The 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.
Ananth began his PhD with AUSCCER earlier this year. Here he answers questions about his research.
You’ve just begun your PhD. At this early stage, what can you tell us about your research focus?
I’m interested in growing cultures, literally. By that I mean, looking at what role culture and ethnicity might play in the everyday food growing practices of people in the Illawarra. My research sits under the ARC discovery project led by Lesley Head, Natasha Klocker, Heather Goodall and Gordon Waitt. They are investigating the role cultural diversity has on people’s perceptions of the environment and environmental practices. The project is multi-pronged looking at a number of migrant communities and how their background may shape encounters in the Australian environmental context. I hope I can contribute something of worth with my focus on backyards and small-scale local agriculture.
What university have you come from and why have you come to AUSCCER?
I arrived here at UOW from the University of Melbourne. Since moving to Australia from New Zealand I’ve made my home in Victoria. I did my honours in in Human Geography looking at domestic food growing and worked as a tutor for two years in Melbourne. What drew me away from Melbourne was indeed AUSCCER and the opportunity to be supervised by Lesley. I can see -no plug intended- that AUSCCER’s reputation is well-deserved as a place of exceptional research output and collegial work environment. I feel lucky to be here.
What made you go down the path of human geography?
I’ve worked as a professional actor and facilitator for the last 10 years. Moving around the world (I’ve lived in more houses than I have years) has exposed me to a crazy diversity of cultures and living configurations. I’ve always been fascinated with how we, as humans, make ourselves at home wherever we go. I’m also interested in the sensation of feeling ‘out of place’. I guess my interest in human geography is one that has personal roots being an Indian-Kiwi who calls Australia home. Over the last few years I’ve studied productive landscape design through permaculture and I’ve grown increasingly passionate about food cultivation and its impact on many aspects of life. It’s the delicious confluence of food, culture and place that has led me down the path of human geography.
Why did you choose to pursue a PhD?
I chose to pursue a PhD mainly to learn a craft and begin an apprenticeship in reading, thinking and writing systematically. I want to use my training, and, any potential opportunities it presents, to improve the local food system and beyond. I find the practice of academic writing difficult. It demands that I organise my thoughts and craft a robust argument through honest enquiry. The particular research focus of the ARC project really caught my attention. When my best mate sent me the ad, I thought it must be a sign to begin.
What are you looking forward to most during your PhD journey?
I’ve already had a heap of fun getting to know people here at AUSCCER. I now feel I’ve got a platform from which to begin the real pleasure of working with food growers in their homes, and mini farms. I’ve become a volunteer of the Flame Tree food Co-Op and Urban Grown – both are community supported enterprises. Flame Tree connects local food growers with everyday people looking to buy local, chemical free produce. Urban Grown works specifically with newly arrived refugees offering training in organic market gardening, waste management and business skills. I look forward to ‘snowballing’ from there and seeing which backyards and which farms my research questions lead me to. Perhaps I’ll feel at home here too – investigating food, culture and place.
What do you think may be one of your biggest hurdles during your PhD journey?
I’m a serial procrastinator and ‘multi-tasker’. My biggest hurdle will be (and is already) keeping the strategic blinkers on. I’ve also found it hard to move away from my life in Melbourne and the business that I helped start (www.polykala.com). It too is rewarding, so, finding a way of keeping that growing while I take my focus off it will be a serious hurdle. Ultimately, staying on task and realising that I am simply learning a skill and am working on a ‘job’ (not a magnum opus) helps me get back on point!
What advice have you been given from others you’ve found reassuring?
“Ananth, just treat your PhD as a job, something that you do and do well.”
“Don’t forget to read for pleasure.”
“Just begin writing, don’t fixate (yet) on how good it is.”
“Go to sleep.”
You can follow Ananth on twitter @wordsgrow.