Doctoral completions

Congratulations to the following members who have recently completed doctoral studies:

Name: Ashleigh Watson

Title: Engaging public sociology, fiction and the sociological imagination

Institution: Griffith University

Supervisors: Professor Andy Bennett (Griffith), Professor Sarah Baker (Griffith), Professor Les Back (Goldsmiths)


This thesis explores public sociology, fiction writing and sociological imagination, and presents a sociological fiction novel titled Into the Sea. Building on Mills’ (1959) sociological imagination, I address how and why we might engage people with sociology through fiction. Bringing together methods of autoethnography, literature analysis and arts-based research fiction writing, using an innovative methodological approach I term the methods braiding technique, I explore how sociological fiction may contribute to the task of ‘assist[ing] the influence of the sociological imagination in society’ (Furedi, 2009: 17). The novel follows Taylor Brown, a twenty-six year old Australian woman through 2014. Her fictional life of work, parties, relationships, a wedding and family is interwoven with national and international events. The story illuminates social theories about everyday processes of relation linking biographies and histories (Mills, 1959), including the neoliberal imaginary and the relational ontology of Spinoza (2005 [1677]). From Spinoza I draw conceptual tools for considering the fundamental and constitutive meaning of ‘social embeddedness’ (Armstrong, 2009: 60) and exploring the ‘possibilities for autonomy of an individual conceived in a profoundly relational way’ (Armstrong, 2009: 45). These Spinozan concepts can enliven sociological imagination in fiction and help us consider the value of cultural meaning for doing affective public sociology.


Name: Claire Baker

Title: Experiencing change in a globalising agricultural economy: A case study

Institution: University of New England

Supervisors: Professor Alan Scott, Professor Neil Argent, Professor Adrian Walsh


This thesis is a case study of a small agricultural community in north-western New South Wales, located on the edge of the Liverpool Plains. It integrates a sociological history at multiple scales with the lived experience of change at the micro level through the in-depth analysis of two ‘moments’ in the long history of place. Moment One represents the high point of state-led nation-building after World War II, when the community was established as part of the returned soldier settlement program. The government compulsorily acquired the land from a large pastoral company in order to reshape settlement patterns toward small-scale farming types and preferred social forms. This thesis traces the subsequent history of the area as it moves toward Moment Two: the contemporary experience of intensifying exposure to global markets and the retraction of direct state support for agricultural production.

These two moments are captured through in-depth qualitative data. The first moment includes first-hand accounts of the enactment of the state-directed returned soldier land settlement scheme using historical oral history sources. The second includes in-depth interviews with farmers both in-place and ex-place. Set against a sociological history of Australia, this research looks at the way in which processes of change are embedded in social contexts and enacted by agents operating within particular cultural understandings of the individual and of the state.

This thesis is therefore not simply an in-depth community study, rather it serves to enrich our understanding of how large-scale changes impact upon individuals’ lived experience, their relationship to place and their orientation toward work and the land. For this reason, this thesis also addresses classical and contemporary theoretical debates in economic sociology concerning the commodification of land, the disembedding of the economy and the changing role of the state.

Claire was awarded the Chancellor’s Doctoral Research Medal for this work, in recognition of research of exceptional merit and at the forefront of its field.


Name: Chris D. Brown

Title: Towards the impossible dream: A framework for nonviolent revolution in India’s Maoist conflict

Institution: University of Sydney

Supervisors: Jake Lynch (University of Sydney), Brian Martin (University of Wollongong), Marty Branagan (University of New England)


My thesis explores the idea of nonviolent revolution, interrogating how, in contexts of violent conflict, radical social change might be pursued and protected. I advance the idea of nonviolent revolution as a synthesis of constructive anarchistic prefiguration and obstructive nonviolent action. I draw upon three examples – the Sarvodaya movement, the Zapatistas and the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado – and develop a flexible framework for action which challenges assumptions of revolution as a process necessarily involving violence and the capture of state power.


Name: Karly Burch

Title: Eating a nuclear disaster: A vital institutional ethnography of everyday eating in the aftermath of Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster

Institution: University of Otago

Supervisors: Professor Hugh Campbell and Dr. Katharine Legun


This project explores the coordination of everyday eating in the aftermath of Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO’s) Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster. With the onset of the nuclear disaster in March 2011, imperceptible radionuclides re-emerged as objects of concern for many people living throughout the archipelago of Japan. Falling over homes, farmlands, forests, waterways and oceans, TEPCO’s radionuclides became unwelcomed actors within Japan’s agrifood assemblage, challenging the governance of food safety in Japan and around the world. To ensure the ‘safety’ of food circulating within its agrifood assemblage, the Japanese government initiated an effort to coordinate the activities of human actors in the turbulence of the radiological overflow.

