Postgraduate Seminars and Research
Welcome to the Department of Anthropology’s postgrad page. We have a prodigious pod of postgraduate research students and we run a lively seminar and workshop program. Feel free to join us!
Postgraduate seminars and workshops
Postgraduate seminars and workshops take place during semester. Anthropology students from other universities are most welcome to attend. For more information on the current program, please contact the Postgraduate coordinator,
Postgraduate research projects
Belinda Burbridge (PhD Candidate)
Interaction through industry in the Parkes Shire, NSW: Cultural heritage and the Peak Hill Wiradjuri people
My research will be part of an ARC Linkage Project that focuses on Indigenous Cultural Heritage and brings together anthropologists and archaeologists with local Wiradjuri people in Parkes Shire. My contribution will be to examine the history of interactions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, through industries such as pastoralism, the development of Aboriginal organisations, and the contemporary cultural heritage industry. I aim to develop an economic profile of these interactions so as to bring a different light to current politically-oriented models of colonial interaction. I also want to develop ethnographic understandings of notions such as culture, heritage and Aboriginality, amongst both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people living in the Shire. My overall project will be situated within the anthropology of the nation state, on one hand, and, on the other, the potential for increased interdisciplinary engagement between historical anthropology/ethnohistory and archaeology.
Key concepts: Wiradjuri, historical anthropology, industrial interaction, power and state, cultural heritage
Supervisor: Gaynor Macdonald
Mikiko Chono (PhD Candidate)
Growing Up Problem Kids: child disability in Kimberley cultural context
This ethnographically-grounded research explores how Kimberley Aboriginal family members interpret and act on differences/disabilities affecting their children, and the extent to which their beliefs and practices may differ from those conventionally held by medical/health professionals. It starts from the anthropological premise that culturally-shared understandings of difference/disability in human expression stem from culturally-constituted notions of personhood. Anthropologists have frequently observed the characteristic tolerance of Australian Aboriginal peoples for a wide range of social behaviours within the scope of ‘normal’ but how this influences understandings of difference/disability is not well known. Reports of increasing disabilities among Aboriginal children indicate the significance of culturally-informed understandings required to inform effective responses.
A strong relationship between culture and interpretations of and attitudes to “disability” has been found in recent anthropological research but this has not previously been extended to Aboriginal Australia. This project will both critique and contribute to that corpus as well as providing culturally-specific information to complement medical/health research and practice. In doing so, it also contributes to the anthropology of health and illness, and to ‘closing the gap’ of Aboriginal well-being in Australia.
Supervisor: Professor Gillian Cowlishaw
Associate Supervisor:Dr. Cynthia Hunter
Carolina Quesada Cordero (PhD Candidate)
Uncovering the Meaning of Sexual and Reproductive Health in Two Rural Communities of Costa Rica
This research seeks to broaden the knowledge about women’s health in the Costa Rican context. Following theories and concepts developed by medical anthropologists I will study the social, cultural, economic and political conditions of women and their experiences with health and disease. The fieldwork will take place in two communities in the southern region of Costa Rica: a non-indigenous rural community and a Ngöbe indigenous community. The study will particularly focus on the cultural traits embedded in the sexual and reproductive experiences of women. Furthermore, this research will expand on three aspects: first, the women’s perceptions of health and disease in relation with their life stories and their passage through the health care system. Second, the myths and beliefs around women’s bodies and their sexual experiences. Finally, the cultural differences between these two communities. The study of these aspects will be intertwined with the analysis of the power structures at play, which intensify the hardships faced by women in these communities. A number of the known hardships faced by these women are: gender and social inequalities, alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment and domestic violence, and ineffective and ill-timed responses from the healthcare system to women suffering from sexual and reproductive related diseases.
Above all, this research aims at providing useful information to improve the quality of the service offered by the healthcare system to these women, generate better sexual and reproductive health promotion interventions and identify work areas outside disease care that will impact the ill and non-ill women’s quality of life in the region.
Key concepts: Sexual and reproductive health, medical anthropology, gender, sexuality, disease, health care systems, Costa Rica
Supervisor: Dr. Cynthia Hunter
Associate Supervisor: Dr. Luis Fernando Angosto Ferrandez
Shannon Doherty (MA[Res] Candidate)
Collective watching and faith exploration: The Alpha Course in a Sydney evangelical congregation
This study seeks to explore the Alpha Course, a 10 week introductory class on the nature of Jesus Christ and Christian beliefs, within an evangelical congregation in Sydney. Alpha is a course that utilizes both a Christian themed audio-visual presentation and subsequent facilitator led group discussion. This course is given across multiple denominations, teaching people interested in exploring Christian concepts about basic tenets such as the nature of sin, the Holy Spirit and prayer. A small group of Alpha Course participants with diverse backgrounds was studied ethnographically, using participant observation and semi-structured interviews to learn about their history, motivations, and experience while attending. Inspired by the work of scholars such as James Bielo and Robert Wuthnow on small group Bible study, the thesis examines the discursive space that opens up when people meet to discuss religious concepts in an informal, non-judgmental atmosphere. Drawing on Bielo’s theory of “collective reading” as a dynamic interaction of text interpreted through personal and institutional influences, Alpha is shown to inhabit this discursive space through “collective watching”, or a small group viewing of a religiously themed video. It is in this context that the thesis analyses what Kelly Besecke has called “invisible religion”, a social space where conversations take place about religious meaning separate from a private or institutional setting. The thesis aims to gain understanding of this dynamic space of knowledge production and negotiation as participants explore the foundations, dimensions and expressions of their faith.
