Associate Professor Tess Lea

A18 - Brennan MacCallum Building
The University of Sydney

Telephone +612 9351 6777
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Biographical details

Associate Professor Tess Lea is an anthropologist who specialises in the anthropology of policy. Her fundamental interest is with issues of (dys)function: how it occurs and to what, whom and how it is ascribed. Looking at extraction industries, everyday militarisation, houses, infrastructure (e.g. plumbing and roads), schools, and efforts to create culturally congruent forms of employment and enterprise from multiple perspectives, her work asks why the path to realising seemingly straightforward ambitions is so densely obstacled. She is also exploring ways in which Aboriginal families might tell their stories and commandeer policy openings and closings for their own ends. For this pursuit she is working closely with Professor Elizabeth Povinelli from Columbia University and the Karrabing Film Collective (www.karrabing.com).

She is currently working on secondment to the Education, Engagement and Enterprise unit under the direction of Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor Richard Miles, helping to initiate and evaluate a suite of new cross faculty and interdisciplinary Industry and Community Project Units as part of the University’s new curriculum (see https://sydney.edu.au/study/find-a-course/undergraduate-courses/interdisciplinary-projects.html)

Research interests

Tess’s research interests include human/other animal relations; conceptualisations of the anthropocene; cultures of audit and the anthropology policy; development theory and the will to improve (across housing, education, health, infrastructure and other social policy fields); the tactics of post-colonial power and liberal settler governance; institutional ethnography; urban and regional research; and everyday militarisation.

Lea also has a strong history of applied work, having inaugurated the School for Social and Policy Research (now The Northern Institute) at Charles Darwin University; and worked as a policy and ministerial advisor at senior levels of government. She has been awarded a number of Australian Research Council grants; fellowships (e.g. Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship; Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship; Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Cambridge Visiting Fellowship); and was the inaugural University Medallist for Women’s Studies at the ANU. Her publications span interests in housing, health and education in regional and remote Australia.

Teaching and supervision

Tess is available to supervise in subjects matching her interests above, including organisational or policy studies; developmentalism ; the materiality of inequality; the built environment; the workings of contemporary capital; the statisticalisation of everyday life; and human/other animal relations. Any GCS project which involves ethnographic fieldwork will also be of interest.

Current projects

With support from the Henry Halloran Trust, with matching contributions from USYD partners, Lea has initiated the project “Housing for Health: Fixing Infrastructure and Housing Policy in Indigenous Australia and Beyond”. Essentially this project is investigating the vexed public policy issue of the supply and maintenance of affordable housing and associated infrastructure, for Indigenous and disadvantaged populations, investigating the policy obstacles to ensuring better design, installation, and maintenance outcomes. The Incubator involves a Post-Doctoral Fellow, Dr Liam Grealy, and Healthabitat, a not-for-profit group that has conducted repair and maintenance in Australian Indigenous communities and elsewhere since the 1980s and which developed the influential “Housing for Health” program, currently used by NSW Health. https://www.hfhincubator.org/

Climate change, housing and health: A scoping study on intersections betweenvulnerability, housing tenure, and adaptation responses to extreme heat.

This project is a collaboration between Lea, Professor Nicole Gurran (Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning) and Associate Professor Ollie Jay (Faculty of Health Sciences), and is part of the University’s new Planetary Health Platform overseen by Professor Tony Capon. Housing is one of the important factors influencing the extent to which vulnerable populations (such as elderly, youth, isolated, disabled, chronically or mentally ill, low income groups) are able to adapt to risks associated with climate change, exacerbating or protecting as the case may be. However, very little is known about these risks and the intersections between social vulnerability, housing tenure, and health in Australia. By undertaking an initial scoping study, targeting representatives of key susceptible households to climate related health threats (such as heat, cold, fire and flood risk, vector borne disease proximity), this project is exploring the extent to which existing climate related vulnerability is compounded by unaffordable, insecure or marginal forms of housing, and the range of policy measures which might be introduced to reduce these risks. It is hoped that the findings will help inform housing policy makers, planners, and community workers in developing strategies which better target the needs of these vulnerable groups, and provide a framework for more extensive research, analysis, and policy intervention where required.

