At Your Own Expense

Two people I know have recently had presentations accepted for conferences – which is fantastic for them, as the exposure may well improve their chances of getting work they actually enjoy, engage with, and are empowered by, rather than a daily drag that “pays the bills” (almost.)

Problem is, said conferences are asking “registration fees” of well over £100.

Doesn’t sound like much to the middle-classes, and the academics attending on expense accounts – but, when you’re unemployed, or in a minimum wage job (the situations of these two individuals), it’s a small fortune – and an almost impossible ask. Especially with two weeks’ notice.

The positivists out there “remind” us of the expenses involved in putting on a conference, the fact that “conferences are typically attended by academics, who can claim the costs back on expenses”, and generally make us feel that we shouldn’t be so stingy, and shouldn’t drag everyone down by kicking up about the fees – they “remind” us that it’s “a fantastic opportunity.” They “remind” us of the “exposure” we’ll get – because every landlord and utility company accepts “exposure credits” as a valid form of payment. Your weekly grocery shop? That’ll be 20 exposure credits, please.  As if.

The positivists want to keep the world the way it always has been – with the middle-classes trotting along to things, nodding and smiling while others of their ilk pontificate about things that are other peoples’ lives – people who can’t afford to get to that conference, stand on that stage, and make their voice heard.  People who are “no-platformed” not because their views are objectionable, but simply because they are poor. People who will never have a weekly column in a paper read by thousands. People who will never have  the social capital of Twitter followers or Facebook fans in the upper limits of those sites. People whose posts will never make LinkedIn’s Pulse.

We should get angry. We should kick out, we should rant and demand that things change.

Because, if you’ve prepared a presentation that has been accepted, you have already contributed to the conference. You have already played your part. You shouldn’t be asked to contribute again in a fashion – financially – that is not a viable option for you.  Imagine a conference where no papers were presented, no one gave any talks; nothing happened, because no one who had produced any work was able to afford the conference fees.

It’d  be a pretty rubbish conference, wouldn’t it? Just a bunch of disinterested academics taking advantage of a couple of away days, and most likely bitching about the buffet.

For as long as we continue to charge impossible registration fees for conferences on the assumption that “everyone’ll be on expenses, anyway”, we continue to shut out people who have lived the scenario that is providing the theme of the conference. And, for as long as we continue to do that, we continue to be misinformed about things we claim to believe are important issues – after all, if they are not, why are we having a conference on them? And, for as long as we continue to be misinformed, nothing will change, because, as far as we are aware, in our cosy little ivory towers, nothing  needs to change. And, for as long as nothing changes, the very people we claim to want to help will continue to suffer – in silence.

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