Postgraduate Seminars and Research

Welcome to the Department of Anthropology’s postgrad page. We have a prodigious pod of postgraduate research students. Feel free to join us!

Postgraduate seminars and workshops

Postgraduate activities 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

Brent Clough (PhD Candidate)

Roots nation: reggae culture in Vanuatu

Bob Marley and the Wailers’ tour of the Pacific region (Japan, Australia, Aotearoa and Hawai’i) in 1979, coincided with the final phases of formal decolonisation in Vanuatu, followed by independence from France and Britain in July 1980.
For Pacific peoples, Marley may be thought of as an explorer of a dawning postcolonial era.

Over subsequent decades reggae has found a ‘natural fit’ throughout the Pacific including in Vanuatu and the whole Melanesian archipelago.

From one of its earliest local iterations in the Vanuatu-resident, refugee West Papuan band, Black Brothers, reggae has offered ways to articulate racial and regional affiliations and to imagine modernity on ni-Vanuatu terms.

Although reggae in Vanuatu is pop music like other ‘Western’ musical forms, it has also been used by musicians and fans for critical ends. The metaphors of ‘roots’ and ‘reality’ translate into local contexts to provide mediation between fragmented traditions, colonial histories and imagined ‘ancient futures’. Through songs, videos and performances Ni-Vanuatu reggae artists express forms of village, city, national, regional and globalised identities and themes of racial affiliation, romantic love, personhood, land alienation and environmental concerns, youth culture, urban place-making, resistance to state coercion (police) and elite corruption (government).

Reggae-heavy sonic environments, especially in the peri-urban settlements of Port Vila mark cultural connections between the Pacific, Africa and Caribbean.

This study will look at the nascent post-national ‘reggae nation’ of Vanuatu through the practices and experiences of musicians, producers and fans.

Using ethnographic methodologies I will explore the ways in which reggae contributes to making and changing place, social relations, cultural and political formations in Vanuatu.

Key Concepts: Popular music, ethnography, place, change in urban Melanesia, Vanuatu

Supervisor: Dr. Neil MacLean
Associate Supervisor: Dr. Åse Ottosson

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

Jesse Dart (PhD Candidate)

Feeding The Office: Food in The Workplace

The study of food is subversive because food is a very personal part of who we are and at the same time points to our place in wider relationships. Food marks social difference, boundaries, bonds, and contradictions and as food production becomes more standardized and industrial, the distance between field and fork has grown. On a daily basis, each of us makes at least one decision about what, where or how to eat. This, of course, varies greatly by culture, location, and society, but across the board food can be inclusive or exclusive to others. Whether we realize it or not, we are negotiating concepts of identity, culture, convenience and responsibility with every bite.

We don't yet have a full understanding of what effect providing employees with free meals at work has on aspects of identity, society, culture and our ability to have our basic needs as humans met. By studying the food sphere inside a company that offers free meals, through the lens of anthropology, it is my aim to make food, which is so familiar in the everyday patterns of daily life, “strange” by treating it as a product of very particular social, cultural and symbolic arrangements. Inside these workplaces, rules exist around food that include who eats what, how much, when, where, with whom and in what way. By observing these rules, it is my aim to provide rich insight into the culture of the workplace cafeteria/canteen or eating spaces.

There have been countless studies on food as it is produced in disciplines like economics, chemistry, agronomy, engineering, marketing and labor relations. Along these lines, much research has been done on negative aspects of consumption and malnutrition, but there has been little or no academic work on the positive and intimate features of food and dining, especially at work. This is what my research will bring to the table, so to speak – an ethnography of eating in the workplace that investigates what really happens when we eat at work. Despite much excellent work on themes such as foodways among minorities and national and regional food systems, historical accounts of food, the lack of food, nutrition and the like – scholars examining the connection between food and identity have not yet fully explored the importance of the workplace in creating unique social identities within those communities. Yet, without such an understanding, we are left with an inadequate analysis that creates the condition for a gap in the knowledge about the places where many people spend a large amount of their time. This investigation will remedy this oversight in the existing literature.

Key Concepts: Commensality, identity, ethnography, food studies, ritual, value, institutional dining, workplace culture, foodways.

