Fieldwork food

Written by Lesley Head, with culinary and photographic contributions by Natascha Klocker, Olivia Dun, Ananth Gopal, Sophie-May Kerr and Lulu.

There are few things more important to successful fieldwork than food. It sustains the bodies and the community of the fieldwork team. It provides points of connection with the broader community. And in our current project on Exploring culturally diverse perspectives on Australian environments, it is an important dimension of the research itself. We are currently in the Sunraysia region of Victoria (around Robinvale and Mildura), where irrigated agriculture provides an abundance of late summer food choices. In the midst of such abundance there are puzzles and challenges – people who don’t have enough to eat, farmers who don’t eat their own produce, and widespread concerns over pesticide use and the changing political economy of Australian food. Here are some moments in our food journey so far. Continue reading

What makes a good academic book? A response

Guest blogger Tess Lea is an ARC QEII Fellow in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney.

Chris Gibson recently posted a thought-provoking review of my book on Darwin. It was the first review to take up the issue of risk-taking in writing, both from the perspective of writing about a place which is small enough that insults are consequential; and from the perspective of academic metrics. I was awestruck by Gibson’s insights and how he has honed in on my acute sense of vulnerability with this book.

As Gibson notes, Darwin completes a series on the capital cities of Australia by New South Books. I accepted the commission for two reasons. First, I will admit ego/vanity. I couldn’t bear the idea of someone else writing about Darwin, my birthplace. But second, I immediately saw it as an opportunity to address the challenge I have set myself in my current research. To wit: presuming I ever find a way to muddle through my current writing block and the thicket of ethnographic fragments I’ve accumulated about Indigenous housing and infrastructure, schools and health clinics, to address the question ‘can there be good social policy in regional and remote Australia?’ –– the question of communication remains. Continue reading

Seven contributions of cultural research to the challenges of sustainability and climate change

Lesley Head and Marie Stenseke

(An abbreviated version of this paper was published in Swedish for World Science Day (14.11.14) as Head, L. and Stenseke, M. 2014 Humanvetenskapen står för djup och förståelse In E. Mineur and B. Myrman (eds) Hela vetenskapen! 15 forskare om integrerad forskning. Stockholm: Vetenskapsrådet. ISBN: 978-91-7307-245-8, pp. 26-33. Marie Stenseke is Professor of Human Geography at the University of Gothenburg)

Human and physical sciences alike have reached a convergent point on recommending urgent research on climate change’s social and cultural dimensions (Hulme 2008) since, if these are ignored, it is likely that both adaptation and mitigation responses will fail because they simply do not connect with what matters to individuals and communities (Adger et al. 2012). Increasingly, recognition of the cultural dimensions of sustainability issues goes hand in hand with calls for interdisciplinary approaches to these important problems (Seidl et al. 2013). However that cross-disciplinary collaboration is often on terms defined by the natural sciences. In this paper we seek to articulate the particular and distinctive contributions of qualitative cultural research methods in the environmental field.

We do so in order that they are understood in their own terms, and as a basis for more respectful collaborative research. For too long lone social scientists have been ‘tacked on’ to environmental management bureaucracies dominated by natural science models (Roughley 2005). Among these sole practitioners Roughley has documented a history of marginalization, despite some good intentions by management. Further, these individuals often face the misplaced expectation that their research will result in neat instrumental policy outcomes rather than a more diverse conceptual contribution (Amara et al. 2004). These issues have been encountered long before climate change dominated the agenda; for example in natural resource management, land-use planning and biodiversity conservation (Gill 2006). Continue reading

Reflections on Flight Ways and Bird Cultures

I finish Flight Ways. Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction in a house surrounded by birds. With windows at every turn, it sometimes feels like being in a very cosy bird hide. As I reflect on Thom Van Dooren’s haunting book, my companions are wrens hopping around nooks and crannies in their constant search for insects. A winter flock of Satin Bowerbirds lands on the lawn, eats and leaves. High above, a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles circles. Kookaburras and magpies greet the clear cold air of dawn.Flightways

Inside the house, feathers from who knows what far away bird fly as I shake out the old doona for visiting friends. A wooden duck welcomes them at the front door. There is chicken for dinner. Graham Pizzey and Neville Cayley help us name birds according to particular taxonomies and traditions, and learn more of their habits. Continue reading

Post-presentation shutdown and the art of question time

Professor Lesley Head.

Professor Lesley Head.

You’ve nailed the presentation. Structured it well. Timed it just right. No powerpoint stuff-ups. You’re pretty sure you had most of the audience with you. You draw breath and take a glass of water. Your brain relaxes.

But wait, there’s question time, and if you’re lucky, a chance for extended discussion. Just as your brain relaxes, you need it to function more than ever, and fast. Continue reading

PhD Scholarship – environmental knowledge and practice of migrant food growers

Project title: Exploring the environmental knowledges and practices of migrant food growers in urban and peri-urban NSW

$AU25,392 per year (3 years max)

A fully-funded PhD scholarship worth $AU25,392 per year, for three years, is available in the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research, Department of Geography and Sustainable Communities at the University of Wollongong. The project is entitled: ‘Exploring the environmental skills, knowledges and practices of migrant food growers in urban and peri-urban NSW’. The successful candidate will explore these practices in the context of broader discussions of sustainability and climate change adaptation.

The project is funded by University of Wollongong in association with an Australian Research Council Discovery Project awarded to Professor Lesley Head, Dr Natascha Klocker, Professor Gordon Waitt and Professor Heather Goodall. It is anticipated that the successful applicant will enrol by August 2014.

