Entangled invasive lives. Indigenous invasive plant management in northern Australia

In this video Jennifer Atchison (and Lesley Head) discuss their research on Indigenous invasive plant management in northern Australia. This presentation was delivered at the World Parks Congress held in Sydney on 17th November 2014 in a special themed session on Indigenous people and invasive species organised by Judy Fischer, Emilie Ens and Oliver Costello.

Discrepancies between the purist, warlike policy discourse of invasive plant management and the messy realities of on-ground practice are being noted in an increasing number of studies. Nowhere is this clearer than in the extensive indigenous lands of Australia’s tropical north, where communities have increasing responsibility for invasive plant management among other pressing land management tasks, as part of what Richie Howitt and others call ‘New Geographies of Coexistence’. Drawing on our own ethnographic research and an analysis of the grey literature, we describe an emerging assemblage we call Indigenous Invasive Plant Management (IIPM).

Fieldnotes from Christchurch: ‘A wonderful disaster’

I visited Christchurch in New Zealand recently. This is the second largest city in the country, and one that has been dealing with the after effects of a series of major earthquakes which first struck almost 5 years ago. The impact of the quakes is most visible in the centre of the city. A great deal of the city’s buildings were damaged and had to be pulled down. I hadn’t visited the city for some 15-odd years but was unable to make any sense of the city from memory.

The view inside the 'Red Zone'

The view inside the ‘Red Zone’

The quakes have had a raft of impacts on people living in Christchurch – apart from damaged buildings that is. There were service disruptions, housing shortages, work relocations and, of course the psychological impacts. Financially the quake has taken a toll, both for individuals but also the country. The estimated cost has ballooned to over NZ$40 billion making it New Zealand’s costliest natural disaster. And, interestingly, it’s the third costliest earthquake (nominally) worldwide – apparently New Zealand has a high rate of building insurance.

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What makes a good academic book? A response

Guest blogger Tess Lea is an ARC QEII Fellow in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney.

Chris Gibson recently posted a thought-provoking review of my book on Darwin. It was the first review to take up the issue of risk-taking in writing, both from the perspective of writing about a place which is small enough that insults are consequential; and from the perspective of academic metrics. I was awestruck by Gibson’s insights and how he has honed in on my acute sense of vulnerability with this book.

As Gibson notes, Darwin completes a series on the capital cities of Australia by New South Books. I accepted the commission for two reasons. First, I will admit ego/vanity. I couldn’t bear the idea of someone else writing about Darwin, my birthplace. But second, I immediately saw it as an opportunity to address the challenge I have set myself in my current research. To wit: presuming I ever find a way to muddle through my current writing block and the thicket of ethnographic fragments I’ve accumulated about Indigenous housing and infrastructure, schools and health clinics, to address the question ‘can there be good social policy in regional and remote Australia?’ –– the question of communication remains. Continue reading

What makes a good academic book?

I’ve just finished reading Tess Lea‘s new book on Darwin. It’s a wonderful, if unusual book: equal parts local history and postcolonial critique, exposé and confessional. On its back cover, the book is categorised as ‘travel/memoir’. It is those things, but also much more. There are tender touches and moments of quiet reflection, where one can almost feel the sand of Casuarina Beach in one’s feet. And there are moments of sheer horror: Aboriginal massacres; children caught in violent cyclones, their bodies torn apart by flying bits of corrugated iron; gang rapes perpetrated on local teenagers by American soldiers. The book has all the contradictions, fraught memories, traumas and emotions that come with the genre of autobiographical account, and that encapsulate Darwin, the city. The writing is crisp, fleet, sharp and yet also welcoming and warm. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

FCA_DarwinJacket.indd

Beyond the specific content of the book, reading Darwin got me thinking about a bunch of things related to the practices of authoring of books, to academic labour, and to the choices we academics make when we write. Such things have been on my mind lately, having had a book out earlier this year with Andrew Warren that sought to catalyse an audience beyond the academy, and growing out of on-going conversations with colleagues Lesley Head and Noel Castree about possible future book projects.