Supervisor: Dr Holly High
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

Katherine Giunta (PhD Candidate)

(Re)Making Femininities: Enacting Gender in Sydney's Non-Heteronormative Scene.

This thesis explores the ways in which gender is articulated by non-male identifying participants in the dynamic, internationally renowned LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual Plus) social scene in Sydney, Australia. The field study will consist of particiapnt observation with various social groups that make up the non-male-centric sectors of this scene. A substantial literature has been produced on practices and ideas through which women, as well as non-straight, and/or non-cisgender men (self-identified men who were not assigned male at birth), are positioned and identified in relation to heterosexual, cisgender men in broader structures of power. However, there is a relative absence of detailed ethnographic research into the lives of people who do not identify their gender as male, and who do not identify as heterosexual or primarily in relation to male domination and forms of masculinity. Drawing on conceptual and ethnographic approaches in critical femininity studies and queer anthropology, my study will address this understudied area by exploring the everyday enactments of forms of femininity by members Sydney-based groups.

Supervisor: Dr. Åse Ottosson
Associate Supervisor: Dr. Anjalee Cohen

Jacob Grice (PhD Candidate)

Playing Life as a Gaymer: An Ethnographic Study of Sydney’s Queer Gaming Communities

This research is focused on people who identify both as members of the ‘gamer’ community and as a part of the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Plus) community. I define a gamer as any person who engages with video games and/or tabletop games on a regular basis. The aim is to shed light on what it means to be an LGBTQIA+ gamer in Sydney and bring a different perspective to the debates within game studies by including the voices of underrepresented ‘queer identifying’ gamers. I seek to build on the framework of 'queer games studies', which is a specific way to study games and gamers, that attempts to break down dichotomies and provide nuance to the way we research and depict gaming phenomena. Shifting the focus of research towards the gamers and slightly away from the actual games should provide fresh insights into community-based gaming practices. Moreover, I intend to draw parallels between anthropological ideas of multiple personhoods and the way that gamers articulate numerous, sometimes simultaneous identities. Through this comparison I believe we can come to a greater understanding of the specific forms of personhood operationalised by contemporary, technologically saturated young adults.

Supervisor: Dr Neil Maclean
Associate Supervisor: Dr Ryan Schram

Patrick Horton (PhD Candidate)

The prison at home: A study of the impacts of Aboriginal incarceration on everyday life in the Victoria River District, Northern Territory

My research explores experiences of the criminal justice system for Aboriginal people living in the Victoria River District of the Northern Territory. It would be difficult to overstate the significance and prevalence of incarceration in contemporary Aboriginal society, but little research to date has ethnographically examined its social and cultural impacts. I aim to map these impacts from the perspectives of Aboriginal people living in a remote part of the Northern Territory, and to gain an understanding of the realities that incarceration creates in everyday life. My focus is on Aboriginal people's experiences of, feelings about, and responses to the prison as an institution, an industry and a technique of colonial domination and control. By exploring how Aboriginal people in remote NT communities think, talk and feel about the criminal justice system, this research will complement - and address gaps in - the extensive and growing bodies of criminological, legal and policy and research on Indigenous incarceration.

Key concepts: Aboriginal Australians, Northern Territory, incarceration, settler colonialism.

Supervisor: Dr Yasmine Musharbash
Associate Supervisor: Associate Professor Tess Lea

Suzanne Ingram (PhD Candidate)

Closing the Gap or Nailing Wallpaper?

The collection of data on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s health conditions and experience is voluminous yet, notwithstanding significant investment in research as well as programs for service delivery and education, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health outcomes are not showing commensurate improvement. Communication as a component of competent health care has risen as a key issue on the national health policy agenda (NHMRC 2002 and 2010) and it is heavily implied in the translation of research evidence in national policy guidelines (Shannon, 2010). Translation of research data is identified as a fundamental requirement for improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, yet it is notable that throughout federal government policy that directs delivery of services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 'communication' may receive passing mention or be altogether absent (Commonwealth of Australia 2013).

