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 be introducing some of our academics and PhD candidates to give greater insight into AUSCCER’s work.
Freya is in the first year of her PhD, initially starting her studies in history, but transferred to human geography and AUSCCER at the start of 2017. She is supervised by Associate Professor Michael Adams and Dr Jenny Atchison. In this post Freya answers some questions about her research.
What is the focus of your research?
Put broadly, the topic of my research is storytelling and ocean conservation. I’m interested in the ways in which storytelling can act as a catalyst for change and inspire stewardship of the marine environment.
I am really interested in the ways in which emotions shape the encounters humans have in marine environments and how these can be used to encourage people to alter their behaviour to be more conservation minded.
I just came back from a trip to Ningaloo Reef where I had some absolutely amazing encounters with marine animals and marine environments. There were times when I had goose bumps and was almost moved to tears from the beautiful things I was seeing. On the other end of this spectrum was my experience snorkelling in Vietnam off the coast of Nha Trang (a relatively large and touristy city) a couple of weeks earlier. While we were snorkelling I was so upset by the poor state of the reef, the pollution and the people walking on the coral that I was crying into my mask and I was shaking when I got out of the water. These experiences led me to realise how powerful marine encounters can be and how strong the emotions are that they can elicit – both positive and negative.
Whether apparent or not, emotions are embedded in the discourses surroundingoceans and ocean conservation. There is a quote by famous oceanographer and conservationist Sylvia Earle, who says: ‘you have to love it before you are moved to save it.’ Again emotions are central to this concept. Throughout my time researching I would like to unpack and explore this idea and see how important it is for humans to have strong emotional responses to marine encounters, whether through a lived or mediated experience. I am interested to see how emotion can be capitalised in order to raise awareness about marine issues and facilitate change.
Before starting your PhD you studied a Graduate Certificate in Film and Media Production at UTS. What made you go down the path of human geography?
I started in history at UOW researching human connections to the ocean throughout history. As I began researching I came to realise that it was the present and the future of the oceans that I was more concerned about, perhaps more so than the past.
So, despite not having previously studied geography I found myself on the AUSCCER website. I was looking at the research topics that people in AUSCCER were looking at and I decided that it was the path I wanted to pursue!
For some reason (despite having been at UOW for a few years) I had never considered human geography – but I wish that I had come across it earlier. I think if I could redo my undergrad I would choose geography! The range and relevance of the research topics in human geography is amazing and I love that it is very interdisciplinary.
I am passionate about ocean conservation and the relationships between humans and the marine environment and I love I that human geography allows me to look at the social and cultural aspects of environmental issues.
Why did you decide to pursue a PhD?
To be honest, I have no idea!! I finished my honours in history and wasn’t sure where to go from there. I never saw myself pursuing a PhD but I have always really enjoyed research and it seemed like a perfect way to research something that I find really interesting. Also, I wasn’t quite ready to let go of the uni lifestyle!
What do you think may be one of your biggest hurdles during your PhD journey?
I am sure there will be many hurdles along the way – nobody says a PhD is easy. But I think I will just try and make the most of the experience! So far, I have found having to narrow and refine my topic to be a big hurdle – there are too many things that I find really interesting that are related to my research area!
Also, I very often feel like I have no idea what I am doing! But after talking to lots of people I have been reassured that this is quite normal. So I think learning to embrace that feeling and not letting it get the better of me will also be a challenge!
I have found that everyone in the school and AUSCCER has been really friendly and supportive so I am sure that will help with overcoming any potential hurdles that arise over the next few years.
What are you looking forward to most during your PhD journey?
I am looking forward to fieldwork and getting to spend time in and around the ocean! I am happiest when I am near the sea, so hopefully I will get to spend lots of time ‘researching’ on the beach and in the water! I am also looking forward to meeting lots of interesting people and finding out about all kinds of amazing research projects and conservation projects that people are involved with.
You can follow Freya on twitter @freyacroft