We are a group of geographers who, in a range of ways, seek to understand and improve the ways people interact with both natural and constructed environments. We are interested in both everyday environments and extraordinary situations. We work very closely with our research students, so in addition to our current sixteen full time staff, our group extends to nearly forty geographers in total.
We value basic research that extends our understanding of the world, but we also value research that, by design or through serendipity, affects the world and is impactful (hopefully for the better). We value academic freedom and seek, through our individual and collective research, to answer pressing questions about society and environment. For instance: how does capitalism utilise the biophysical world and can it really be ‘greened’?; how can households contribute to less environmentally destructive ways of living?; and how can we live better with non-human species that are both threatened and threatening? We value curiosity, innovation and risk-taking. We maintain that all research contains value judgements and that reflexivity is essential in all we do. We value collegiality, recognizing that individual success relies on the mutual support we provide each other. We value field-work highly, and seek to test, extend and create theory on the basis of a deep understanding of people, place and region. We aim to be authentic in our research and engagement with our various informants and partners. We value diversity of outlook, both in our research group and among those who we conduct research on and with. We value critical thinking and so avoid orthodoxies in favour of heteorodoxy and debate. We recognise, and frequently work with, those whose voices often go unheard in social, economic and political life. We aim to enrich our own discipline, Geography, while also seeking to shape thinking in cognate disciplines. We aim for integrity and professionalism in all we do, and seek to in still the same in our higher degree students.
As researchers and educators we seek to achieve a number of important goals. We want our research to advance debate and understanding in Geography and related disciplines across the globe. Quality scholarship is a key ambition. We also want our research to be a force for good in the world, especially in the Australian context in which many of us work. We aim to shed new light on issues and to highlight the views, knowledge and actions of those who may be relatively powerless to influence social life or environmental policy. Where appropriate, we seek to propose and enact new measures to make the world a more socially just and environmentally responsible place. We disseminate our research in a variety of arenas and we value books, peer reviewed papers, reports, blogs and other communicative media in equal measure, recognising that all are necessary to reach a range of audiences. We work closely with our research students and set ambitious goals for them. We aim to infuse our undergraduate teaching with insights and examples from our own research, as well as that of colleagues around the world.
Geographers have been researching and teaching at the University of Wollongong for 40 years, since the early days of this still young institution. By the late 2000s a very collaborative group of early career human-environment geographers had been appointed, and worked alongside more long-serving staff like Professors Lesley Head, Chris Gibson, Gordon Waitt and Associate Professor Nicholas Gill. These geographers quickly set about producing high quality, externally funded research.
From 2009 these early career geographers, along with more experienced colleagues, focussed their energies in a new research centre called AUSCCER (the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research). The Centre was initially funded by Professor Lesley Head's ARC Laureate Fellowship, a Future Fellowship awarded to Professor Chris Gibson, and funding from the University of Wollongong. Together these sources enabled an expanded staff profile, provided research infrastructure, a high-tech laboratory, and field-work support (including a vehicle). Lesley was AUSCCER’s inaugural Director; Chris the Deputy Director. AUSCCER aimed to develop and apply cultural understandings of how different social groups perceive, value and use both biophysical and built environments. Subsequently, a very productive period of intense collaboration ensued involving existing and new academic staff. Among the former were Michael Adams, Jennifer Atchison and Nicholas Gill and Gordon Waitt. Among the latter were Natascha Klocker, Leah Gibbs, Christine Eriksen, Catherine Phillips, and Emily O’Gorman. The collaborations also inspired further ARC bids, among the most significant being an ARC Discovery Project, Making Less Space for Carbon, led by Professor Gordon Waitt. That project involved a groundbreaking longitudinal study of household sustainability practices, and spawned a raft of PhD research theses, sub-projects, case studies, and publications, including the book Household Sustainability: Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday Life (by Gibson, Farbotko, Gill, Head, Waitt, published by Edward Elgar, 2013). It helped to seed a subsequent ARC funded study into cultural diversity and practices of sustainable consumption. At the same time, bushfire management research continued, with new ground being broken around the gender dimensions of preparedness for, and response to, fire events.
The Centre's ARC funding ended in 2014, by which time collaboration on innovative, externally funded projects was a hallmark of Wollongong geographers. AUSCCER researchers had developed new links with UOW’s Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC), bringing the disciplinary strengths of geography and engineering together to address questions of energy efficiency and social justice among low-income and vulnerable households. A suite of new ARC Discovery Projects followed, as did ARC DECRA Fellowships awarded to Christine Eriksen and Chris Brennan-Horley. An expanded cohort of higher degree research students supported by central university funding enabled sizeable contingents of AUSCCER geographers to attend major international conferences, raising visibility and profile. Together, these activities helped to put Wollongong 'on the map' in the discipline of Geography, especially in the Anglophone world.
Standing back from these particular achievements, a set of Wollongong 'trademarks' are evident with hindsight. One is a preference for in-depth fieldwork designed to reveal the complex texture of everyday life. Another is an intense focus on the 'more than human', informed by rich empirical evidence. Indigenous lifeways and knowledge were (and remain) a particular focus, coupled with more recent explorations of migrants and refugees’ environmental knowledges and capacities. Concern with the intersection between political economy and culture remains a key area of research focus, so too do 'cultures of nature', applications of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to qualitative social sciences and humanities problems, new forms of tourism, labour and work, embodied experiences of place, social dimensions of natural hazards, and more democratic natural resource governance. Methodologically the group sought to innovate, using various non-representational methods to more closely analyse the nuances of urban places, sites of work (both in the formal waged economy, and within households) and the role of non-humans in social life. Indeed, Wollongong Geography is well known for expanding the methodological frontiers, as with Gordon Waitt’s research on corporeality and affect, Chris Brennan-Horley’s developments in qualitative GIS, and Andrew Warren’s integration of visceral methods into labour studies.
Some very significant legacies can be traced to the AUSCCER period. One is collegiality and peer support. Our researchers not only work with each other on research projects but offer wider forms of support designed to ensure that all prosper as independent researchers. Another legacy is a focus on marginalised actors in societies riven by power inequalities and manifest - and also hidden - injustices. A further legacy is a deep interest in the biophysical world, whether it be sentient life (such as sharks and camels) or other biophysical phenomena (such as trees, plants, and water). Finally, we have a tradition of supporting our PhD students not only to write excellent theses but to publish in leading journals during, or soon after, the end of their candidacy.
The Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research is located on the second floor of building 41. For general enquiries please contact the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities on 4221 8016 or email email@example.com.