What constitutes ‘impact’ for books written by academics? The last book in a crossover/popular nonfiction series (in which each Australian capital city is narrated by a qualified ‘insider’ expert), Darwin looks and feels very different to what we might expect academics to write. There’s ‘field work’ in there, evidenced in interview quotes and the like, but Tess never makes a claim in the text that this is a research monograph. The empirical imperative lurks in the wings rather than being thrust in the reader’s face. Neither is Darwin a calculated exercise in ‘thought leadership’ – that growing genre of short-term op-ed writing that publishers seem to favour. Will academics read and cite Darwin as per other kinds of research output? The book is reasonably short too, small in hand, just right for carry-on baggage. This one will be on sale in airport bookstores, for sure. A different and perhaps more incisive form of public impact?

What risks do we make when we write books? Darwin is a gutsy book in many ways. It names names and white-ants many of the cherished myths of Northern Territory life. It presumably will ruffle feathers in what is still a small, one-university town.

It’s also a book that almost delightfully ignores metric-driven imperatives for academics to produce the ‘right’ kind of research outputs. For it blends erudition and personal stories, in transparent and accessible prose, with no footnotes or strings of citations. It combines local oral history with insights from entomology, planning, anthropology. Boxing this book into a Field-of-Research (FoR) code for research assessment purposes would entirely miss the point of what gives this book its quality and distinction. It’s a labour of love, the culmination of years of scholarly reflection and lived experience, the story of a place, well told, in all its complexity.

blue notesReading Darwin got me thinking too about other books by academics, recently read, that stand as exemplars outside the normative frames of the research monograph: Matt Matsuda’s grand and sweeping Pacific WorldsBenjamin Cawthra’s Blue Notes in Black and White, an engrossing excavation of masculinity and race politics in the history of jazz photography, as well as Community: Building Modern Australia, a visual treat of mid-twentieth century neighbourhood architecture brought together by a team including my friends and collaborators Kate Darian-Smith and David Nichols. All of these must have involved some risky choices and negotiations made by the authors – the inclusion or exclusion of provoking opinions or difficult material or quotes from troubling interviews, the workload decisions, the scholarly journal articles that didn’t get written by the authors so that they had time to write these books.

Why, ultimately, should we write books? Writing books takes a huge amount of labour, and precious time, working in a higher education landscape that, as Kate Bowles has been recently arguing, exhibits scant regard for creeping workloads and questions of the human cost of overwork. That same higher education system grants us less and less time in which to read books, too. Why go to all the effort, if things like journal article citations, grant income and ERA research excellence scores drive the means by which our scarce writing labour is valued? What Darwin and the other examples above affirm to me is the value of writing books for deeper underlying reasons: to document complexity in a longer and less formulaic format than the scholarly journal article, to shift the written record, to craft and to capture one’s passions or personal politics in considered form, to aspire to timelessness. To tell a good story.

What standout books written by academics have you read in 2014?

Seven contributions of cultural research to the challenges of sustainability and climate change

Lesley Head and Marie Stenseke

(An abbreviated version of this paper was published in Swedish for World Science Day (14.11.14) as Head, L. and Stenseke, M. 2014 Humanvetenskapen står för djup och förståelse In E. Mineur and B. Myrman (eds) Hela vetenskapen! 15 forskare om integrerad forskning. Stockholm: Vetenskapsrådet. ISBN: 978-91-7307-245-8, pp. 26-33. Marie Stenseke is Professor of Human Geography at the University of Gothenburg)

Human and physical sciences alike have reached a convergent point on recommending urgent research on climate change’s social and cultural dimensions (Hulme 2008) since, if these are ignored, it is likely that both adaptation and mitigation responses will fail because they simply do not connect with what matters to individuals and communities (Adger et al. 2012). Increasingly, recognition of the cultural dimensions of sustainability issues goes hand in hand with calls for interdisciplinary approaches to these important problems (Seidl et al. 2013). However that cross-disciplinary collaboration is often on terms defined by the natural sciences. In this paper we seek to articulate the particular and distinctive contributions of qualitative cultural research methods in the environmental field.