Everyday Militarism; Transpacific Entanglements

With Dr Astrida Neimanis, this collaboration with the Critical Militarization, Policing, and Security Studies research group at University of California Davis (UC Davis) aims to open up militarisms in everyday life to critical appraisal via research exchange and development across disciplinary boundaries through two collaboratories (at Davis in September 2018 and Sydney in April 2019). These comprise closed and public events, mentoring sessions and workshops (see http://sydney.edu.au/environment-institute/research/culture-loss/everyday-militarisms-environmental-cultural-entanglements/).

Our main goals are to:

  1. Build USyd and UC Davis as key centres for landmark interdisciplinary research on everyday militarisms, and to scaffold this expertise via mentoring and collaborative exchange;
  2. Strengthen interdisciplinary cultural studies approaches to militarisms through development of intersectional, environmental humanities and decolonial frames;
  3. Highlight the transpacific entanglements that suture US and Australian histories, cultures, lands and waters, to advance knowledge on US-Australian militarised relations;
  4. Build specific researcher capacities for engaging with diverse publics beyond their disciplinary peers.

Former ARC-funded linkage projects focus on the trials and tribulations of the Housing for Health program; Indigenous parental engagement with schools; and implementation of the first randomised control trial of a literacy software program, ABRACADABRA, in collaboration with the Centre for Studies in Learning and Performance, Montreal.

Awards and honours

Editorial Board, OCEANIA and Anthropology in Action and Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) Publishing Advisory Committee

Current:Member, Karrabing Indigenous Corporation; Member, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies; Member, Marie Bashir Institute for Biosecurity and Infectious Diseases Multidisciplinary Advisory Committee; Fellow, Australian Anthropology Society; Member, Australian Cultural Studies Association; Member, European Association of Social Anthropology; Member, American Anthropological Association; Member, American Cultural Anthropology Association; Member, Association for the Anthropology of Policy.

Former:Advisory Board Member Centre for Child Development and Education, Menzies School of Health Research; Hawke Research Centre Advisory Board, UniSA


In the media

What is Administrative Violence? https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/article/2017/11/29/what-administrative-violence

Short film produced by Tess - Povinelli, E. and L. Johnson (2012).Karrabing! Low Tide Turning. Australia, Karrabing Indigenous Corporation:read news story here.

Selected grants

2017

  • Housing for Health: Fixing Infrastructure and Housing Policy in Indigenous Australia and Beyond; Lea T, McConnell A, Tawa M, Torzillo P; The Henry Halloran Trust/Incubator.

2016

  • Global Ethics and Futures (Open Learning Environment - Undergraduate); Miles R, Anderson W, Bleasel J, Haq I, Lea T, Griffiths P, Jou C, Poronnik P, Race K, Hickey-Moody A, Ross P; DVC Education/Large Educational Innovation Grant.

2013

  • Human Animal Research Network; Probyn-Rapsey F, Belov K, Black C, Degeling C, Fawcett (Quain) A, Irvine R, Johnston J, Lea T, Kindt J, Michael M, McGreevy P, McManus P, Raubenheimer D, Schlosberg D, Spurr B, Shine R, Wadiwel D; DVC Research/Research Network Scheme (SyReNS).

2010

  • Can there be good policy Tracing the paths between policy intent, evidence and practical benefit in regional and remote Australia.; Lea T; Australian Research Council (ARC)/Discovery Projects (DP).

Selected publications & creative works

Download citations: PDF RTF Endnote

Books

  • Lea, T. (2014). Darwin. Sydney: NewSouth Publishing.
  • Lea, T. (2008). Bureaucrats and Bleeding Hearts: Indigenous health in northern Australia. Sydney: University of New South Wales (UNSW) Press.

Edited Books

  • Lea, T., Kowal, E., Cowlishaw, G. (2006). Moving Anthropology: Critical Indigenous Studies. Australia: Charles Darwin University Press.