Supervisor: Professor Linda Connor
Associate Supervisor: Dr. Ryan Schram
Sascha Fuller (PhD Candidate)
The Local Cultural Implications of Global Climate Change: A critical anthropological study of climate change impacts in the Nepal Himalaya
In recent years climate change has been given an unprecedented visibility and sense of urgency. At the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen in December 2009, the “global climate change community”, came together to form a “global climate policy”. In response to the global nature of climate change discourse this research will highlight the local cultural implications of climate change and global warming while exploring if and how global expertise has become linked with local social concerns. Using an ethnographic approach this research will focus on the production of meaning as well as the conditions and context of both climate change and cultural change in contiguous mountainous communities in Nepal. The research, through the narratives, definition and imaginings of local residents will be concerned with climate change as an emplaced cultural experience.
Nepal, as one of the poorest countries in the world and with an incredibly diverse landscape (it is home to eight of the fourteen highest mountain peaks in the world and over six thousand rivers and streams), is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The scientific and development communities have tended to focus their research on the effects of climate change for human kind in Nepal on climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience. To date, there has been little anthropological engagement in understanding societies’ relations with climate change. My research aims to address this gap.
Key concepts: Climate change, global warming, culture, discourse, development, ethnography, emplacement, Nepal
Supervisor: Prof. Linda Connor
Associate Supervisor: Dr. Neil McLean
Samantha Hall (PhD Candidate)
The Body, the Aesthetic and the Burden: The World of the Australian Ballet
An understanding of the world of ballet from the perspective of its‘insiders’ has not previously been the focus of anthropological research. Drawing on anthropological insights into the concept and use of the body, aesthetics, performance and ritual, and the body and health, this project will bring alive the experiences of the various people who make up this world, with dancers themselves as its focus. The components of this project are: an examination of the dancer as practitioner, an examination of the dancer as a person, a self, the influence of ‘the audience’ as well as the more general politics of the ballet world. Together these themes will allow me to address the question of ‘what is ballet?’ and how it can be understood. What is it about ballet that draws people into it as performers and spectators? This will include looking at how ballet is funded, marketed, supported and cultivated within the wider society of which is a valued part of the art world.
The ballet dancer’s struggles with their image of self are almost a taboo subject because of the perceived obsession with perfection and the ways in which this pursuit of perfection is carried out through diet and exercise. The image of self and the pursuit of perfection pervade the mind of the dancer. Anthropologists researching dance have touched only lightly on issues regarding artists in general, but the ballet dancer¹s view of self remains largely unexplored. Through my research I plan to explore what is understood as the ballet dancer¹s obsession with perfection, how this ‘obsession’ is understood, and how it is augmented through the rituals of the ballet world, not only in the ballet studio and theatre, but in the dancer’s life outside of the barre and stage.
Key concepts: ballet, performance, ritual, the body, aesthetics and embodiment
Supervisor: Gaynor Macdonald
Beth Hill (PhD Candidate)
Communities in the Blue Mountains (New South Wales) are uniquely situated between city and bush, straddling two different worlds with the benefits and difficulties of both. This research explores residents’ interactions with the natural world, their experiences of environmental change including suburban expansion, pollution, weather patterns, and bushfire, as well as their views about climate change impacts in their local area. The study will focus on emerging understandings, experiences and perceptions of environmental change emphasizing local interpretations of these changes in residents’ everyday lives. The purpose of this study is to provide empirically grounded research that elucidates the role of environmental change in urban populations’ experiences of nature, time and place.
Key Concepts: Environmental Change, Climate Change, Ethnography, Emotions and Culture, Urban experiences
Supervisor: Professor Linda Connor
Associate Supervisor: Dr. Ute Eickelkamp
Gil Hizi (PhD Candidate)
“The stability in transformation”: The sociocultural meanings of adult training courses in urban China
In recent years, adult extracurricular training courses (‘peixun’) have become a flourishing industry in urban spaces in China. The term ‘peixun’ is nowadays a generic term for an extensive array of courses in the People’s Republic of China, in a manner which is unidentifiable in other Chinese speaking and East Asian locations. This phenomenon can be linked to the marketization of various services, including education, and to a growing sense of individual responsibility that the state transfers onto citizens who wish to maintain potency in the job market. At the same time, it is probable that more longstanding ideas of self-cultivation as well as socialist notions of human mobilization also shape the encounter between individuals and the training they undertake.
