Fellowships shed light on 21st-century democratisation and the history of Australian racial thought

10 August 2011

University of Sydney academics will throw new light onto the impact of democracy and our understanding of human difference thanks to two new Australian Laureate Fellowships announced by the federal government today.

Competition for the fellowships, awarded by the Australian Research Council (ARC), is fierce because the award carries with it ARC recognition that the successful applicants have an outstanding international reputation.

To be successful, Laureate projects must support research that will deliver significant economic, environmental, social or cultural benefits to Australia. Through project funding, the scheme also aims to provide an excellent research training environment and mentorship to nurture early-career researchers.

Two members of the University of Sydney's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences- Professor Pippa Norris and Professor Warwick Anderson- are among the 17 new fellowships across nine Australian universities worth more than $44 million in total over five years.

Pippa Norris received an inaugural award to a female researcher from the humanities, arts and social sciences.
Pippa Norris received an inaugural award to a female researcher from the humanities, arts and social sciences.

Pippa Norris, a world-renowned expert on democracy, was named as the inaugural recipient of the Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellowship, awarded to a female researcher from the humanities, arts and social sciences disciplines. As part of this, she plans to run workshops and networking events aimed at encouraging early-career women researchers to stay in academia, and also encourage research on gender equality in elected office.

Her Laureate fellowship aims to deepen and advance our understanding of the impact of democratic governance upon prosperity, welfare and peace in countries around the world since the late 20th century. She will seek to establish whether the so-called 'third wave era of democratisation' process in the late 20th century has in turn generated concrete benefits in human development.

Norris is the McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in the United States. She is also a visiting professor at the University of Sydney's Department of Government and International Relations. As part of her fellowship she will work with external partners including United Nations agencies, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and Harvard University.

Warwick Anderson will work around the world to understand human difference. [Image: Thomas P Strong]
Warwick Anderson will work around the world to understand human difference. [Image: Thomas P Strong]

A historian of biology, medicine and public health, Warwick Anderson will use his Laureate funding to throw new light on Australia's growth as a nation and build on his fascination with ideas about race, human difference, and citizenship in the 19th and 20th centuries.

"My Laureate fellowship will reveal an intense scientific debate about what it meant to be human in the southern hemisphere during the 20th century, placing Australian racial thought in a new context," said Anderson, a self-confessed 'intellectual vagabond' who first trained as a medical doctor but whose passion for the history of medicine has led to extensive studies in historical aspects of tropical medicine and human biology.

"These southern hemisphere debates were often distinct from those taking place in the North Atlantic. Through comparative study of issues ranging from skull measuring to early genomics, I plan to show the distinctive character and scope of racial ideas in southern settler societies, and assess their global impact."

A professorial research fellow in the Department of History and the Centre for Values, Ethics, and the Law in Medicine, Anderson will work with colleagues in Brazil, New Zealand, East Timor, South Africa, Argentina and the United Kingdom to bring southern settler societies together into the global picture of 20th-century race science so we have a better insight into how human difference is understood in the countries in our region.

Professor Jill Trewhella, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) congratulated the two recipients.

"I am delighted that two members of our Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences have been recognised for their research leadership by these prestigious awards. These fellowships are extremely important to the University and to Australia: they help us to attract and retain the best researchers whose work will inspire and inform the teaching of the next generation of great researchers."

"The fellowships will also enable the faculty to build on its already-strong international links with other leading research institutions around the world."

The fellowships supplement researcher salaries, provide for salary-related costs and offer additional funding for postdoctoral and postgraduate researchers.

"Universities have a special responsibility to bring together the best thinking across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences to address the fundamental challenges our world faces," said Professor Duncan Ivison, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

"Take any pressing issue in today's world - whether it is global poverty, climate change, or democratic reform - and you will find that lying beneath all the spin and froth of everyday debate are fundamental ideas and concepts that require rigorous analysis and careful reasoning.

"These fellowships will enable us to cement our distinctive strengths in both the humanities and the social sciences - as well as fruitful interaction between them - and particularly our strength in comparative research, which is so vital in today's highly interconnected world."

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