We do so in order that they are understood in their own terms, and as a basis for more respectful collaborative research. For too long lone social scientists have been ‘tacked on’ to environmental management bureaucracies dominated by natural science models (Roughley 2005). Among these sole practitioners Roughley has documented a history of marginalization, despite some good intentions by management. Further, these individuals often face the misplaced expectation that their research will result in neat instrumental policy outcomes rather than a more diverse conceptual contribution (Amara et al. 2004). These issues have been encountered long before climate change dominated the agenda; for example in natural resource management, land-use planning and biodiversity conservation (Gill 2006). Continue reading

Fieldnotes: 3D Printshow London

While I have been aware of 3D printing it’s just been a cursory interest – I haven’t paid it too much attention. So when I was shoulder tapped to help out with some field interviews at a 3D print expo in London I thought I’d go along as it might be interesting, though not because I thought it’d be particularly relevant to my own research. I was wrong.

3D Prinshow London

The floor – 3D Prinshow London

The 3D Printshow is an expo organised in cities around the world – London, Paris, New York, Berlin, Dubai, Mexico and others – to showcase applications and developments in 3D printing, or additive manufacturing as it is also known. The one in London just happened to be on while I was there doing some fieldwork of my own. The show ran over three days at the beginning of September, catering to everyone from your simple back-room tinkerer to your industry heavyweight. Held in a large display space in the heart of the City of London, the show was packed with stands, exhibits and talks that ran throughout the three days.

The reason for being there was part of an exploratory project funded by University of Wollongong’s Global Challenges Program investigating the potential of 3D printing in reenergising manufacturing in the Illawarra, being undertaken by Thomas Birtchnell, Robert Gorkin and Chantel Carr. Continue reading

UOW researcher to investigate the experiences of parents/care-givers who take their children to Viva La Gong

Held annually each November, Wollongong’s Viva La Gong is promoted as a ‘family-friendly’ cultural festival with children’s entertainment and involvement being a main focus of the event.

In 2014 Viva La Gong will be held on Saturday 8th November at MacCabe Park and PhD Candidate Susannah Clement from the University of Wollongong’s Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research is looking to talk to parents/care-givers who plan to attend with their children. Continue reading

Rethinking redundancy: necessity, excess and uncertain futures

Call for Papers, Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Chicago, 21-25 April 2015

Organizers:

Chantel Carr (University of Wollongong) [email protected]

Chris Gibson (University of Wollongong) [email protected]

Redundancy is often expressed as a singular event that speaks to our deepest fears and emotions about our own necessity. It conjures the anxieties we carry through our working and social lives, of becoming surplus or unnecessary to future plans. Experiences of workplace redundancy and accompanying precariousness have multiplied in recent years, across an increasingly diverse set of workplaces affected by deregulation and shifts in labor process. Yet redundancy increasingly encircles us in other, more silent ways. For an increasingly diverse set of commodities, from smartphones to washing machines, future redundancy is assumed, and obsolescence a key principle of product design that enrols consumers materially within high throughput systems of provision. In aerospace engineering, systems are often designed in duplicate or even triplicate, in case crucial components fail. In programming, redundant code lies dormant, either never executed or having no external effect until failure occurs. These examples point to different ways in which excess or surplus might be planned, to be invoked when something goes wrong – when crisis is encountered. At this point, such “redundant” systems, processes or devices are deployed to ensure that insufficiencies are addressed and interruption is minimised  Such alternative framings extend and amplify notions of redundancy. They complicate our conceptions of necessity, surplus and value, and require that we pay attention to redundancy as calculative rather than happenstance, and as a process that occurs over time, rather than a singular event. Continue reading

How do rural communities cope with drought? Exploring the role of festivals and events

Festivals and events are frequently staged to reinvigorate community and stimulate economic development – especially in rural and remote places suffering from general decline. In such circumstances festivals and events contribute far more beyond their singular purpose as an agricultural show or a music concert, promoting regional development and community cohesion. Over the past few years researchers here at AUSCCER have been documenting these sorts of contributions, on a large project funded by the Australian Research Council. A free, downloadable summary report of our project’s findings is available here.

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A selfie taken in June this year, at the Gulgong Races, NSW

As we continue to sift through our findings, we have also realised how important festivals and events are to rural communities suffering from conditions of extreme environmental stress. Continue reading