Jenny Atchinson - web profile picture

Jennifer Atchison

POSITION: Senior Lecturer, Social Science
OFFICE: 15.144
PHONE:+61 2 4221 4134

Link to UOW Scholars page 



  • PhD, School of Geosciences, UOW 2000
  • BEnvSc (Hons) UOW, 1994

Previous Positions

  • 2015-: Senior Lecturer, Social Sciences, School of Health and Society, UOW
  • 2015-: Senior Research Fellow, AUSCCER, UOW
  • 2010-2014: Senior Research Assistant, AUSCCER, Honorary Fellow, CAS (Centre for Archaeological Science)
  • 2006-2009: Research Fellow, ARC Discovery Project Cultural Ecology of Australian Plants, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, UOW
  • 2005-2006: Associate Lecturer, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, UOW

Research Interests and Expertise

  • Human-nature relations, global environmental change
  • Living with invasive life, biogeography
  • Ethnobotany, Archaeobotany 

My research focuses on the material interactions of human-nature relationships. I am primarily interested in the ways nonhumans (particularly plants, but also others) shape human lives and provoke us to think differently and live more sustainably in the world. I am motivated and inspired by relational thinking and more-than-human geographies that attempt to bridge or undo the nature culture binary, and I contribute to this disciplinary project by researching places and relationships that articulate how nonhumans might be taken seriously as equally sociable beings. I have a multidisciplinary background in environmental science and archaeobotany. More recently, I am interested in human-nature relationships occurring in the face of environmental change, and in what ways the ideas and principals of justice might be understood in this context.

My current research examines how humans and nonhumans are adjusting to aspects of the rapid environmental change that characterise contemporary earth. I am interested in the implications of these responses in the context of invasive life and sea-level rise. 

Current Research Projects

Time to kill? Environmental volunteerism in invasive species management
(with Leah Gibbs and 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. We seek to understand who volunteers and the motivating factors and practices involved where volunteers kill invasive species.

Cultural mapping in the context of rapid environmental change

In the extensive Indigenous lands of Australia’s tropical north, communities have increasing responsibility for land management with diverse challenges including climate change, invasive species, sea-level rise, changing fire regimes and increasing development pressure. This project uses a collaborative community based approach combined with innovative cultural mapping technologies to examine the experience of and responses to rapid environmental change in northern Australia. The project builds upon research that suggests local perspectives will be as important as scientific information to decision making in the face of rapid change.

Mangrove Blue Carbon Futures in Australia, Vietnam and Brazil
(a UOW Global Challenges Project)

This research project recognises that operationalising mangrove blue carbon restoration, conservation, and management as an activity that offsets carbon emissions is complex and requires interdisciplinary approaches. The research team, led by Dr Kerrylee Rogers, includes researchers and experts in blue carbon biophysical science, law and policy, social and cultural context, and accounting and finance; and aims to make a research contribution towards understanding the challenges and opportunities for mangrove blue carbon to be included within market-based climate policy and for mangrove blue carbon measurement methodologies to be applicable within nations and across national jurisdictions.

Relational Geographies of Fish and River Impoundment

River impoundment together with flow regulation is implicated in the global decline in ‘health’ of riparian aquatic environments and river biodiversity, but in Australia there is broad variability to this picture depending on how river hydrology has been modified. For rivers in eastern NSW increasing water demands from agriculture, industry and urban use combine with increased frequency and duration of drought periods under projected climate change scenarios, suggesting water for environmental purposes will be even more stretched.

In this project I focus on the relationships between people and the inhabitants of impounded or dammed rivers, specifically fish and the scientists who are responsible for managing them. I am particularly interested in documenting the novel ways in which river and estuary scientists are using technology to understand the flow requirements of fish passage, as well as how this knowledge is used to understand the more complex problem of how much water a river needs.

Past Research Projects

The social life of invasive plants
(with Lesley Head as part of her Australian Laureate Fellowship)

Invasive species are now recognised as one of the leading threats to global biodiversity and the viability of agriculture and other human enterprises, but they have usually been studied from an ecological rather than a human perspective. This project focuses on relationships between people and invasive plants. The research aim is to provide innovative new perspectives by tracing and connecting the cultural, social, economic and ecological processes in which a number of introduced species are understood and managed across a range of environments.

Camel belonging

Invasive species and their impacts have become a focus of global environmental management. In this collaboration with Drs Leah Gibbs and Ingereth Macfarlane (UniSA) we are examining the conditions under which camels are deemed to belong (or not) in the Australian landscape. We are concerned with the specific environmental and political circumstances within which camels exist, and how these circumstances guide thinking and practice towards feral and native species management.

The Cultural Ecology of Wheat

Relationships between plants underpin our survival, but we rarely look closely at the plants we depend on most. This project aimed to provide innovative new perspectives on human-plant interactions by tracing and connecting the cultural, economic and ecological networks in which wheat is embedded. Find out more about The Cultural Ecology of Wheat project.

