Meet Ryan Frazer

Ryan FrazerThe Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER) is a teaching and research group focusing on cultural and social aspects of environmental issues. AUSCCER’s expertise and research is wide-ranging. Over the next few months we’ll introduce some of our academics and PhD candidates to give greater insight into AUSCCER’s work.

Ryan Frazer began his PhD with AUSCCER at the start of 2015. Here he answers questions about his research.


What is the focus of your research?

My research focuses on the experiences of Australians who volunteer with newly settled refugees. In particular, I’m interested in the politics of emotions: how emotions form the bodies of individuals, collectives and nations; how emotions have political effects and how politics affects emotions. I’m also interested in voluntary labour and its relation to citizenship, political activism and ethics.

The photo depicts a rally which took place in February this year. Standing outside the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the group is protesting the harsh treatment of asylum seekers on Manus Island. It was a highly emotional event, with one speaker even collapsing from stress – the affective atmosphere among the crowd was palpable. My project aims to explore these politics of emotions in the context of asylum seeking in Australia, engaging particularly with those who volunteer directly with refugees. (Photo and extract taken from blog post: Talking research through photographs: notes from the Geographical Society of NSW’s Postgraduate Networking Day)

Volunteering was also a theme in your honours research. Where has your interest in volunteering come from?

I’ve been involved in quite a bit of volunteering over the last five years: organising community events, projects and fundraisers in Wollongong; helping with training programs on respectful relationships in Papua New Guinea; and teaching music at an NGO for refugees. Practices of volunteering, the spaces they produce, are experientially and ethically complex. They are laden with intense emotions—joys, frustrations, pains—and contradictory ethics. For example, my honours research surfaced from an interest in why many Australian pay thousands of dollars to do menial work in developing countries—work they would never do back home.

Also, Australia’s attitudes towards and policies about seeking asylum are something I feel strongly about. The current situation is despairing. But there are many Australians who—instead of switching off, falling into apathy—are motivated to do something quite radical: volunteer their time and resources to strangers from foreign nations. I’m interested in why this happens and what the consequences are.

From Ryan's 2013 honours project on volunteers from the Rotary club of Wollongong, building homes for villagers in Bacolod, Philippines

From Ryan’s 2013 honours project on volunteers from the Rotary club of Wollongong, building homes for villagers in Bacolod, Philippines

What made you go down the path of human geography?

I had initially enrolled in a bachelors degree in philosophy. However I soon became interested in how theory connected with practice, how ideas affected our lived experiences and how they could be used to understand our lived experiences. Being inherently multidisciplinary, human geography seemed the perfect fit—the intersection of theory and empirical research.

Why did you decide to pursue a PhD?

I found my honours year extremely rewarding. Being able to focus all my time and energy on a topic that interested me, being given access to people’s stories and experiences was a great privilege—another three years of this was very enticing. I do qualitative research, which offers incredible freedom in following ideas, learning how they shape and can be applied to understanding lived realities. If I can do this for a living, I will be very contented.

What do you think may be one of your biggest hurdles during your PhD journey?

I can find the complexity of research intimidating, the breadth of existing knowledge overwhelming. Questions like How do we understand another person’s lived experience? boggle me. Not ever being able to answer these types of questions satisfactorily can be deflating. I anticipate that avoiding getting totally discouraged will be a big obstacle.

What are you looking forward to most during your PhD journey?

Sincerely, all of it. From the reading, to the field work, to the writing and developing ideas, to the presenting and publishing—all of it excites me.


 Publications by Ryan

Frazer, R (2013) “It’s the need that brings me back”: Ageing Bodies and Volunteer Tourism, Honours Thesis, University of Wollongong, Wollongong.

Waitt, G & Frazer, R (2012) “The vibe” and “the glide”: surfing through the voices of longboarders, Journal of Australian Studies, 36(3), 327-343.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryangfrazer

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