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.
Sophie-May Kerr began her PhD with AUSCCER at the start of 2015. Here she answers questions about her research.
You’ve just begun your PhD candidature within AUSCCER. What is the focus of your PhD research?
I’m interested in social and environmental transformations that address high carbon and space-intensive urban lifestyles. In a climate changing world, one way in which cities are changing to accommodate for population growth and an increased demand in housing is through a shift towards urban consolidation. My goal is to inform understandings of sustainable urban living by examining sharing as a sustainable practice. My research will focus on the way urban residents share space (for instance, by living in apartments) and material resources (such as vehicles and household items). Responses to the challenges of urban population growth and carbon intensive lifestyles need to be grounded in an understanding of everyday life and efforts to increase rates of apartment-living must be informed by an understanding of how this mode of living can become socially sustainable. A key aspect of the research will be to consider how high-rise apartments might be made an attractive long-term residential option for a diverse population, including families. My research will focus on sustainability at the household level – understanding the everyday experiences of living in an apartment and the ways people consume material resources and inhabit spaces. I am interested in building form and layout and the strategies families have for making effective and efficient use of small spaces. An important part of this study will be exploring the discourses around raising children in apartments and the way this is portrayed, represented and stereotyped. Whilst living in apartments with children is not yet the norm in the Australian context, many cities around the world have high rates of apartment living, including families and there are no doubt lessons to be learned from these contexts.
What made you decide to go down the path of human geography?
Since a young age I’ve been interested in the environment and my family and I spent lots time exploring outdoors. I’ve also always had an interest in different cultures and communities. Geography was my favourite subject at school and I had a fantastic teacher at the time, which really sparked my interest. The broad nature of human geography means that it encompasses a whole range of different interesting topics and there is always something interesting to read about. I’d initially thought of doing environmental science but also had interests in the humanities – so I was excited to come across human geography which combines aspects of these disciplines, allowing me to explore my interests in both the human and physical environment around me. I really enjoyed human geography as an undergrad degree. It’s diverse, interesting and I’m constantly inspired by the people around me. Having had a taste of research and teaching, I feel passionate about continuing with human geography and sharing this enthusiasm with anyone willing to listen.
What are you looking forward to the most during your PhD journey?
I’m really looking forward to fieldwork. I love getting out and meeting people from so many different backgrounds, hearing their stories and learning from their experiences. The qualitative work I’m interested in would not be possible without this aspect and during my honours research this was my favourite part. I’m also really excited for the opportunity to attend both national and international conferences and for the associated networking and travel experiences. I have been fortunate to receive a Global Challenges Scholarship that will allow me to make the most of these research opportunities.
You’ve been extremely busy within the Faculty of Social Sciences establishing the University of Wollongong Human Geography Society. What are your hopes for the society?
The establishment of UOW HuGS has definitely been a highlight of my time at Wollongong so far. Having completed my undergrad in human geography at Wollongong through a Bachelor of Science, I found that at the time there weren’t many networking opportunities for meeting other human geography students. I hope that HuGS will further the sense of community here within the department and I hope other students can see it as an opportunity to enhance their university experience. We have been having a great turn out at our weekly catch-ups so far and I look forward to seeing some bigger events happen soon – stay tuned!
You can follow Sophie-May on twitter @SophieMayKerr1, along with UOW HuGS activities @UOWHuGS