While sociology is not the most well-known of fields, I was surprised at the level of informality at the conference this weekend. Of course, I knew it wouldn’t be as casual as a sustainability conference or one that highlights zero waste, but the ease of conversation throughout the weekend between presenters and audience members created an atmosphere of collaboration and support. The final session I attended exemplifies this; it ended up being myself and the three panelists. Rather than go through with their paper presentations, they asked my interests and we ended up having a casual conversation about zero waste, undergraduate teaching procedures and more.
The conference was not all rainbows and butterflies, though. Sociology often discusses the presence of inequalities and institutional challenges in society, so when I found myself contemplating the demographic breakdown of attendees I couldn’t help but see the irony. Many, if not most, of the academics presented themselves as white, highly educated individuals and I saw myself thinking of the white savior complex we learn about so often in class. Perhaps these intellectuals are excused because of the greater good that they bring to society through research and teaching.
The complex web of thought I developed during this experience is a greater representation of how I feel towards research in general. I think academic conferences like ESS are an amazing opportunity to network and learn but I also feel like it is only for the lifelong sociologists. At this point, I’m not sure if I’m one of those yet.