Recent Publications

For full publication and citation list see UOW Research Online >>

Authored books
  • Head, L., J. Atchison, C. Phillips and K. Buckingham (Eds.) (2016) Vegetal Politics. Belonging, Practices and Places. Routledge, London.
  • Head, L., J. Atchison and A. Gates (2012) Ingrained: A Human Bio-geography of wheat.
Journal papers
  • Atchison, J. L. Gibbs and E. Taylor (online) Killing carp (Cyprinus carpio) as a volunteer practice: implications for invasive species management and policy. Australian Geographer. DOI 10.1080/00049182.2016.1265229
  • Adan, N. J. Atchison, M. Reis, N. Peroni (online) Local knowledge, use and management of ethnovarieties of Araucaria angustifolia (Bert.) Ktze. in the Plateau of Santa Catarina, Brazil. Economic Botany. DOI: 10.1007/s12231-016-9361-z
  • Atchison J. (2015) Experiments in co-existence: the science and practice of biocontrol. Environment and Planning A. Vol 47.
  • Head, L. and J. Atchison (2015) Entangled invasive lives: indigenous invasive plant management in northern Australia. Geografiska Annaler B. Human Geography 97(2) 169-182.
  • Head. L. and J. Atchison (2015) Governing invasive plants: policy and practice in managing the Gamba grass (Andropogon gayanus) – bushfire nexus in northern Australia. Land Use Policy 47, 225-234.
  • Head, L. R. Hobbs, B. Larson, J. Atchison, N. Gill, C. Kull, H, Rangan (2015) Living with invasive plants in the Anthropocene: the importance of understanding practice and experience. Conservation and Society 13(3) 311-318.
  • Head, L., J. Atchison and C. Phillips. (2015) The distinctive capacities of plants: re-thinking difference via invasive species. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 40(3) 399-413.
  • Gibbs, L. J. Atchison, I. McFarlane (2015) Camel Country: Assemblage, belonging and scale in invasive species management. Geoforum 58 56-67
  • Head, L, J. Atchison, C. Phillips, K. Buckingham (Editorial) (2014) Vegetal politics: belonging, practices and places. Social and Cultural Geography 15(8) 861-870
  • Atchison, J. and L. Head (2013) Eradicating bodies in invasive plant management. Environment and Planning D. Society and Space 31: 951-968
  • Atchison, J. and L. Head. (2012) Yam landscapes; the biogeography and social life of Australian Dioscorea, in L. Russell & Z. Ma Rhea (Eds) The world of plants in Aboriginal Australia: essays in honour of Beth Gott. The Artefact, Volume 35 pp 59-74
  • D.C. Murray, S.G. Pearson, R. Fullagar, B.M. Chase, J. Houston, J. Atchison, N.E. White, M.I. Bellgard, E. Clarke, M. Macphail, M. Thomas, P. Gilbert, J. Haile, M. Bunce. (2012). High-throughput sequencing of ancient plant and mammal DNA preserved in herbivore middens. Quaternary Science Reviews, 58: 135-145 
  • Waitt, G., Adams, M., Atchison, J., Head, L., Jones, M., Macquarie, P., Saltzman, K., Setten, G., and M. Stenseke (2011) Spotlight on The teleconference and its implications for Geographical knowledge sharing. Geography, 97(1) 42-46
  • Head, L., Atchison, J., Gates, A. and P. Muir (2011) A fine-grained study of the experience of drought, risk and climate change among Australian wheat farming households. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 101(5) 1089-1108
  • Atchison, J. M., Head, L. M. and A.S. Gates (2010) Wheat as food, wheat as industrial substance; comparative geographies of transformation and mobility. Geoforum, 41 236-246
  • Denham, T., Atchison, J., Austin, J., Bestel, S., Bowdery, D., Crowther, A. et al. (2009) Archaeobotany in Australia and New Guinea: Practice, potential and prospects. Australian Archaeology, 68 1-10
  • Head, L. and J. Atchison (2009) Cultural ecology: emerging human-plant geographies. Progress in Human Geography, 33(2) 236-245
  • Atchison J. (2009) Human impacts on Persoonia falcata. Perspectives on post-contact vegetation change in the east Kimberley, Australia, from contemporary vegetation surveys. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 18 147-157
  • Atchison J., L. Head and R. Fullagar. (2005) Archaeobotany of fruit seed processing in a monsoon savanna environment: evidence from the Keep River region, Northern Territory, Australia. Journal of Archaeological Science, 32 167-181
  • Head L., J. Atchison and R. Fullagar (2002) Country and garden. Ethnobotany, archaeobotany and Aboriginal landscapes near the Keep River, northwestern Australia. Journal of Social Archaeology, 2(2) 173-196
  • Atchison J., L.M. Head, L.P. McCarthy (2000) Stomatal parameters and atmospheric change since 7500 years before present. Evidence from Eremophila deserti (Myporaceae) leaves from the Flinders Ranges South Australia. Australian Journal of Botany, 48, 223-232
  • Atchison J. and L. Head (1999) Preparing sub-fossil leaves from Leporillus spp. (Stick-nest rat) middens for measuring stomatal parameters. Quaternary Australasia, 17 27-30
Book chapters
  • Atchison, J. and L. Head (2017) Rethinking ethnobotany? A methodological reflection on human-plant research, in M Bastian, O. Jones, N. Moore and E. Roe (Eds) Participatory Research in More-than-Human Worlds. London, Routledge. Pp178-191.
  • Atchison, J. and L. Head (2013). Exploring human-plant entanglements: the case of Australian Dioscorea yams, in D. Frankel, J. Webb and S. Lawrence (Eds.) Archaeology in Environment and Technology: Intersections and Transformation. New York, Routledge. Pp 167-180
  • Atchison J. (2006) Case study: Giant water lily processing in Northern Australia (for chapter 4). In R. Torrens and H. Barton (eds) Ancient Starch Research. Left Coast Press, California. Pp 71-72
  • Atchison J. (2006) Case study: Indigenous knowledge and starch reference collections (for chapter 6). In R. Torrens and H. Barton (eds) Ancient Starch Research. Left Coast Press, California. Pp 96-97
  • Atchison J. and R. Fullagar (1998) Starch residues on pounding implements from Jinmium rock-shelter in A Closer Look: Recent Australian Studies of Stone Tools (R. Fullagar Ed.) Sydney Archaeology Laboratories, Sydney. Pp 109-125
Non-academic publications
  • Head L, and J. Atchison (2015) Indigenous invasive plant management in Northern Australia in Ens, E., Fisher, J. and Costello, O. (Editors) Indigenous people and invasive species: Perceptions, management, challenges and uses. IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management Community Report.
  • Atchison, J. and L. Head (2014) Eradicating bodies in invasive plant management, a photo essay. Environment and Planning D. Society and Space Open Site.
  • Head, L., J. Atchison and N. Gill (2013) Living with, living without weeds: Bridging theory and practice. AUSCCER discussion paper 2013/01.

