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SEI News: Christine Winter awarded a PhD

SEI PhD Candidate Christine Winter has recently been awarded a PhD for her thesis titled “The Paralysis of Intergenerational Justice: Decolonising Entangled Futures”. To highlight this exciting achievement, we talk to Christine about her research and ask for her advice to current and prospective PhD students.

The Pororari Track in Paparoa National Park, New Zealand. Image by Wildnerdpix. Sourced via Shutterstock, stock photo ID: 143115055.

What was the main issue(s) your research aimed to address?

My research examined the foundations of intergenerational justice, and particularly the difficulties in developing a comprehensive theory of intergenerational justice that accommodates human-nonhuman entanglements as they are understood by Māori and Australian Aboriginal peoples. It started with the understanding that the lives of Indigenous Peoples, their compatriots, future generations, nonhuman, and physical environments are inextricably entangled. And that intergenerational environmental justice (IEJ) examines aspects of that entanglement. Specifically, how it focuses on obligations and duties to provide future generations with environments in which to flourish.

What were your key research findings?

I argue there are three fundamental, interrelated weaknesses in existing theories of IEJ. First, theories take insufficient regard of power relations in settler states. Not only are political and judicial systems framed within Western traditions but so too are justice theories. Theorists, therefore, appear to endorse and perpetuate the assimilationist project. Second, these theories do not account for entanglements of human cultures, human-nonhuman, past, present and future generations in an adequately inclusive manner. These theoretical oversights exclude aspects of Indigenous people’s philosophies and extant lifeways within their frameworks. The theories are unable to accommodate the multiple temporal, spatial and interspecies entanglements that define aspects of Indigenous identity and being. Third, bound by specific ontological parameters, IEJ becomes paralysed in a web of seemingly intractable problems for human and nonhuman within the settler states. To make these arguments, I draw on IEJ theories, critical and decolonial scholarship, and Aotearoa Māori and Australian Aboriginal philosophic perspectives. Case study examples demonstrate that in at least two settler states existing theories of IEJ become unworkable at the intersection with Indigenous communities drawing from different philosophical foundations.

Māori and Aboriginal philosophic approaches to IEJ highlight two things. First, Western IEJ limits the agency of Indigenous communities to fulfil obligations and duties to past and future generations—human and nonhuman—and the environment. And second, by decolonising theory it is feasible to ensure Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of the settler states are embraced by theory, addressing the iniquity of assimilationist practice. Decolonised IEJ embraces multiple entanglements—Indigenous-settler, human-nonhuman, past-present-future—freeing it from paralysis caused by Western ontological framings.

What advice can you give to people wanting to do a PhD?

First, find a topic you are passionate about. That is, just looking for a ‘gap’ in the literature is insufficient to sustain you over the course of the long and lonely PhD process. You need to be able to really engage deeply with the research.

Secondly, find a supervisor who shares your enthusiasm for the research area and has really good understanding of the theory you will be drawing on, and the methods you are going to use. Take your time to find the right person – not just a nearly right person. Interview prospective supervisors to see if you can work closely with that person for the coming 3 or 4 or more years. This relationship is critical. I was unbelievably fortunate in having David Schlosberg as supervisor – he gave me the freedom to pursue the area I wanted, and the discipline to assist me craft the narrative, and draw the threads together into some sort of cohesive whole.

Third, attend every talk, HRD workshop, gathering, support group, event that is on offer. This is where you will meet people going through the same things. This is were new ideas will suddenly present themselves. This is where you draw sustenance and understanding.