13th ESA Conference Report Athens 2017 – LOC
Apostolos G. Papadopoulos, Chair of Athens LOC for the 13th ESA Conference 2017
Sociologists at work in Athens
The Hellenic Sociological Association (HSS) in collaboration with PCO CONVIN submitted a bid to the ESA to organise the 13th ESA Conference in Athens in autumn 2014 and presented their bid to the ESA Executive Committee members in Prague in May 2015. The final decision of the ESA was announced to the HSS by the end of August 2015, at a time when Greece faced a critical turn in its economic crisis saga during which the country faced the challenge of exiting the European Union. Therefore the excellent news of undertaking the organisation of the European Sociological Conference was overshadowed by the country’s dark image in the midst of the economic crisis and the austerity measures connected to it.
Very soon the enthusiasm for organising a scientific event of such breadth and high calibre was accompanied by significant scepticism as to how far the Athens LOC could live up to the expectations of the European sociological academic community. Moreover, the conditions that the Greek public universities faced during the current period were not something to be proud of, but we seriously considered undertaking the organisation of the ESA Conference in Athens in an attempt to expose the country’s critical situation and also to fight back against the introversion and defeatism of the Greek sociological community and Greek academia in general. In times of crisis, we thought that the only way to react as scientists, academics, researchers and concerned citizens was to become more extroverted and meet the new challenges ahead.
The joint venue of two public universities – Panteion University and Harokopio University – added some new challenges to the basic venture of the Athens LOC. Despite the practical challenges we faced, we strongly believed that the public domain, consisting of the two universities close to the city centre, would build an impetus for reactivating the sociologists and social scientists and creating the preconditions for regaining their lost confidence by reinvigorating sociological academic dialogue in the edge of Europe.
Publishers’ exhibition, Panteion University
The role of Chair of the Athens LOC has been an important engagement for a period of over a year and required commitment in every possible way in view of the task to be accomplished. The coordination of the actions required very significant management skills and endless efforts to engage the necessary human and material resources, to motivate people, to oblige the administration and to inspire the young and capable individuals who were needed to make this event possible.
The organisation of the Athens conference has been quite an experience for all the people who were involved in it. Many members of the LOC worked hard to ensure that we would deliver a successful scientific event. The end result has been rewarding in the sense that it justified the toil and efforts made to organise this event. The following accomplishments have been significant indicators of the organisational success of the 13th ESA Conference:
- The Athens Conference was the largest ESA Conference ever with over 3.000 participants, around 800 sessions delivered in 75 conference rooms and over 270 volunteers involved;
- The Greek sociological community regained its confidence and self-respect in the sense that it was at the very centre of a European sociological conference that attracted the attention of numerous learned well-respected and famous academics as well as myriads of young researchers;
- The subjectivities of the LOC, the wider sociological community and the two universities have proved to be important for counterbalancing the effects of austerity and crisis upon the Greek academia/public universities;
- The engagement of the Hellenic Sociological Society has created a legacy for the social science academia by becoming an example of how effective can be social scientists, and especially sociologists, when they set concrete targets, coordinate their actions and work hard to achieve the targets;
- The magnitude, the calibre, and the quality of this sociological conference have put their mark on the country’s academic life;
- The two universities, which jointly offered venues for the conference, have proved that academic collaboration is both feasible and effective when it is meant to be; they improved their reputations and increased the expectations of the wider public;
- The numerous volunteers (many of them students originating from the academic community) that persistently worked for the organisation of this conference have spread a promising message to the wider public that academia may still inspire its members to work towards achieving common goals;
Student volunteers at the information desk
- Despite the evident shortcomings, and the need for some troubleshooting that the Athens LOC managed, we are confident that the overall result has been positive for the participants and the organisers; the Athens ESA Conference was a unique experience and a fine opportunity for scientific dialogue in the context of a crisis-stricken country;
- Finally, apart from the short pocket programme which was distributed during the conference, soon after the conference the full ESA Conference Programme as well as the voluminous Book of Abstracts became available electronically and everything was uploaded onto the conference website.
We now have knowledge (enmeshed with the experience) of organising this vast event and with hindsight many of the shortcomings of the ESA Conference could have been better conceived and more effectively confronted. However, as sociologists know well, agency interacts with structures and the result is not fully foreseen. We know that we have done our best to respond to the (perceived and unexpected) challenges and that the outcome has been very satisfactory. In the end, Greek sociology and sociologists have come out of the shadows and become visible again by exposing themselves and their problems, while at the same time there is still struggle between their ‘bad’ and ‘good’ selves.
Closing Plenary: Apostolos G. Papadopoulos (LOC Chair Athens)