Chicago here we come!

We are two weeks away from one of geography’s largest conferences – the Association of American Geographers, held this year in Chicago, Illinois.  A dozen AUSCCERites will be presenting some of their latest work, from Mining and Sex Work, to Indigenous Invasive Plant Management in Northern Australia.

If you’re attending the conference, keep an eye out for the following speakers and session times. If you’re not lucky enough to find yourself in Chicago, make sure you keep up to date with the latest discussions by following #AAG2015 on Twitter. Continue reading

Talking research through photographs: notes from the Geographical Society of NSW’s Postgraduate Networking Day

Introduction by Ellen van Holstein

Each year the Geographical Society of New South Wales invites postgraduate students from all over New South Wales to meet up and talk research. Students were invited to bring a picture and briefly present their work based on that image. The event also encouraged the exchange of advice about how to manage a PhD and how to do conferences. The University of Wollongong cohort of postgraduates was represented with ten candidates. The event was an excellent opportunity to think about the core messages of our research projects and to reflect on what it is that makes our geographical minds tick. Having ten new postgraduates start PhDs in geography at the University of Wollongong this year, it was also a great opportunities for old and new AUSCCER postgraduates to get to know each other better and to revel once again in the great wealth of research diversity that AUSCCER accommodates. To get a glimpse of that diversity please click through the photos of the ten AUSCCERites who attended the Geographical Society of New South Wales postgraduate meeting.

Ellen's photo Continue reading

Is walking becoming redundant?

According to the most recent census data, the average Australian household owns one or more vehicles with close to 65% of the workforce traveling to work each day by car, compared to less than 4% who walk. Furthermore, according to the 2014 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Young People only 33% of children and young people walk or cycle to school, with this average dropping when they reach high school. Public health experts are continually urging us stop sitting at our desks and move more through the promotion of ‘walk to school’ days, but many are cynical of the retention and upkeep of these one-off practices. So what does this mean for our health, the sustainability of our transport systems and the relationships we have with our neighbourhoods? What does this mean for walking? Continue reading

Fieldwork food

Written by Lesley Head, with culinary and photographic contributions by Natascha Klocker, Olivia Dun, Ananth Gopal, Sophie-May Kerr and Lulu.

There are few things more important to successful fieldwork than food. It sustains the bodies and the community of the fieldwork team. It provides points of connection with the broader community. And in our current project on Exploring culturally diverse perspectives on Australian environments, it is an important dimension of the research itself. We are currently in the Sunraysia region of Victoria (around Robinvale and Mildura), where irrigated agriculture provides an abundance of late summer food choices. In the midst of such abundance there are puzzles and challenges – people who don’t have enough to eat, farmers who don’t eat their own produce, and widespread concerns over pesticide use and the changing political economy of Australian food. Here are some moments in our food journey so far. Continue reading

Call for interest in a rural natural resource management session for IAG 2015

The Institute of Australia Geography 2015 conference organisers are calling for session proposals. We are looking to provide a forum for environmental geographers and others working on natural resource and environmental management in rural areas, but we need your interest to put the session up! Our proposed session outline is below. If you are interested, please send us your paper titles as detailed below.

Natural resource management, land use change, and governance in peri-urban and high amenity rural areas: Taking stock.

Shaun McKiernan and Nicholas Gill, University of Wollongong

In 2012 Abrams et al reviewed the environmental implications of amenity migration to rural areas, concluding that it ‘is perhaps best conceptualised as a redistribution of (variably-defined) environmental harms and benefits at multiple scales, due to….[the] consequences of the uneven processes of recreating rural places’. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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