Controversial opinions from La Trobe academics

Controversial opinions from La Trobe academics

La Trobe’s resident thought leaders are regular contributors to respected academic media outlet The Conversation, where they’ve become relied upon to deliver engaging discussion across a range of topical issues. From politics to love, business to gender, grief, law, the environment and more – they’ve covered it.

Audience reaction to the authors’ sometimes challenging opinions can range from congratulatory to inflammatory, and a quick peek at the comments section tells us that certain articles really do seem to fire up discussion (and controversy) more than others.

Let’s take a look at five of the most talked about articles from La Trobe academics.


Whistling and staring at women in the street is harassment and it’s got to stop

Bianca Fileborn

You may not have heard the term “street harassment”, but if you’re a woman in Australia, you’ve probably experienced it: whistles, stares, unwanted comments, touching or being followed by strangers in the street.

Who wrote it?

Bianca Fileborn is a Research Officer at the Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health & Society at La Trobe.

What does it say?

This piece presents a convincing argument about the long term impacts of experiencing street harassment, including ‘visceral responses of anger, repulsion and shock, through to longer-term effects such as anxiety, depression and, in some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder.’

A number of solutions to the problem of street harassment are put forward, including encouraging bystander intervention, education and public transport campaigns.

What’s the controversy?

The conversation this piece sparked repeated the arguments we often have about women in public spaces – largely focusing on control of staring and what women should and should not wear versus mens’ ability not to stare when an attractive woman is close by.

Interestingly the author weighed in, arguing that ‘There can be a lot of ambiguity around something such as staring – as I suggest, legislative responses aren’t necessarily the most appropriate for all forms of street harassment. But staring can be harmful and intimidating behaviour, and should be taken seriously.’

Read more from Bianca here.


Wong-Bernardi debate puts four myths about marriage on show

Timothy W. Jones

Both [Wong] and Bernardi deployed deeply seated myths about marriage that don’t stand up to historical analysis.

Who wrote it?

Timothy Jones is a cultural historian with an interest in gender, sexuality and religion. He worked on a research project focusing on family values and the Christian Right with La Trobe University.

What does it say?

Back in July, Labor senator and marriage equality advocate Penny Wong took on conservative Liberal senator Cory Bernardi in a highly publicised debate about equal marriage rights.

In this piece, La Trobe research fellow Timothy W. Jones articulates what he sees as inconsistencies on both sides of the debate. Case in point, says Jones: Bernardi’s claim that marriage has always been a relationship between a man and a woman for the purposes of reproduction.

As Jones sees it, ‘In the global history of marriage, heterosexual monogamy is not the norm’, adding ‘outside of ancient Roman society and Christendom, almost all societies have historically practised some form of polygamy or concubinage.’

What’s the controversy?

Though largely in favour of equal marriage rights, readers’ responses highlighted some division on the matter. Encompassing views on gender, adoption, IVF and absent fathers, many of the arguments highlighted just how tightly religious and moral beliefs are held when it comes to marriage.

Meanwhile, one reader opted to lift the mood by sharing a cute story about a same-sex penguin couple, injecting some comic relief to the discussion.

Read more of Timothy Jones’ thoughts on Senator Cory Bernadi.


Oh, what a lovely culture war! Team Abbott’s ideological battle

Dominic Kelly

The government has also tried to take the focus off its unpopular budget policies with misguided ‘culture war’ tactics, showing all of the hardline ideology but none of the political savvy of John Howard at his most effective.

Who wrote it?

Dominic Kelly is a PhD candidate and tutor in politics here at La Trobe. His research focuses on conservative think-tanks and advocacy groups.

What does it say?

Appearing in August 2014 as part of The Conversation’s Remaking Australia series, Dominic Kelly’s article was a critical stock-take of the (now former) Abbott government’s performance at the all-important 12 month mark.

Citing a roll call of the outdated attitudes and broken election promises that were hallmarks of Abbott’s time at the top, Kelly takes a swipe at the Liberal government’s ‘clumsy mish-mash of petty and divisive’ politics and chummy allegiances with Australia’s right-wing press and the ‘much-maligned yet ubiquitous’ Institute of Public Affairs (IPA).

What’s the controversy?

Hundreds of readers took the opportunity to sink their claws into the debate; venting frustration and airing their fears about Aussie politics veering into Tea Party-style conservatism.

Read more from Dominic Kelly.


Easter scuppers the certainties of modern fundamentalists

Rod Blackhirst

Religions are complex things. They have to be because human beings and life itself is complex. To fail to appreciate this fact is exactly the sin of the fundamentalist. Reality is seething and verigated; they want it to be sterile and monochrome.

Who wrote it?

Rod Blackhirst is an Honorary professor in the College of Arts and Social Sciences. His research interests are wide-ranging, focusing on philosophy and religion.

What does it say?

Appearing as part of The Conversation’s Religion + Mythology series, Blackhirst shaped his piece around the idea that the celebration of Easter had many pre-Christian associations and indeed had its roots in key ancient pagan festivals.

He claimed that ‘the proposition that Easter is a 100 per cent purely Christian affair is manifestly unsustainable,’ and was the first to admit that the subject matter was a ‘minefield of sensitivities.’

What’s the controversy?

This piece certainly opened up some lively discussion, with over 250 entries being posted in the comments section. The debate between commenters touched on everything from pre-Christian history and the correct spelling of ‘Jesus’, through to evolutionary biology and population health in Indigenous Australians.

Hear more from Rod Blackhirst.


Two years in, even supporters despair of Abbott’s feeble government

Dennis Altman

So far, Abbott has failed to position himself as anything more than an opposition leader who has been given power and is unsure what to do with it.

Who wrote it?

Dennis Altman – Professorial Fellow in Human Security – is a leading thinker on the topic of civil rights for the LGBTQI community. He is the author of the controversial text Homosexual: oppression and liberation.

What does it say?

This article looks at the state of the Abbott government at the two year point. With Abbott’s short-sighted views on climate change, and hard line on asylum seekers contributing to his low popularity rankings, even Liberal Party supporters were losing faith.

What’s the controversy?

Altman argued that Abbott set Australian politics into ‘ever more parochial’ territory. Comments came in thick and fast, often focusing on John Howard’s abilities as Prime Minister.

Read more about Dennis Altman on the Knowledge Blog.


Do you want to pursue your own controversial ideas in postgraduate study? Sign up for a one on one consultation and get advice about your path to postgrad.


Image: Protest by Niek Verlaan (CC0 1.0)