Given the focus on acquiring evidence based health research from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, this thesis explores whether this has impacted on the quality of communication for stronger health literacy and engagement with care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people whose first language is English.
In examining the effectiveness of current modes of health communication, the research is an interrogation of literacy, channels and audience.

Key concepts: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, communication theory, personhood, policy.

Supervisor: Dr Gaynor Macdonald
Associate Supervisor: Associate Professor Ian Maxwell

Greg Kershaw (PhD Candidate)

The Self as the Creator of the Human Being

My work is the study of the Self and its role in the creation of human exceptionalism. My objective is to detail a crucial function of the human Self identified by Gergely (2000) that he called the Self-as-self-regulating-agent. The Self-as-self-regulating-agent is proposed as the unique human process for managing their affect states that is induced into the very young infant's psyche through interaction with their primary carer.

I will argue that inducing this control process into the human also gives it a unique ability to cognize the objective world of objects as things with affective salience through the values we subjectively attribute to them. I will also argue that getting control of its internal affect states translates into a feeling of power over the external world in older humans. It was this marriage of unique cognising ability married to the expectation of control that gave humans the capacity for expansion and conquest of the world around them.

However, the ability to prosecute this control process is dependent upon the Self being strong. Ultimately a Jamesian strong Self is generated and maintained by the concreteness of the attributes a person is able to append to themselves through their own estimation of themselves and that of the society around them. This need for recognisable social roles is a key driver in the creation of human culture.

My study will include how this process of creating a strong Self begins in the very young infant. I propose to analyse the role of infant directed speech and its counterparts in facial expressions, gestures, rocking and touch (‘motherese’) in inducing the formation of the Self-as-self-regulating-agent. I aim to determine if the changes in the temporal and synchronic profiles of motherese give us an insight into the stages of its development.

Key concepts: Self, human nature, infant development

Supervisor: Jadran Mimica; Neil MacLean

Paul-David Lutz (PhD Candidate)

Ecology, Development and Subject Formation in Phongsali, Laos

This project attempts to lend ethnographic depth to ongoing debates surrounding natural resource-driven socio-economic development in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos). Building on the candidate’s professional experiences in rural development and environmental conservation in Laos, the project will combine a historically-situated discourse analysis with long-term ethnographic fieldwork to provide a locally-grounded account of how globally-infused notions of “modernity” touch down in a specific locality and contribute to shaping the aspirations, adaptations and livelihood practices of people there. The ethnographic fieldwork will be conducted in a rural ethnic Tai community in the northern province of Phongsali.

Key concepts: multiple modernities, subject formation, imaginative horizons, ethnographic theory, political ecology, natural resource management, Laos

Supervisor: Dr. Holly High; Associate Supervisor: Dr. Robbie Peters

Mardi Reardon-Smith (PhD Candidate)

Cultural connections to land in Australia and the co-creation of environmental ethics and knowledge

With federal government moves to intensify the development of northern Australia, current land management regimes face new challenges. As such, there is a need to investigate how different actors relate to land and consider their role in land management. This research seeks to interrogate how different groups - scientists, conservationists, pastoralists, farmers and Indigenous groups - articulate their sense of connection to land and relate to one another in relation to a specific land area.

A number of ethical questions around Indigenous and non-Indigenous connection to land emerge in the context of northern Australia, regarding contested ownership over land, indigeneity and how people define an ethical space around connection to land. These questions are compounded in northern Australia by the federal government’s enthusiasm to ‘open up’ the region and environmentalist concerns over the rapid loss of biodiversity and the impacts of climate change.

As various stakeholders seek the ongoing exploitation of natural resources that other interest groups vehemently oppose, moral questions around connecting to land takes on significance. This project is embedded in a broader concern to theorise ethics and morality in contested understandings of the same tract of land among social, political and environmental stakeholders in northern Australia. The interrelations between these actors will provide a rich site for investigating the co-creation of environmental knowledge and ethics and their relevance for current and future land management policies.

Key Concepts: climate change, land ethics, indigeneity, land management, northern Australia, colonial histories.

Supervisor: Professor Linda Connor
Associate Supervisor: Dr Åse Ottosson

Nayeli Torres-Montenegro (PhD 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