Book Chapters

  • Lea, T. (2017). Deceptive Darwin, the country capital. In C. Driscoll, K. Darian-Smith, D. Nichols (Eds.), Cultural Sustainability in Rural Communities: Rethinking Australian Country Towns, (pp. 84-100). Abingdon: Routledge. [More Information]
  • Lea, T. (2017). Infrastructure reform in Indigenous Australia: From mud to mining to military empires. In Penelope Harvey, Casper Bruun Jensen, Atsuro Morita (Eds.), Infrastructures and Social Complexity: A Companion, (pp. 64-75). Abingdon: Routledge (Taylor and Francis).
  • Lea, T., Rollo, S. (2016). A Servant is Not Greater Than His Master: American Primacy in Australian Security. In Matthew Chambers (Eds.), Hearts and Minds: US Cultural Management in 21st Century Foreign Relations, (pp. 17-42). Frankfurt: Peter Lang Publishing. [More Information]
  • Lea, T. (2015). Educating for inequality: Indigenous schooling in Northern Australia. In Megan Watkins, Greg Noble, Catherine Driscoll (Eds.), Cultural Pedagogies and Human Conduct, (pp. 144-157). Abingdon: Routledge. [More Information]
  • Lea, T. (2014). A Benign Arithmetic: Taking Up Facts About Indigenous Health. In Timothy Neale, Crystal McKinnon, Eve Vincent (Eds.), History, Power, Text: Cultural Studies and Indigenous Studies, (pp. 250-270). Sydney: UTSePress.
  • Lea, T., Kowal, E., Cowlishaw, G. (2006). Double Binds. In Tess Lea, Emma Kowal, Gillian Cowlishaw (Eds.), Moving Anthropology: Critical Indigenous Studies, (pp. 1-15). Australia: Charles Darwin University Press.

Journals

  • Lea, T. (2018). Can Indigenous Land and Knowledge Solve the Twin Curse of Racism and Environmental Exploitation? The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 29(1), 125-130. [More Information]
  • Probyn-Rapsey, F., Donaldson, S., Ioannides, G., Lea, T., Marsh, K., Neimanis, A., Potts, A., Taylor, N., Twine, R., Wadiwel, D., et al (2016). A Sustainable Campus: The Sydney Declaration on Interspecies Sustainability. Animal Studies Journal, 5(1), 110-151. [More Information]
  • Lea, T. (2016). Senses, ethnography and spatial politics: storying Darwin. Postcolonial Studies, 19(1), 107-112. [More Information]
  • Lea, T., Torzillo, P. (2016). The cunning of data in Indigenous housing and health. Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community, 44(4), 272-282. [More Information]
  • de la Cadena, M., Lien, M., Blaser, M., Jensen, C., Lea, T., Morita, A., Swanson, H., Ween, G., West, P., Wiener, M. (2015). Anthropology and STS: Generative interfaces, multiple locations. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 5(1), 437-475. [More Information]
  • Lea, T. (2015). What has water got to do with it? Indigenous public housing and Australian settler-colonial relations. Settler Colonial Studies, 5(4), 375-386. [More Information]
  • Lea, T. (2014). "From Little Things, Big Things Grow": The Unfurling of Wild Policy. E-Flux, 58, 1-9.
  • Helmer, J., Harper, H., Lea, T., Wolgemuth, J., Chalkiti, K. (2014). Challenges of conducting systematic research in Australia's Northern Territory. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 34(1), 36-48. [More Information]
  • Wolgemuth, J., Abrami, P., Helmer, J., Savage, R., Harper, H., Lea, T. (2014). Examining the Impact of ABRACADABRA on Early Literacy in Northern Australia: An Implementation Fidelity Analysis. The Journal of Educational Research, 107(4), 299-311. [More Information]
  • Wolgemuth, J., Savage, R., Helmer, J., Harper, H., Lea, T., Abrami, P., Kirby, A., Chalkiti, K., Morris, P., Carapetis, J., et al (2013). ABRACADABRA aids Indigenous and non-Indigenous early literacy in Australia: Evidence from a multisite randomized controlled trial. Computers & Education, 67, 250-264. [More Information]
  • Pholeros, P., Lea, T., Rainow, S., Sowerbutts, T., Torzillo, P. (2013). Improving the state of health hardware in Australian Indigenous housing: building more houses is not the only answer. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 72(Supplement 1), 1-6. [More Information]
  • Harper, H., Helmer, J., Lea, T., Chalkiti, K., Emmett, S., Wolgemuth, J. (2012). ABRACADABRA for magic under which conditions? Case studies of a web-based literacy intervention in the Northern Territory. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 35(1), 33-50.
  • Lea, T., Young, M., Markham, F., Holmes, C., Doran, B. (2012). Being Moved (On): The Biopolitics of Walking in Australia's Frontier Towns. Radical History Review, Fall (114), 139-163. [More Information]
  • Lea, T. (2012). Contemporary Anthropologies of Indigenous Australia. Annual Review of Anthropology, 41, 187-202. [More Information]
  • Lea, T. (2012). Ecologies of Development on Groote Eylandt. Australian Humanities Review, 53, 1-11.
  • Lea, T. (2012). When looking for anarchy, look to the state: Fantasies of regulation in forcing disorder within the Australian Indigenous estate. Critique of Anthropology, 32(2), 109-124. [More Information]
  • Cowlishaw, G., Lea, T. (2010). Development, heroism and the indigenous life project. Dialectical Anthropology, 34(2), 223-234. [More Information]

