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.
Lance Barrie began his PhD with AUSCCER at the start of 2015. Here he answers questions about his research.
You’re in the early stages of your PhD candidature. How would you describe the focus of your research?
My research will explore the lived experience of cycling in Wollongong. I find cycling culture and the people that cycle really interesting and would like to capture in my research the visceral and sensorial experiences of riding. Cyclists are generally viewed by the media and some community members as second class citizens when using shared roads, and part of the reason for this is the discourse around cycling. A lot of cycling research takes a positivist approach and discusses cycling and cyclists in a particular way, categorising and grouping them using traditional methodologies such as surveys and using static measures such as distance travelled. In my PhD, I hope to take a step back; Instead of having a pre-conceived idea about what cycling is or who cyclists are, I will explore what cyclists’ bodies do.
At the end of the PhD, I hope to have re-imagined cycling as a practice and apply my knowledge across a number of different areas. For example, this research could be used to help rethink cycling promotion (how are cyclists being portrayed in cycling campaigns and how could this be done differently?), assist in the discourse around cycling policy and urban planning, and encourage more people to get on their bikes.
Why are you interested in cycling? Are you a cyclist yourself?
I have played soccer for most of my life and after recently retiring, I decided to give cycling and triathlon a go. My brother is a professional triathlete and runs a cycling clothing business, so my interest originally came from there. However, since starting a few years ago and developing an addiction, my experiences and observations have furthered my interests in cycling practices.
Compared to running and swimming, cycling has a very unique and strong sub-culture. From the way people dress, to the language they use and the bikes they ride. I found this culture so bizarre when I first started cycling. I would see the same groups on the road in the morning and there was a strong sense of camaraderie amongst cyclists on the ride. There were also some competitive undertones amongst and within the different groups that I found intriguing. And you simply cannot talk about cycling without mentioning the post-ride coffee, which is an integral part of the experience. It proves to be a great people watching experience and a good time to share your most recent cycling war story. Although you are not on your bike, this is still an important part of the cycling experience and relevant to this research as it brings to light issues of gender, bonding and identity.
What is your research background and why have you turned to human geography?
I work at the Centre for Health Initiatives (CHI) at UOW and this is where I got my start in research. A lot of the projects I have been involved in relate to alcohol marketing or social marketing, which at its most basic level is using commercial marketing techniques for social good. Put another way, instead of selling a product, social marketers try to sell positive behavior change, such as increasing physical activity or reducing soft drink intake. It was through working at CHI that I gained a strong research interest in human behaviour and advocating for policy change.
My change to human geography started through my personal interest in cycling. Human geography offered me a new way to look at how people experience particular activities that help to define and then redefine their identity. The ‘cyclist’ has a lot of stigma attached to it, both in the media and the general community, so to be able to break this down by understanding the practice in detail was very appealing. I am also very interested in the emerging and innovative methodologies that human geographers are using and I would like to employ some of these in my PhD studies (e.g. GIS, video ethnography, ride along methods). These dynamic approaches help participants to ‘be there’ and be ‘part of’ the research. Knowledge is then co-created with the researcher instead of being one sided which is an exciting process.
Why did you decide to pursue a PhD?
There are lots of reasons why I started a PhD and I won’t list them all here. However, I have been working in a university environment for a while and to make the next step up – to have the ability to set my own research agenda, I needed a PhD. Further down the track, I would like to combine my interests in human geography and public health and continue researching in the area.
When I was contemplating a PhD in human geography, I saw it as a great opportunity to pursue something I felt passionate about (cycling) and I have been fortunate to meet some great people on the journey so far. I feel very lucky to be supervised by Gordon Waitt and Chris Brennan-Horley and both of these academics are also part of the reason why I started a PhD in human geography. I am new to the area and they have been fantastic at showing me the ropes, introducing me to new concepts and ways of thinking and are very patient with my silly questions in the early stages.
What do you think may be one of your biggest hurdles during your PhD journey?
Moving from public health to human geography, there have been times that I have felt like I am learning a new language. In the initial stages of my PhD, understanding human geography concepts and ways of thinking will be the biggest hurdle. Although I am quite scared by this, it also makes me work harder and push myself that little bit more, which is exciting at the same time. I am starting to feel comfortable with feeling uncomfortable with my PhD.
An article that I often read and re-read is titled “The importance of stupidity in scientific research”. Its basic premise is that as long as you are learning from asking lots of silly questions and getting things wrong, you will remain interested and curious in answering research questions that are currently unanswered. This will be the personal theme of my PhD journey.
What are you looking forward to most during your PhD journey?
Riding my bike!
Follow Lance on Twitter @lanceb147