Do professional associations compete to make their conference the most inaccessible to ECRs?

If so then it seems the British Sociological Association win. This interesting and provocative post about the British International Studies Association (BISA) conference bemoans its exclusionary price:

If you were to ask a handful of early career scholars for their impressions of the recent British International Studies Association (BISA) conference in London they would probably say: “I wasn’t there”. The reason for the dearth in young attendees is that the conference (like all conferences) was prohibitively priced. Its four days costs a whopping £120 for early birds and £150 otherwise. For undergrads and postgrads the fee is £100 (early bird) and £130 (late). Membership to BISA is compulsory, which costs another £30 a year. It’s a hell of an entry fee into the Ivory Tower.

This seems remarkably cheap to me. The Royal Geographical Society is somewhat more expensive at £155 (members) and £175 (non-members) for those who are low income or without funding. The Social Policy Association is more expensive still at £350 (members) and £450 (non-members).This is comparable to the British Sociological Association’s charge a couple of years ago of £310 (members) and £450 (non-members).

It doesn’t follow from this that BISA are good, only that the SPA and BSA are very bad. I promised myself that I’d stop blogging about these issues after what felt like a very public meltdown a couple of years ago. But it still pisses me off immensely. Perhaps even more so as I gain ever more experience of organising events and increasingly feel confident in my view that these costs are completely unnecessary. If you do not believe they are unnecessary then publish a full breakdown of costs for the conference and engage in a dialogue with your membership about them.

If many of your members cannot afford to attend your conference then the nature of that conference must change to make it affordable. This seems so axiomatic to me that I can barely believe it needs saying. Professional associations are contributing to the disenfranchisement of the constituencies they are supposed to serve. I left my professional association for this reason and I haven’t regretted it for a single moment. I encourage other early career researchers to do the same thing. We can find our own ways of contributing to our disciplines. We don’t need these short-sighted and self serving organisations. Ultimately, I do accept they are necessary but I don’t see how they will change while we continue to give them money and free labour en masse and without protest.

Edit to add: I’ll expand on this post and do a systematic comparison of conference fees & costs once my current deadlines are out of the way. Perhaps this could be a regular exercise that other people help me in? It would be interesting to compare national associations.

I don’t think we should ‘steal this conference‘. We just shouldn’t go.

Categories: Committing Sociology, Higher Education

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2 replies »

  1. I have tended to think that prices set are the prices that are necessary, so I would definitely be interested in hearing in your view how they could be different and the comparison of costs. Would be quite tricky to compare costs wouldn’t it though because diff associations have different things to take into account e.g. not everyone gets income though journals, some get reduced rate venues, others don’t, some have big sponsors others don’t, some pay permanent admin staff, others don’t etc. Some include accommodation, others don’t. Big spreadsheet time?! Interesting post though!

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