American New York Times columnist and best-selling author, essayist, feminist, and activist Barbara Ehrenreich will be the keynote speaker at the Icelandic Networking Conference, which will be held May 27-29 at Bifröst University. Widely considered one of the greatest, most provocative social critics of our times, Barbara is the author of 16 books, including Nickel and Dimed, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was named one of the decade’s top ten works of journalism by the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU. Another speaker at the conference is Sigríður Benediktsdóttir, one of the authors of Alþingi’s investigative report into Iceland’s bank and economic collapse.
Barbara is renowned for her campaign for women’s rights. She holds a Ph.D. in biology from The Rockefeller University, but early on dedicated her critical and research skills to writing. She was a regular contributor to Gloria Steinem’s Ms. Magazine, is a columnist for The New York Times, Time magazine, Harper’s, The Nation, and is a frequent and popular TV talk show guest. She is widely regarded for her biting, witty writing style; she has been called “the Thorstein Veblen of the 21st century,” and The London Times called her the Jonathan Swift of the 90s for her sharp insights and exposes of the excesses and injustice borne by those on capitalism’s underside.
In writing Nickel and Dimed, Barbara—inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job—any job—can be the ticket to a better life—decided to join the millions of Americans who work full-time, year-round, for poverty-level wages. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 an hour? To find out, Barbara left her home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she was offered. Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, she worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. She lived in trailer parks and crumbling residential motels. Very quickly, she discovered that no job is truly “unskilled,” that even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort. She also learned that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors, and demonstrated in often heart-wrenching details how employers and managers often manipulate and take advantage of workers’ poverty and desperate circumstances.
In her latest book, Bright-sided, Barbara exposes the crippling downsides of the “positive-thinking” industry: personal self-blame and national denial used – at the cost of clarity, common sense, and realism – to brush off poverty, disease, and unemployment to rationalize a system where all the rewards go to those at the top. The theme of this year’s Networking Conference – Empowering Women is Courage, Communication, and Change of Mind. Sigríður Benediktsdóttir, the other keynote speaker, will discuss courage in the wake of the events leading up to and causing Iceland’s economic and bank collapse. In addition to the keynote speakers, thirty other women will speak at the conference on various issues.
The Networking Conference, which was founded by Dr. Herdís Þorgeirsdóttir, professor of law, is by far the most popular and influential conference that takes place in Iceland. It was first held in 2004; in 2008 the conference was attended by 500 women. The conference agenda and registration, as well as information about lodging, is available at www.bifrost.is.