Beginning with the troubling experiences of konran (disorder) shared by 43 people living and eating in Japan’s Kansai region in 2016, this thesis borrows sensibilities from the field of institutional ethnography to explore how everyday eating is hooked up within textually-mediated ruling relations that have emerged since the onset of TEPCO’s nuclear disaster. At the same time, sensibilities from material semiotics are used to attend to myriad other sociomaterial entanglements people find themselves entwined within in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster, particularly their entanglements with imperceptible radionuclides. I refer to this method of inquiry as a ‘vital institutional ethnography.’

With the goal of producing knowledge that will be of use to my participants in situating their own experiences of konran within greater ruling relations, I follow strings from their experiences into various institutional complexes to explicate ruling relations and explore the monstrous and ghostly sociomaterial entanglements of humans and more-than-humans they relate with in their everyday lives. Beginning with an exploration of historical cases of industrial ruination and the current case of TEPCO’s nuclear disaster, I discover that ruling texts and discourses are enacted in ways to erase or obfuscate the material presence of industrial pollutants. Through explicating the various ruling relations in which my participants are embedded and participate within following TEPCO’s nuclear disaster, I argue that the Japanese government’s coordination effort attempts to establish a single, ‘correct’ way for humans to understand and relate with radionuclides possibly present in the food and water they ingest. This ‘single reality’ is born out of what I refer to as the ‘transnational nuclear assemblage’ – an assemblage of commissions, governments, committees, scientific associations and many other organizations which produce ruling texts that are designed to manage and contain radiological overflows within a vast and ever-expanding textual complex. In exploring the ruling relations involved in the enactment of ‘safe food,’ I discover that while single-reality-wielding coordination efforts may be efficient for maintaining the pace of commerce and in paving the textual-path forward for military and industrial projects, tensions arise when they enter and interfere with the messy, multiple realities of my locally-situated participants.


Name: Clarissa Carden

Title: Turning points: Christian and secular battlelines in the history and present of Queensland education

Institution: Griffith University

Supervisors: Dr Margaret Gibson, Professor Barbara Pini


This thesis answers the question: To what extent is the history of education in Queensland, Australia, a history of secularisation? Through a Foucauldian history of the present, it explores the shifting relationship between Christian and secular ideals in Queensland education from the early twentieth century through to 2017. It focuses on a series of six case studies, each of which examines a moment during which the existing relationship between Christian and secular ideals was challenged. This thesis offers a revised definition of secularisation which holds that secularisation should be understood as (1) historically, culturally, and spatially specific; (2) changing and recursive; (3) situated in power relations; (4) multi-faceted and multi-scalar and (5) existing in the context of multiple modernities. Using this definition, the thesis finds that secularisation has occurred through the history of education in Queensland, despite legislative changes which continue to privilege Christianity.


Name: Erin Carlisle

Title: Making a difference in-the-world: A comparative critique of Hannah Arendt, Cornelius Castoriadis, and Peter Wagner’s approaches to the world-altering dimensions of collective political action

Institution: Flinders University

Supervisors: Dr Suzi Adams and Professor Margaret Davies


The contemporary challenges of globalisation and depoliticisation have resulted in declining political creativity. This calls for an urgent rethink of the meaning of politics and of the potential for political projects to make change. In light of this situation, this thesis posed the question: ‘How can collective political action make a difference in the world?’

In response to these tasks, this project leant upon hermeneutic–phenomenological philosophy to detail an understanding of ‘the world’, and critically compared Hannah Arendt, Cornelius Castoriadis, and Peter Wagner’s theories of world-altering collective political action. In so doing, this study offered a new theoretical framework – political action in-the-world – which helps to think through the ways that societies shape and reshape their sociocultural worlds through political projects. This theoretical approach demonstrates that sociocultural worlds and history are always, ultimately unfinished; this provides the precondition for collective political action to make a difference in the world, to begin the world anew.


Name: Samantha Clune

Title: ‘Health is a lot’: The construction of health in relation to place, risk, and crisis

Institution: La Trobe University

Supervisors: Dr Rachel Winterton; Professor Tim Marjoribanks; Professor Yvonne Wells


This study examined the interplay between place, narrative and identity and how this influences constructions of health for local community members. The study was conducted in a community exposed to multiple environmental and social risk factors and included 24 in-depth interviews with community members to understand the impact of long-term exposure to local risk factors on their constructions of health. Key findings indicated a profound effect of place-based risk narratives on constructions of health that was consistent across various community members and impervious to varying levels of health literacy. From this research, it is arguable that place-based risk deeply informs identity, influences constructions of health, and has strong implications for health outcomes for already vulnerable community groups. Public health policy design must be sensitive to place based risk narratives to avoid inadvertent double disadvantage for already vulnerable communities.


Name: Keith Heggart

Title: Justice pedagogy: The possibilities and challenges for ‘thick’ citizenship education amongst Australian school students

Institution: University of Technology, Sydney

Supervisors: Dr Rick Flowers, Associate Professor Nina Burridge


Civics and citizenship education remains a highly contested field in Australia and around the world. This thesis explores an alternative ‘thick’ approach to civics and citizenship education. In Justice Citizens, year 9 students from western Sydney were challenged to investigate a topic in their communities related to justice. Students created films about these topics which included refugees, bullying, domestic violence and teen pregnancy.

