Meet Scott McKinnon

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.

Dr Scott McKinnon is a Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow who joined AUSCCER in March 2017. In this blog post Scott shares his research interests, current projects and some sage advice for PhD students.

What are your research interests?

In my academic career to date, I’ve had three broad research interests: disasters research; histories and geographies of sexuality; and cinema studies. These are obviously pretty diverse subjects (which I did manage to combine in this paper), but the two themes that usually run across each of them for me are social justice and memory. I’m interested in exploring the impacts of social marginality on people’s lives and thinking about how my research can at least make those impacts visible and more broadly understood. So, in my PhD, I looked at how a marginalised community has historically responded to the ways in which it has been represented on film. In my first postdoc, I looked at ways in which social marginality exacerbates the vulnerability of some communities to the impacts of a disaster.

I’m also interested in how memories of the past continue to impact on the present. The recent battles over statues of historical figures in the USA and Australia give pretty clear examples of how spatialised or materialised forms of memorialisation can become the basis of present-day identities and take on new meanings over time. A large amount of my research has been about understanding how people construct images of the past and put those images to work in the present.

What research project you are currently working on?

My postdoc project at UOW looks at how communities remember disasters. I’m interested in how the collective memory of past disasters influences the ways in which communities prepare (or don’t prepare) for disasters in the future.

Memorial to the 1974 Brisbane Floods in New Farm, Brisbane

The idea for the project came about when I was doing interviews with people in Brisbane about the 2011 Queensland floods. Everyone I spoke to seemed to talk about the 1974 Brisbane floods as a way of making sense of the 2011 disaster. So I became really interested in understanding how the memory of that previous disaster was maintained or reconstructed over time. I also want to think about disasters as long term events the impacts of which are felt over decades through memory.

Tell us about some of your recent publications.

My most recent publication is in Australian Geographer and looks at how the space of the school was imagined in debates over gay rights in NSW in the 1980s. Sex between men was decriminalised in NSW in 1984. Many of the opponents of decriminalisation argued that the law shouldn’t be changed because doing so would harm school children. There was also an attempt in 1982 by a group called GAYTAS to provide school kids with better information about lesbian and gay lives, but that project was abandoned after outrage in the media and parliament. So I argue that, even among massive changes happening in terms of LGBT rights in NSW at the time, conservative voices were working hard to prevent these changes having any impact in schools. This had negative impacts on LGBT teachers and school students. There are obvious parallels between all of this and the more recent controversy around the Safe Schools program (which Gordon Waitt and I have written about with Andrew Gorman-Murray) and also the arguments of the No campaign in the marriage equality survey.  I used the article as the basis of a blog post for a great series the Australian Women’s History Network is doing on the historical contexts of the survey.

GAYTAS members take part in protest March in June 1979. Photographer: John Witte

Would you call yourself a geographer?

I started out as an historian. I didn’t study geography in my undergrad degree (back in the early 1990s) and, when I went back to uni to do my PhD in 2009, I was working in history. But over the course of that research, I became more and more interested in geographies of sexuality and gender. My PhD looked at the role of cinema in the emergence of gay male community in Sydney between 1950 and 2010. As part of that research, I wanted to better understand urban gay neighbourhoods and the role of movie theatres as spaces within those neighbourhoods. So it was reading the work of people like Larry Knopp, Andrew Gorman-Murray, Michael Brown, Lynda Johnston, Robyn Longhurst and AUSCCER’s own Gordon Waitt that got me hooked on geography. Then my first postdoc was in geography working with Andrew Gorman-Murray at Western Sydney University and now I’m feeling very lucky to be here at AUSCCER.

Being an Early Career Researcher you have any advice for PhD students?

Doing a PhD is obviously really stressful and the financial sacrifices are big, but I also think it is a huge privilege to be able to immerse yourself in a topic that you really love. So among all of the challenges, my advice to PhD students is to take a moment every now and then to remember why you love it and to enjoy the experience.

In terms of post-PhD career, I guess I would give the usual advice about how important it is to get your work out there and make yourself visible. Publications matter in terms of the dreaded metrics, of course, but also think about how you can be building networks with other scholars. Each of the jobs I’ve had in academia have come, in one way or another, via someone who has seen me give a paper somewhere or who has read something I’ve published. I’ve also developed some great research collaborations by presenting work at smaller events – seminars or workshops – where it can sometimes be easier to engage with people than at big conferences.


Scott is speaking at the UOW Faculty of Social Sciences Vice-Chancellor’s Early Career Researcher Symposium on Thursday 19th October. His talk is titled ‘Carrying the burden ourselves’: exploring the role of traumatic and marginalised memories in disaster contexts. More details are available here.

Follow Scott on Twitter @McKinnon_SJ


Selected Publications

Gay Men at the Movies: Cinema, memory and the history of a gay male community.

McKinnon S. 2016. Gay Men at the Movies: Cinema, memory and the history of a gay male community. Bristol, UK: Intellect Books.

McKinnon, S., Gorman-Murray, A. & Dominey-Howes, D. 2016. “‘The Greatest Loss was a Loss of our History”: Natural disasters, marginalised identities and sites of memory”, Social and Cultural Geography. 17(8): 1120-1139.

McKinnon, S., Gorman-Murray, A. & Dominey-Howes, D. 2017. “Remembering an epidemic during a disaster: Memories of HIV/AIDS, gay identities and experiences of disaster”, Gender, Place and Culture. 24(1): 52-63.

A full list of Scott’s publications is available here.

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