The PhD project is to examine the diverse food growing practices of migrants across formal and informal spaces in Sydney and the Illawarra including market gardens, community gardens, backyards and public spaces. It will consider how migrants’ diverse environmental knowledges, experiences in countries of origin, understandings of Australian environments and perceptions of climate change inform their food growing practices. The successful student will be responsible for conducting research with migrant food growers using a range of qualitative social scientific fieldwork methods. Funds are available to support research and field expenses.

Applications are sought from suitably qualified candidates with a First Class Honours Degree, and/or a Masters by Research degree in human geography, environmental social science, anthropology or related disciplines. Applicants will need to demonstrate research training as is evident in a substantial thesis characterised by primary research. Ability to speak a language other than English (which the applicant could show is relevant to migrant food growers in Sydney) would be an advantage, but is not essential.

Applicants should initially submit a letter outlining their suitability for this research and the nature of their research training and any thesis completed as part of their study so far, a CV, and academic transcripts for all degrees.

Send these documents to Professor Lesley Head at the email address below by 30th May 2014. Please ensure that all documents are contained in one single pdf file.

The successful applicant will be enrolled in a PhD in Human Geography at the University of Wollongong, supervised by Dr Natascha Klocker and Professor Lesley Head.

The scholarship is open to Australian and International applicants.

For further information about the project, please contact Professor Lesley Head lhead@uow.edu.au

Further information about the Department of Geography and Sustainable Communities and AUSCCER can be found via:

http://socialsciences.uow.edu.au/ausccer/index.html

http://socialsciences.uow.edu.au/dgsc/index.html

Plunging into the Anthropocene

For geographers, discussion around the Anthropocene provides an interesting recent take on long standing disciplinary debates over issues such as ‘Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth‘, human impacts and human relations to nature. Last year I was struck by the parallels between how people are conceptualising and talking about the Anthropocene, and how the Neolithic or agricultural revolution has been discussed in archaeology over the last few decades.

I am not talking  about the debate over whether the Anthropocene started 8000 or so years ago as a result of methane emissions from rice agriculture, as argued by William Ruddiman, although that is a fascinating and important discussion. Rather it is about how phases or periods of history can become reified in public and scholarly consciousness, to the detriment of considering their spatial and temporal nuances. If we’re not careful we can end up with deterministic and teleological rather than contingent understandings of historical change. Continue reading

Call for papers: Sustainability in the Anthropocene

Institute of Australian Geographers/New Zealand Geographical Society Conference University of Melbourne, June 30 to July 2, 2014.

Organisers: Dr Lauren Rickards (Uni Melb) and Prof Lesley Head (Uni Wollongong)

Still under review as a formal geological term, ‘the Anthropocene’ – the idea that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch due to the accumulated effect of human influences – is, like sustainability, an interdisciplinary concept. It not only brings together multiple scientific disciplines, from geologists and geomorphologists to ecologists and climate scientists, but is fast becoming an intellectual meeting point for a far wider range of scholars, including those coming from historical, political, economic, social and cultural perspectives. Combined with the way that the Anthropocene thesis challenges the ontological basis of the disciplinary divisions listed above, and demands close attention to spatial and temporalscale and boundaries, the Anthropocene is a rich theme for many geographers.

The implications of the Anthropocene for the environmental sustainability project are contested. Some commentators, including some of its originators, see the concept as a call-to-arms for the environmental movement. But others suggest that it reveals the environmental sustainability enterprise to be out-dated or out-moded: ahopeless or misguided exercise.  This session calls for papers that address challenges to sustainability in the Anthropocene from a range of critical perspectives. These could include papers on how issues such as climate change, ocean acidification or species extinctions are positioned within the Anthropocene discourse, critique of certain Anthropocene narratives or images, or implications of Anthropocene relationships for particular policy areas such as geoengineering, mining oragriculture. Other possible topics include the relationship between the Anthropocene and debates about ‘human impacts’, planetary boundaries, species thinking, the human-nature relationship and imaginaries of the future.

Session format: Normal paper format (4-6 papers), with possible discussant depending on number of papers

Instructions: Please email Lauren Rickards (lauren.rickards@unimelb.edu.au) with your abstract of 250 words or less by March 28. And submit it on the conference website when you register.

AUSCCER welcomes Noel Castree

This week we have been very excited to welcome Prof Noel Castree and family to Wollongong. Noel has joined AUSCCER to help create the new Department of Geography and Sustainable Communities, in UOW’s new Faculty of Social Sciences. Amidst the banalities of a university restructuring (which printer do we now use? who signs this form? when is X going to make a decision about Y so that we can get on with Z? who pays for the milk?), we are thrilled to have Noel’s participation in a range of research, teaching and strategic discussions.Castree

Noel Castree’s scholarship on nature, politics and academic geography will be well known to many readers of this blog. His expertise in the political economy of environmental change adds breadth and depth to our existing expertise, and we hope that working in the Australian context will enrich his own work in a variety of ways.

We also hope to entice him to this blog, so watch this space!

Know yourself and pace yourself – some thoughts on the temporalities of academic writing

This is an edited version of a discussion-starter presentation used at the UWS School of Social Sciences and Psychology writing retreat in November 2013, Kangaroo Valley. Thanks to Rae Dufty-Jones for the invitation. Thanks also to the group for sharing their own experiences and processes, many of which are very different from mine.

Let me first say that in academic life no one ever gives you time to write. Even though it is a core responsibility of the scholarly endeavour, there are always endless details and demands that will crowd in and demand priority. You have to carve out that time, and you have to wrest it somehow in the midst of all those other things that would fill your days. You also have to wrest some from those who have completely legitimate demands on you – your boss, your kids, your students. So if you are making the choice of a scholarly life, you are choosing not to do some other things, and not to do everything.

Here are some thoughts on how I have done it, remembering that everyone is different. (And here are the visual aids I used in the talk.)

Continue reading