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Dr Stephen Smith

Scholarly Teaching Fellow

School of Humanities and Social Science (Sociology and Anthropology)

Anthropology, Afrikaans, and ABBA

What do language monuments, sexuality education, and Trundle’s annual ABBA festival all have in common? Anthropologist and sociologist, Dr Stephen J Smith.

An outsider’s fascination with language and culture underpin the broad array of topics that have captured Stephen’s attention. Although some may see his interests as broadly eclectic, Stephen firmly believes that no area of academic pursuit falls neatly within any one ‘area’ of academic endeavour. Rather, all scholarship and research is influenced to differing degrees by social, economic, cultural, and ideological factors.

As such, Stephen describes himself as a ‘Renaissance Man’ when it comes to his academic and intellectual interests and pursuits.

An expert and awarded teacher, Stephen is also drawn to examine the implications related to conservative tradition within education.

His own teaching responsibilities fall within the disciplines of both Anthropology and Sociology, where he coordinates, lectures and tutors in a number of core courses for the Bachelor of Social Science and the Masters of Social Change and Development.

In recognition of his teaching experience and consistently excellent student feedback, Stephen was appointed to a Scholarly Teaching Fellowship in January 2017.

Exploring language

Stephen’s academic path reflects his wide interests in many different, though essentially related fields of academic pursuit.

First Stephen earned an Honours degree in Social Anthropology, with a major in Old and Middle English.

A Masters in International and Comparative Education followed, which involved conducting research in Mauritius, Geneva, Paris, and London.

His PhD study in Tourism/Cultural Studies looked at meaning making and visitor interpretation of the Afrikaans Language Monument in Paarl, Western Cape Province of South Africa.

Due to South Africa’s troubled past, the monument is argued by some to be a symbol of dominance and associated with the apartheid era and of what was termed the ‘language of the oppressor’. However, Stephen found that Afrikaans is the third most widely spoken language in South Africa and is the ‘mother tongue’ for close to three quarters of South Africans living in the Western Cape Province. For many South Africans, the Monument stands as a celebration of their link to their past, their ancestors, and as a reminder of the collective history of South Africa, regardless of, or perhaps despite, race or ethnicity.

Mother tongue

The idea of a monument specifically built to celebrate a language was seen to be at best ‘intriguing’ but more generally ‘unusual’ by many of the international tourists Stephen interviewed during his doctoral study.

“But there are lots of language monuments around the world, for different reasons,” Stephen says.

“There are also language Institutes, there are language festivals, there are language days.”

The interplay between language of dominant cultures and local languages is an area of focus for Stephen.

As well as his academic qualifications, Stephen also holds teaching qualifications in English and English as a Second Language (ESL) and a Graduate Diploma in Curriculum Studies.

Stephen spent two decades as a secondary and ESL teacher in Australia, Turkey, Japan and on Norfolk Island.

Inspired by his experience and Masters research in comparative education, Stephen has published on the importance of teaching students, especially in their early years, in their first language.

“The evidence suggests a dominant language like English or French should be gradually introduced, not used as the default language of education.”

Asking why

Well known as the teacher who asks ‘Why?’ of his students, Stephen encourages them to look beyond the usual and question the status quo.

His passion for teaching compels Stephen to investigate education trends, questioning everything from traditional teacher-led learning through to on-line and blended modes of delivery of the range of courses he has taught or currently teaches.

His students appreciate his passion. Stephen was the recipient of the Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence and Student Engagement in 2015.

“I most enjoy teaching research methods,” Stephen says.

“I think that anybody who is the teacher can teach content, but it gives me pleasure to know that my students leave with critical thinking skills that they can take anywhere, not just a brain full of content.“

Stephen also works within the area of Education as a University Supervisor for secondary trainee teachers in their second and fourth years of study and of interns completing their Masters of Education.

In collaboration with a postgraduate student, Stephen has also published papers regarding the debate around sexuality education in NSW schools.

Trundling along

As evidenced by his PhD topic, Stephen is fascinated by the sociology of tourism, with his interest in rural revitalisation well and truly piqued by the small NSW town of Trundle.

Around half an hour outside of Parkes, Trundle is gaining notoriety, amongst other regeneration activities, for its annual ABBA festival. Now in its 6th year, the festival swells the population from the usual 700 to thousands.

Also in Trundle, Stephen has discovered an annual Bush Tucker Day which attracts massive crowds, a film making centre and cinema, a revitalisation project to return the main street to its 1930s glory, and a rugby league team newly re-entered into district competition.

“I am looking at what it is that gives Trundle the edge on other places,” Stephen explains.

“What is it about the people and what they are doing there that is powering revitalisation?”

And although they may play a part in the complex picture Stephen sees, it is not geography, marketing, luck or any specific event that is creating growth.

“It is very much driven by a small group of people who are the main protagonists in making things happen,” Stephen says.

“I have been adopted by the town so am fortunate enough to have a close up view of those dynamics at work, and the positive change is a credit to those individuals and the community at large.”

Stephen J Smith

Anthropology, Afrikaans, and ABBA

What do language monuments, sexuality education, and Trundle’s annual ABBA festival all have in common? Anthropologist and sociologist, Dr Stephen J Smith

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Dr Stephen Smith

Positions

Scholarly Teaching Fellow
School of Humanities and Social Science
Faculty of Education and Arts

Casual Academic
School of Education
Faculty of Education and Arts

Focus area

Sociology and Anthropology

Contact Details

Email stephen.j.smith@newcastle.edu.au
Phone (02) 4921 6802

Office

Room W351
Building Behavioural Sciences Building
Location Callaghan
University Drive
Callaghan, NSW 2308
Australia
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