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Making space for diversity in the cultural square

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Tseen Khoo |  19 February 2017


If there's a city where FOMO rules, it's Melbourne. FOMO is the acronym for 'fear of missing out', and it's endemic in places where there's a richly textured cultural scene that always offers more than you could ever hope to participate in.

JLF Melbourne logoThere were a few major things I wanted to get to recently, all in the writing, creative, and activist culture areas. One of these was the first collaboration between the Melbourne Writers' Festival and the Jaipur Literary Festival at Federation Square, JLF Melbourne.

This festival ticked many boxes for me: a celebration of books and reading; culture, politics, and diaspora entwined; and seeing scholarly and creative friends. The festival brought together international guests and local creative writers and cultural commentators. It was exactly my kind of thing.

In the end, because life happens, I managed only to have lunch with research network colleagues who were at Fed Square for the literary festival. I caught up with familiar colleagues, met great new people, and generally replenished my faith in authentic interactions and the power of good will.

I went on to follow the festival's many sessions and readings through Twitter, where there was an active stream with many voices. Many of those voices were my colleagues and friends.

Overall, on the ground and in digital space, the event affirmed my feeling of living within mostly supportive and inclusive public communities. It provided a welcome antidote to the oppressive, narrowed conversations about what public culture and common society could mean that are circulating so prevalently in our global media narratives today.

There were a few other things I would've liked to get to that weekend, many more I had no interest in, and even more that I never knew were taking place. And that's a good thing. Even the events that I had no interest in going to. Especially the events that I had no interest in going to.

A public culture in which we can participate, where we feel our priorities and interests are represented, generates active community networks and a stronger, broader sense of belonging.


"Creating space for other voices does not diminish what is already there, as some may fear. It doesn't mean giving up your space, or even changing much what you do."


Being able to accomplish this consistently is an ongoing challenge for diverse communities. As Nick Couldry puts it in his writing on culture and citizenship, 'Whether citizens feel they have a voice, or the space in which effectively to exercise a voice, is crucial to their possibilities of acting as citizens.'

Within our diverse communities, there will be those who are 'at home' enough to feel and act as citizens, and be a part of creating our public cultures. In that mix, groups and individuals who can embrace and value activities that do not speak directly to their interests are ever more important to have.

Recognising the necessity of initiatives and events in which you would not participate but that others find exciting and worthwhile is partly about social generosity. It's also about acknowledging that the public culture that surrounds you is not — and should not — only reflect you and your priorities. Ideally, it would involve knowing about, and potentially advocating for, the presence of groups and voices that are currently absent or misrepresented.

Creating space for other voices does not diminish what is already there, as some may fear. It doesn't mean giving up your space, or even changing much what you do.

But it can mean putting in the work to make sure others have access to opportunities and audiences that contribute to making public culture. This is where we can all help in making that stage — and our consequent society — bigger.


Tseen KhooTseen Khoo is a lecturer at La Trobe University and founder/convenor of the Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN), a network for academics, community researchers, and cultural workers who are interested in the area of Asian Australian Studies. She tweets as @tseenster.



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Submitted comments

“Making that stage and our consequent society — bigger.”…and better. As in so many things, a human person makes a good analogy for society. The main place there needs to be more space is in the mind. We live very cluttered lives these days, filled with novelties, news, fake news, and traditions, cultures, and with mind sets that need to be stripped of out-dated misconceptions, prejudices, and irrelevancies. Sex, money, security, trivia and fun loom large in many lives, and purpose and meaningful values are largely swamped. The “us and “them” attitude doesn’t leave much room for the healthy growth of society as a whole. We do love to cling, like Mary’s little lamb, to what we bonded to, and hesitate to embrace the enriching differences that would bring fulfilment to us all.

Robert Liddy 22 February 2017

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