Research Reports

  • Lea, T., Driscoll, C. (2012). Evaluation of The Smith Family's Girls at the Centre Program Centralian Middle School, Alice Springs, April 2012, (pp. 5 - 60). Sydney, Australia: The University of Sydney.

2018

  • Lea, T. (2018). Can Indigenous Land and Knowledge Solve the Twin Curse of Racism and Environmental Exploitation? The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 29(1), 125-130. [More Information]

2017

  • Lea, T. (2017). Deceptive Darwin, the country capital. In C. Driscoll, K. Darian-Smith, D. Nichols (Eds.), Cultural Sustainability in Rural Communities: Rethinking Australian Country Towns, (pp. 84-100). Abingdon: Routledge. [More Information]
  • Lea, T. (2017). Infrastructure reform in Indigenous Australia: From mud to mining to military empires. In Penelope Harvey, Casper Bruun Jensen, Atsuro Morita (Eds.), Infrastructures and Social Complexity: A Companion, (pp. 64-75). Abingdon: Routledge (Taylor and Francis).

2016

  • Lea, T., Rollo, S. (2016). A Servant is Not Greater Than His Master: American Primacy in Australian Security. In Matthew Chambers (Eds.), Hearts and Minds: US Cultural Management in 21st Century Foreign Relations, (pp. 17-42). Frankfurt: Peter Lang Publishing. [More Information]
  • Probyn-Rapsey, F., Donaldson, S., Ioannides, G., Lea, T., Marsh, K., Neimanis, A., Potts, A., Taylor, N., Twine, R., Wadiwel, D., et al (2016). A Sustainable Campus: The Sydney Declaration on Interspecies Sustainability. Animal Studies Journal, 5(1), 110-151. [More Information]
  • Lea, T. (2016). Senses, ethnography and spatial politics: storying Darwin. Postcolonial Studies, 19(1), 107-112. [More Information]
  • Lea, T., Torzillo, P. (2016). The cunning of data in Indigenous housing and health. Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community, 44(4), 272-282. [More Information]

2015

  • de la Cadena, M., Lien, M., Blaser, M., Jensen, C., Lea, T., Morita, A., Swanson, H., Ween, G., West, P., Wiener, M. (2015). Anthropology and STS: Generative interfaces, multiple locations. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 5(1), 437-475. [More Information]
  • Lea, T. (2015). Educating for inequality: Indigenous schooling in Northern Australia. In Megan Watkins, Greg Noble, Catherine Driscoll (Eds.), Cultural Pedagogies and Human Conduct, (pp. 144-157). Abingdon: Routledge. [More Information]
  • Lea, T. (2015). What has water got to do with it? Indigenous public housing and Australian settler-colonial relations. Settler Colonial Studies, 5(4), 375-386. [More Information]