Through a first systematic anthropological investigation of ‘peixun’ (by attending ‘peixun’ classes myself), I wish to understand the social meanings of these practices. A phenomenological prism could allow me to research the aspirations that underlie students’ participation in ‘peixun’. This could also shed light on new social ideals of ‘self-improvement’ and on certain human conditions that make individuals receptive to these practices, and to notions of ‘mobilization’ and ‘self-transformation’ in general. While some of the values that manifest in privatized training are apparent in many neoliberal locations worldwide, I believe that the unique history of modern China, its political system and its cultural resources produce certain distinctive features. The study of ‘peixun’ can thus demonstrate both the potentials and limits of ‘neoliberal’ practices in China and indicate upon the mental tendencies that sustain it.
Key concepts: neoliberalism, human capital, urban China, existential phenomenology, affectivity
Supervisor: Terry Woronov; Associate Supervisor: Jadran Mimica
Zevic Mishor (PhD Candidate)
Forests, Mountains and Finding G-d: The Natural Environment in Jewish Religious Practice
This study will investigate the role of the natural environment in current Jewish religious practice. The Chassidic tradition in particular, since its inception in 18th century Europe, emphasises the importance of nature as a manifestation of G-d, and as one possible means for bringing oneself closer to G-d. Thus, for example, pious Jews from the Breslov Chassidic group, located particularly in the two holy cities of Jerusalem and Safed (Israel), may perform late-night rituals in deserted forests, in which they cry and pour out their hearts before the Almighty. Such a setting, and the nature of the practice itself, bears similarities to shamanic practices found in other parts of the world, yet little work has been done in applying the anthropological shamanic discourse to Judaism, nor visa versa. This ethnographically-based research will seek to bridge some of that gap.
Supervisor: Dr Jadran Mimica
Associate Supervisor: Prof Allan Snyder
Associate Supervisor: Dr Dennis McKenna
Wendy Risteska (PhD candidate)
Making a Life out of the Worship of Death: a psychodynamic examination of the phenomenology of experience of La Santa Muerte in Mexico City.
La Santa Muerte (Saint Death) came into international consciousness about a decade ago when she was spotted in the tattoos and pendants of Mexico’s prisoners and reported on by the media. She was ‘violently introduced’ to the public by ‘one of the most infamous kidnapper’s in the country’s history,’ as police raided Daniel “el Mochaorejas” (the Ear Chopper) Arizmendi López’s house and found an altar dedicated to her (Chestnut 2012: 16). Since Felipe Calderón took the Mexican presidency in 2006 and declared war on the drug cartels, he has simultaneously launched an attack on La Santa Muerte, employing the army to bulldoze over thirty of the shrines dedicated to her on the U.S.-Mexico border in March, 2009. This relationship came to define the way in which she was perceived in the popular imagination as ‘The Patron Saint of Crime and Criminals.’ (Freese 2010)
By focusing on the everyday reality of the people in the poor barrio (neighbourhood) of Mexico City which is said to have “given birth” to the contemporary manifestation of the saint, I aim to throw light on the cultural-historical factors, and the psycho-sexual and death-drive dynamics that gave rise to her, thereby challenging this common perception. To this end, I will examine how meaning is constructed around the saint, how she is being negotiated as a symbol of life, and what implications this has on the ways in which people perceive, rationalize, and negotiate the conditions of their life-world, especially those living at the socio-economic margins of Mexican society.
Key concepts: psychoanalytic anthropology, analytical psychology, phenomenology, Jungian archetypes, marginalisation, folk religiosity, gender, Santa Muerte, death-drive.
Supervisor: Dr. Jadran Mimica
Associate Supervisors: Professor Linda Connor, Dr. Vek Lewis, Dr. Sebastian Job
Nayeli Torres-Montenegro (M.Phil. Candidate)
Who's in, Who's Out? Connection Research in the Pilbara.
This thesis explores the impacts that Native Title connection research has had on the Abroriginal community of the Pilbara. The notion of "connection" is problematized in terms of Native Title connection research by disentangling the term from its legal assumption in the Native Title Act and applying it to anthropological theory and methodology. The negative connotations embedded within the Native Title process in relation to social change are taken into account explored in terms of the static cultural model which is at times favoured by Native Title professionals. The conjectures about kinship within native title connection research are unpacked and their use as assertions of identity in order to satisfy the assumptions made through the interpretation of the Native Title Act are examined.
The disputes over the ‘authenticity’ of the genealogical information submitted to the State in support of native title claims are problematized in terms of the over-reliance on ethno-historical evidence. A series of ethnographic interviews with Pilbara Aboriginal community members (both accepted and disputed) is used to determine the impacts of genealogical evidence collected for Native Title purposes. The presentation of genealogical information to the State is contrasted with the presentation of the oral histories by Aboriginal community members. The thesis also considers the quantum organization of societies and unpacks the ideas within the onus of proof in the native title context as applied to genealogical evidence while considering the impacts inflicted upon kinship and kin relations of the Aboriginal community in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
Supervisor: Dr. Gaynor Macdonald
Associate Supervisor: Dr. Jadran Mimica