I engaged in a critical ethnography to identify how this program assisted in the development of justice-oriented citizens. I devised research portraits that depicted telling moments from the program, as well as conducting interviews with the students involved and other stakeholders. Based on this data, I developed a framework for critical citizenship education that I have called justice pedagogy. Justice pedagogy draws on critical pedagogy to encourage the development of justice-oriented citizenship. It has six key features: experiential education, student-led and action-oriented learning, the role of school–community partnerships, the development of critical literacy and advocacy for systemic change. In order to navigate the challenges facing critical pedagogical approaches, justice pedagogy has also drawn on concepts from complexity theory (emergent learning, self-organising systems and distributed decision making).


Name: Ben Arnold Lohmeyer

Title:   The conforming power of neoliberal violence and hyper-governed young people’s stories of resistance.

Institution: Flinders University

Supervisors: Associate Professor Nik Taylor, Associate Professor Cassandra Star


Young people are routinely depicted in popular media and research as a uniquely violent cohort. Much work has been done, particularly within the sociology of youth, to dispel this misconception. However, these portrayals persist, as does the narrative of youth as a period of transition. Drawing on data from semi-structured interviews with hyper-governed young people I develop a counter-narrative to this popular association and argue that the transition in youth is a process of governing violence into sanctioned forms. Furthermore, I argue that the physical, structural and symbolic violence done to young people shapes the violence done by them.

This reconceptualization of the relationship between youth and violence creates opportunities for the re-examination of governing practices, policy objectives and service provision surrounding youth and violence.


Name: Maja Lindegaard Moensted

Title: The price of belonging: Social citizenship and avenues of recognition for disadvantaged young people

Institution: The University of Melbourne

Supervisors: Dr Dan Woodman and Dr Ani Wierenga


In an environment of targeted funding and social anxiety aimed at ‘at-risk’ youth, the lifting of disadvantaged young people’s aspirations is habitually constructed as a silver bullet to achieve educational success and, in turn, social mobility. These neoliberal policy discourses have facilitated an increased imposition of social policy targets and outcome-focused practices within youth work. The research aims at gaining a deeper understanding of how these ‘aspirations raising’ policies are operationalised within youth work settings and whether these initiatives correspond with the needs of disadvantaged young people. To undertake such an investigation, three qualitative case studies were conducted with youth workers and young people experiencing various forms of disadvantage. The thesis firstly analyses the impact that being disadvantaged can have on young people’s aspirations, and secondly focuses on how young people’s aspirations can be challenged or fortified within youth work settings operating under outcome-focused practices. The findings suggest that young people’s participation in localised communities, coupled with their alienation from and resistance to others, such as the school environment, powerfully mediate the types of belonging and recognition young people are able to access, which in turn impacts upon their aspirational horizon. Narrowly designed youth programs are in danger of reproducing misrecognition and low expectations by failing to engage meaningfully with young people’s social and material embeddedness. This paper suggests that effective youth work practice appears to be compromised within programs affected by marketisation, underfunding, short-termism and rigid outcomes reporting. Any work with disadvantaged young people could benefit from recognising, not just young people’s aspirations, but the foundations on which these goals are created.


Name: Sarah Oxford

Title: ‘It’s not what’s intended, but it’s what happens’: Young women’s participation in Sport for Development and Peace in Colombia and the complexity of gender relations

Institution: Victoria University

Supervisors: Professor Ramón Spaaij, Professor Hans Westerbeek


For women in Colombia, playing sport was taboo for years. However, through Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) organisations, new spaces for female participation have emerged in recent decades. My research questions how girls’ and young women’s participation in a Colombian SDP organisation shapes and constrains gender relations. This research included six months of ethnographic fieldwork. Sixty interviews and many observations of participants’ engagement were conducted in two distinct, low socio-economic neighbourhoods where the SDP organisation operates. My findings show female SDP participants are challenging gender roles in Colombia. The challenges were done in subtle and sometimes more overt ways with varying degrees of success; often rife with tensions and contradictions. Drawing from a decolonial feminist perspective and using an intersectional/entangled approach, this thesis explores the processes and mechanisms – gendered socialisation, accessing alternative femininity, a constrained social bubble – that delimit girls and young women’s participation and perhaps invalidate steps toward social transformation. I argue that although more girls and young women are participating in masculine labelled pursuits, there are critical limitations to social change, and female participants demonstrate the coloniality of gender in action. This research offers an in-depth focus on some of the complex and contradictory workings of gender within a sporting context in Colombia. It also broadly raises some pressing concerns for scholars of gender and sport. Specifically, it calls for more researchers to apply a decolonial approach and for the SDP industry to be decolonised.


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