2014

  • Lea, T. (2014). "From Little Things, Big Things Grow": The Unfurling of Wild Policy. E-Flux, 58, 1-9.
  • Lea, T. (2014). A Benign Arithmetic: Taking Up Facts About Indigenous Health. In Timothy Neale, Crystal McKinnon, Eve Vincent (Eds.), History, Power, Text: Cultural Studies and Indigenous Studies, (pp. 250-270). Sydney: UTSePress.
  • Helmer, J., Harper, H., Lea, T., Wolgemuth, J., Chalkiti, K. (2014). Challenges of conducting systematic research in Australia's Northern Territory. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 34(1), 36-48. [More Information]
  • Lea, T. (2014). Darwin. Sydney: NewSouth Publishing.
  • Wolgemuth, J., Abrami, P., Helmer, J., Savage, R., Harper, H., Lea, T. (2014). Examining the Impact of ABRACADABRA on Early Literacy in Northern Australia: An Implementation Fidelity Analysis. The Journal of Educational Research, 107(4), 299-311. [More Information]

2013

  • Wolgemuth, J., Savage, R., Helmer, J., Harper, H., Lea, T., Abrami, P., Kirby, A., Chalkiti, K., Morris, P., Carapetis, J., et al (2013). ABRACADABRA aids Indigenous and non-Indigenous early literacy in Australia: Evidence from a multisite randomized controlled trial. Computers & Education, 67, 250-264. [More Information]
  • Pholeros, P., Lea, T., Rainow, S., Sowerbutts, T., Torzillo, P. (2013). Improving the state of health hardware in Australian Indigenous housing: building more houses is not the only answer. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 72(Supplement 1), 1-6. [More Information]

2012

  • Harper, H., Helmer, J., Lea, T., Chalkiti, K., Emmett, S., Wolgemuth, J. (2012). ABRACADABRA for magic under which conditions? Case studies of a web-based literacy intervention in the Northern Territory. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 35(1), 33-50.
  • Lea, T., Young, M., Markham, F., Holmes, C., Doran, B. (2012). Being Moved (On): The Biopolitics of Walking in Australia's Frontier Towns. Radical History Review, Fall (114), 139-163. [More Information]
  • Lea, T. (2012). Contemporary Anthropologies of Indigenous Australia. Annual Review of Anthropology, 41, 187-202. [More Information]
  • Lea, T. (2012). Ecologies of Development on Groote Eylandt. Australian Humanities Review, 53, 1-11.
  • Lea, T., Driscoll, C. (2012). Evaluation of The Smith Family's Girls at the Centre Program Centralian Middle School, Alice Springs, April 2012, (pp. 5 - 60). Sydney, Australia: The University of Sydney.
  • Lea, T. (2012). When looking for anarchy, look to the state: Fantasies of regulation in forcing disorder within the Australian Indigenous estate. Critique of Anthropology, 32(2), 109-124. [More Information]

2010

  • Cowlishaw, G., Lea, T. (2010). Development, heroism and the indigenous life project. Dialectical Anthropology, 34(2), 223-234. [More Information]

2008

  • Lea, T. (2008). Bureaucrats and Bleeding Hearts: Indigenous health in northern Australia. Sydney: University of New South Wales (UNSW) Press.

2006

  • Lea, T., Kowal, E., Cowlishaw, G. (2006). Double Binds. In Tess Lea, Emma Kowal, Gillian Cowlishaw (Eds.), Moving Anthropology: Critical Indigenous Studies, (pp. 1-15). Australia: Charles Darwin University Press.
  • Lea, T., Kowal, E., Cowlishaw, G. (2006). Moving Anthropology: Critical Indigenous Studies. Australia: Charles Darwin University Press.

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