of question session post presentation. Would you still feel the same way if her presentation was made at a conference where the time limit was say 20 mins.

    See you later, Jack

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