Research Student Supervision

Future Students

I am interested in supervising research students working on the following topics:

  • Human-plant relations, biogeography, ethnobotany, bio-politics, biosecurity and natural resource management
  • Mangroves and livelihoods
  • Urban trees

Research Presentations

  • 2013 Workshop convenor. Living with, living without weeds: Bridging theory and practice. Held at the Novotel Wollongong, February 18-20, 2013.
  • 2012 Session co-convenor. Human–Plant Geographies. Association of American Geographers Annual Conference, New York.
  • 2011 Session co-convenor. Human-Plant Geographies. Institute of Australian Geographers Annual Conference, University of Wollongong, 2011.
  • 2010 Workshop co-convenor. ‘New’ Biogeographies. Invasive, Transgenic and Hybrid Landscapes. Symposium and Workshop with Professor Paul Robbins, University of Arizona. Held at the University of Wollongong, February 15-17, 2010.
  • 2016 Thinking with blue Carbon: getting stuck in the mud. Going to Ground, Environmental Humanities Workshop, UNSW, Sydney. 2016
  • 2016 Time to kill? Killing carp (Cyprinus carpio) as a volunteer practice; implications for invasive species management and policy. Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers Annual conference, London. (via Skype)
  • 2015 Living with; living without. Invited speaker and discussant: Bundanon Trust Site Works ‘The Feral Amongst Us’, Bundanon NSW.
  • 2015 Human weed relations in the Anthropocene: intimate bio-geographies of invasive species management. RMIT Barcelona Symposium ‘Animals, automated devices and ecosystems: Dynamic nonhumans in theories of social practice’. Via Skype
  • 2015 Living with: living without. Invited speaker at Bundanon Trust Siteworks: The Feral Amongst Us .
  • 2015 Entangled invasive lives I&II with Lesley Head. American Association of Geographers annual meeting, Chicago, April.
  • 2014 Entangled invasive lives: Indigenous Invasive Plant Management in Northern Australia with Lesley Head. IUCN World Parks Congress, Sydney Australia
  • 2014 Rethinking ethnobotany: a methodological reflection for the Anthropocene with Lesley Head. Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers Annual conference. September
  • 2013 Bodies Self and Scale: human/rubber vine relations in northern Australia. Living with, living without weeds: Bridging theory and practice’. Held at the Novotel Wollongong February 18-20, 2013.
  • 2013 Bodies Self and Scale: human/rubber vine relations in northern Australia, with Lesley Head. Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers Annual conference.
  • 2013 Camel Country: material assemblages of invasive animals, with Leah Gibbs and Ingereth McFarlane. University of Gothenberg, Sweden.
  • 2012 Towards an embodied approach in invasive plant management, with Lesley Head. Human–Plant Geographies. Association of American Geographers Annual Conference, New York.
  • 2012 Towards an embodied approach in invasive plant management. American Geographers Association Annual Conference.
  • 2012 Bodies and invasive plants in northern Australia, with Lesley Head. Reflecting on the culture of invasive species. Workshop to explore cognate projects in prospect. ANU April 17, 2012.
  • 2011 Encountering plantiness: materiality, agency, boundaries, with Lesley Head. Human-Plant Geographies. Institute of Australian Geographers Annual Conference, University of Wollongong, 2011. 
Last reviewed: 25 September, 2017


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