Research Projects

Our research is diverse and can range from projects about sustainability, festivals, weeds and bushfires to projects about sharks, sustainable fashion, ethnicity, gender and many more.

Current Research Projects

Geographies of making

Chris Gibson, Chantel Carr, Andrew Warren, Thomas Birtchnell

Successive closures and job cuts at major manufacturers have ushered in a fresh round of anxieties around the future of manufacturing in Australia. Overwhelmingly, the debate suggests that manufacturing is doomed in a high-wage, purportedly 'deindustrialising' society such as Australia. This project brings together economic and cultural geographers and sociologists to challenge this presumption, and to explore the contemporary practices and future of making. Conceptually, the project advances understanding of making beyond a well-entrenched binary between manufacturing and the creative/knowledge economy, where materials and skills in their manipulation are foregrounded. In the heart of the industrial beast, materials and skills in making are a critical asset for a increasingly volatile world. Empirically, sub-projects examine: craft manufacture in niche industries where 'old' and 'new' making techniques are challenging labour process (surfboards, bookmaking, guitar lutherie); emotional impacts of redundancy in industrial regions; thrifty deployment of making skills throughout industrial communities; scarcity and/or affordances of key input materials (timber, steel, leather, foam); and possibilities and constraints for de-centering of the means of production via additive manufacturing and mass customisation techniques, in specific urban and regional contexts.

Selected project publications:
Birtchnell, T (2013) Fill the ships and we shall fill the shops: The making of geographies of manufacturing. Area 45(4): 436-442.
Birtchnell, T and Urry, J (2013) Fabricating futures and the movement of objects. Mobilities 8: 388-405.
Gibson, C (2016) Material inheritances: how place, materiality and labor process underpin the path-dependent evolution of contemporary craft production. Economic Geography (in press).
Carr, C and Gibson, C (2015) Geographies of making: rethinking materials and skills for volatile futures. Progress in Human Geography DOI: 10.1177/0309132515578775.
Warren, A (2014) Working culture: the agency and employment experiences of non-unionized workers in the surfboard industry. Environment and Planning A 46: 2300-2316.
Warren, A and Gibson, C (2014) Surfing places, surfboard-makers: crafting, creativity and cultural heritage in Hawai'i, California and Australia. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.


Leah Gibbs, Andrew Warren

Following a series of fatalities in Western Australia, the state government introduced a controversial strategy involving baited hooks – or drum lines – designed to minimize risks to beach-goers by reducing shark numbers. This project investigates the cultures and politics of shark management and ocean use, through a focus on experiences and attitudes of the people most likely to come into contact with sharks: divers, board-riders, swimmers, Surf Life Savers, fishers, and other ocean-users. This project was initially funded by a UOW URC Small Grant in 2014.

We have extended this research to the east coast through a multidisciplinary project entitled ‘Threatened & threatening: governing sharks for conservation and human safety’. Additional project collaborators are: Matthew Rees and Lachlan Fetterplace (Institute for Conservation Biology & Environmental Management), and Dr Quentin Hanich (Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources & Security). The project is supported through UOW’s Global Challenges Program.

More about the ‘Threatened and threatening?’ project.

Mobile Ecologies Complex Landscapes Project

Nicholas Gill, Laurie Chisolm, Shaun McKiernan, Natalia Adan, Chris Owers

This project aims to investigate the effects of demographic and land-use changes on invasive plant species distribution and management in rural Australia. Amenity migration –the movement of often affluent or suburban populations to rural areas for lifestyle reasons – is changing rural landscapes and the social and environmental conditions within which invasive plants are found and managed. The project involves social science researchers from the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER) and the Institute for Conservation Biology and Environmental Management (ICBEM) based at the University of Wollongong.

More about the Mobile Ecologies Complex Landscapes project.


Gordon Waitt, Kate Roggeveen, Paul Cooper, Ross Gordon

Previously known as Energy Efficiency in the 3rd Age, this multidisciplinary project engages low-income older people on household energy efficiency. The project aim is to improve household energy efficiency while maintaining or improving quality of life. As human geographers we use spatial theoretical approaches from cultural geography and mixed qualitative methods s to explore understandings of energy efficiency, and lived experiences of using energy as a home-making practice. In doing so, we complement approaches used by engineers from the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre, UOW, and social marketers from UOW's Centre for Health Initiatives and Macquarie University.

The UOW is part of a project Partnership Consortium led by Regional Development Australia, Illawarra. The project is receiving $2.3million from the Commonwealth Department of Industry and Science, under what was known as the Low Income Energy Efficiency Program. Consortium organisations have provided a further $1.2million of in-kind contributions.

