About Leah Gibbs

Dr Leah Gibbs is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Wollongong. Her research focuses on cultures and politics of nature. Here's her website: http://socialsciences.uow.edu.au/ausccer/UOW080115.html

Water and the politics of environmental knowledge

This is the sixth post in our series on drought, flood and water. In this series we are making connections between AUSCCER researchers working on watery themes, and showcasing our research. This week, Leah Gibbs writes on the matter of water and the politics of environmental knowledge.

Early explorers of the Australian inland were so confident of finding fresh water that many carried boats with them on their expeditions. Finding the ‘inland sea’ – or a major inland river or lake upon which they could base a settlement – became a significant motivation for exploration. Expeditions were driven by social expectations of what the landscapes of this vast new continent should provide for the emerging nation.

But expectations were based on European environmental knowledge, imported from the British Isles through colonisation, and plonked onto Australian nature. A pattern of expectation and interaction set in train early in the colonial period continues to shape settler relations with water, and the politics of environmental knowledge. Continue reading

The matter of water

This post is the third in our series on drought, flood and water. In this series we are making connections between AUSCCER researchers working on watery themes, and showcasing our research. This week, Leah Gibbs writes on the materiality of water, as discussed in her forthcoming paper in Environment and Planning A, Bottles, bores and boats: agency of water assemblages in post/colonial inland Australia.

The politics of water in Australia is marked by an idea that water is separate, discrete matter. ‘Stuff’ that can be moved, used, manipulated as and when we humans choose. We drill bores, build dams, dig irrigation channels, desalinate the sea, to extract, contain, direct and now make fresh water. This idea of water as separate extends to how we think about water and how we govern it. We separate water physically, conceptually and bureaucratically. And unfortunately, the idea of separate water contributes to a good deal of misinformation and conflict.

But we don’t have to look far to see that water isn’t separate. And perhaps we can create ways of overturning the notion. In my watery research, I have found myself wondering how we might rethink water to provide a constructive alternative to the outmoded concept of separate water. In particular, I’ve been wondering what would happen if we took seriously the materiality of water. I’m in good company here: my musings are part of a body of work by geographers and friends in related fields interested in ‘taking materiality seriously’.

Continue reading

‘Engaging Tactics’ – how we do what we do

I recently participated in a workshop titled ‘Engaging Tactics’ (30th April – 1st May), which explored creative methods emerging in the social sciences. Engaging Tactics was a Postgraduate and Early Career symposium organised by graduate students of the Sociology Department at Goldsmiths, University of London, and sponsored by the British Sociological Association.

On the opening morning the organisers explained that the motivation for the symposium was in part the current push for emphasis on ‘impact’ in academic work. They were interested in asking ‘how can we think about impact differently?’ The conference did just that. It pressed participants to consider the methods or ‘tactics’ we employ when researching or communicating with the public (or with our publics – whatever they might be). To reflect not only on the substance of our work, but on how we do what we do, and what effect that has.

The workshop was remarkable for its use of spaces within and around Goldsmiths and the New Cross and Deptford area – a railway tunnel, a public library, a community project, an elevator, a University corridor, a pedestrian crossing, a local café, a lecture theatre, a heating plant room, a former police station and prison cell. The organisers did a fantastic job of designing a workshop structure and presentation format that allowed participants to demonstrate and explore the tactics we’re using.

Photo: José Borges Reis

I presented some of the work I’m doing as part of ‘SiteWorks’ – an ongoing collaborative project coordinated by Bundanon Trust, based on the Shoalhaven River. Here I’m interested in what interdisciplinary collaboration – in this case artists, geographers, scientists, local craftspeople making and doing projects together – reveals about a place or a problem. I’m struck by the extent to which how we do what we do – engage, investigate, communicate – shapes the effects or impacts of our work, whether it be in academia, in the community or elsewhere. Both SiteWorks and Engaging Tactics are teaching me about how we might think differently about the ‘impacts’ of research.

 

Leah Gibbs is a Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Wollongong. Her interests are in the cultural and social geographies of nature, and in particular cultures of water, water governance, and interdisciplinary research methods.