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

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

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)

Community views and experience of environmental change in the Blue Mountains, NSW

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 Experience of “Self-Change” through “learning” in Privatized Training Courses in Urban China

This study investigates the expanding industry of adult extracurricular courses in urban China, in order to explore changing social perceptions of individual “identity.” The idea of self-cultivation and self-transformation through “learning” is a theme that extends from ancient political philosophies in China to the more explicit forms social control of the 20th Century. With the incorporation of new technologies of governance in the reform era and the expansion of an industry of privatized extracurricular education (peixun), the socio-political value and phenomenological experience of learning have been reconfigured in intriguing ways. In this study I ask what characterizes the experience of self-change through peixun courses in urban China today. I inquire the ways by which this experience manifests globalized neoliberal features and where it may draws on longstanding local perceptions of “self-cultivation.” In addition to different cultural sources that inform peixun, I examine aspects such as the instrumentality of courses for individuals, the aspirations that lead trainees to participate in peixun, and how these courses negotiate with one’s life trajectory. These questions may lead to a deeper understanding of the concept and experience of “identity” in contemporary China and of the cultural intersection between modern and longstanding local ideas of a malleable “selfhood.”

Key concepts: urban China, adult education, neoliberalism, existential phenomenology

Supervisor: Terry Woronov; Associate Supervisor: Jadran Mimica

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

Zevic Mishor (PhD Candidate)

Digging the Well Deep: The Jewish “Ultra-Orthodox” Relationship with the Divine Explored through the Lifeworld of the Breslov Chasidic Community in Safed

The Jewish Charedi (“Ultra-Orthodox”) community is a classic example of a contemporary society whose lifeworld is dictated almost entirely by the tenets of its religious beliefs. My thesis seeks to illuminate the physical, psychological, social and metaphysical structures of that Charedi world, using the Breslov Chasidic community in the town of Safed, northern Israel, as its ethnographic anchor. Following an introductory theoretical background to Judaism, Kabbalah, the Chasidic movement, and the Breslov group, a descriptive account is given of the Breslov lifeworld across many of its facets, including demographics, dress, prayer and study practices, the paramount and venerated position of the head Rabbi of the community, various religious practices, connection to and meditation in nature, attitudes towards non-Jews, pilgrimage, and the use of psychoactive drugs.

This ethnographic material forms the basis for subsequent deeper analyses. The Charedi aspiration towards “zero degrees of freedom”, in terms of that society’s extreme application of the myriad prescriptions and proscriptions of Halakhic Law, is discussed, as well as Charedi society’s emphasis on constituting its own identity through what it is not; namely the “goyim” (non-Jews) and non-religious Jews. The parallels between Judaism and the anthropological category of Shamanism are considered, with the argument made that much of the Jewish tradition is essentially shamanic, yet that this aspect of the religion has been relegated to a relatively minor position in the contemporary Jewish religious (including Charedi) milieu. A purely functional analysis is then given regarding certain Jewish practices, demonstrating that Judaism contains within it sophisticated mechanisms, acting in emotional, cognitive and social domains, to ensure replication of the religion—and specifically its core “template”, the Torah—from generation to generation. This analysis is followed by an exploration of the phenomenology of the religious experience and the Torah lifeworld, seeking to penetrate and document the experience of “being Breslov”. The final chapter ties all of the previous material together, seeking to present a psychoanalytic perspective on the Charedi phenomenon.

Supervisor: Dr Jadran Mimica

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