The ENERGY+ILLAWARRA website containing information and videos about energy efficiency in the home for older people is (via Internet Archive)

Further project information is also available at:
Regional Development Australia, Illawarra
Media Release: Power to the People: Helping Older Australians Rethink Energy Efficiency 
Media Release: Helping the Elderly Stay Warm and Comfortable through Energy Solutions  

Time to kill? Environmental volunteerism in invasive species management

Jennifer Atchison, Leah Gibbs, Michael Adams

Invasive species are listed as a key driver of biodiversity decline at a global scale and predicted to become a more significant issue with climate change. Their management requires considerable economic and social investment; weeds alone are estimated to cost the Australian economy between $3.5 and 4.5 billion annually. Maintaining, developing and resourcing the labour of invasive species management is not a trivial task. Increasingly, volunteers are being enlisted to do this work. This project aims to investigate the geographies of environmental volunteerism in the context of killing for invasive species management. It seeks to understand who volunteers and the motivating factors and practices involved where volunteers kill invasive species.

This pilot project begins with two case studies: a community fundraising event to eradicate carp (Cryrinus carpio) based in NSW; and structured conservation hunting programs in national parks in NSW.

Exploring culturally diverse perspectives on Australian environments and environmentalism

Natascha Klocker, Lesley Head, Gordon Waitt, Heather Goodall, Olivia Dun, Stephanie Toole, Helen Randerson

This project explores diverse ways of understanding and engaging with Australian environments. It is based on an understanding that Indigenous Australians, Anglo-European Australians, and recent migrants from across the globe, all have unique and valuable environmental understandings and capacities. We are interested in better understanding how these diverse sets of knowledge, and unique skills, shape people’s interactions with urban, peri-urban, rural and regional Australian environments. This is an Australian Research Council Discovery Project (2014-2016).

Find out more about Exploring Culturally Diverse Perspectives on Australian Environments and Environmentalism.

Recent or Past Research Projects

Co-existing with fire: managing risk and amenity project

Nicholas Gill, Christine Eriksen, Chris Brennan-Horley, Ross Bradstock, Olivia Dun, Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre (CRC).

This project aims to characterise and map residents’ values and amenity associated with native vegetation on and surrounding properties at the bushland/settlement interface in areas where bushfire risk is relatively high. The project involves social science researchers from the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER) and fire ecologists and biologists from the Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires (CERMB) based at the University of Wollongong.

The final project report is available online: ‘Social Construct of Fuels in the Interface’.

Making less space for carbon: cultural research for climate change mitigation and adaptation

Gordon Waitt, Chris Gibson, Nick Gill, Lesley Head and Carol Farbotko

Climate change is now widely recognised as the pressing global issue of the next fifty years, requiring social and cultural as well as scientific solutions. This project aimed to build adaptive capacity for climate change mitigation and adaptation, using cultural research. We focused on the Illawarra, a region central to Australia’s carbon economy. We undertook a baseline study of current knowledge of climate change and tracked community response over a period of five years from 2009 to 2013. We identified social and cultural resources for, and constraints to, more environmentally sustainable behaviours, with an aim to contribute to policy solutions. The project provides a basis for regional and international comparisons.

This project was summarised in our Connected Household report.

Cultural Asset Mapping for Planning and Development in Regional Australia

Chris Gibson and Andrew Warren

A mix of geographic techniques were used to map Wollongong's social and cultural life. The CAMRA team conducted a community mapping exercise uncovering perceptions of where Cool and Creative Wollongong resides. Andrew Warren researched the region's vernacular creativity by focusing in on three often overlooked aspects: the indigenous hip hop scene, custom car culture and surfing culture.

You can view the CAMRA website for more information or watch a recent video about the Wollongong project here.

Kiama Rural Landowners Survey

Nicholas Gill

The rural Illawarra is being transformed. New landowners, pressures on agriculture, the needs of farming families, and environmental issues present both opportunities and challenges. But with an increasing diversity of landowners, with sometimes varying visions of rural life, what is the best way forward? What motivates landowners to live on and use rural land? And how are their activities shaping current and future livelihoods and environments? How should citizens of the region make the most informed decisions about what they want from government and from each other? This survey and the research project, Living, Working, and Playing on the Land, is one important way.

You can view the original survey Living, Working and Playing on the Land.

The Festivals Project

Chris Gibson

Against a backdrop of rural decline, many places have sought to reinvigorate community and stimulate tourism, through staging festivals. This project examined festivals in rural Australia through a profile of festivals across three states (NSW, Victoria and Tasmania), and in-depth case study research on the economic and cultural significance of festivals.

More about the Festivals Project.

Last reviewed: 6 April, 2017


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