Researcher of the month

Dr Matthew Sharpe

photo of Matthew Sharpe at archaeological site

Dr Sharpe at probable site of Plato's Academy, 2011

Since completing my PhD thesis on controversial Slovenian-born political philosopher Slavoj Zizek at the University of Melbourne in 2002, my research has continued to explore the different, cross-disciplinary areas which were already present in that work. My research work has over time spanned the whole gamut from more purely technical, hermeneutic or philosophical subjects, through psychoanalytic theory and its applications in the study of film, culture, and literature, into more directly political debates and considerations.

All my work across these fields is interested in the connection between forms of theoretical thinking and concrete practices. Unlike many other philosophers (and for better or for worse!), I have always been interested in the way that people's ideas about themselves and the world shape how they live and act. Changing people's ideas, through teaching, dialogue, psychoanalysis, or envisaging new political arrangements, can be a very practical thing. And that's what interests me, rather than theory for the sake of theory.

Much of my present research is devoted, in this vein, to studying the long Western tradition linking forms of philosophical thought with practices of self-transformation. It's often assumed that people "searching for meaning" which they cannot find in Western consumerist societies need to turn either to the West's religious traditions, or seek out forms of Eastern, meditative or yogic practice. Recent research on ancient Western thought has recognised that ancient philosophy, particularly in the Stoic and Epicurean schools, was geared towards reshaping people's lives, and encouraging forms of happiness and flourishing. This included regimes of meditative and other forms of exercises, which practitioners were encouraged to repeatedly practice to combat short-sighted or limited views of the world. Stoicism in particular I find both a fascinating theoretical study, and a very concrete, therapeutic set of existential practices which will continue to play a great role in my research and wider life.

One of the keys to "staying fresh" and active in a research environment which encourages near-constant activity is to always have at least two fish in the fry-pan. I think it's important to try to read, write, and attend conferences in more than one area of interest, if you can. So I'm presently writing up work from a previous period of consolidated research on neoconservatism, which culminated in one of the books I wrote with Dr. Geoffrey Boucher The Times Will Suit Them, on the Howard government (Allen & Unwin, 2008). The comparison between the ideas concerning culture, religion and identity of the great French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and neoconservative doyen Leo Strauss have long struck me, and I am presently working on a long book on that topic. In addition, I'm presently moving into a new area of research that has long fascinated me: the modern scientific revolution, and debates in the philosophy of science concerning the specific nature, limits, and legitimacy of the modern sciences, which have reshaped the entire world since Copernicus went to print in 1543.

The other background to all of this is the attempt to understand the particular times we live in, so as to be able to contribute to present debates concerning ecology, the return to religion, and the ever-emerging discontents that continue to trouble the contemporary world. I have from time to time thus written newspaper and magazine articles on Australian and global political events, and been involved in community-based teaching organisations.

I mentioned just now work with Dr. Geoffrey Boucher, with whom I have authored several papers, chapters, and two books (most recently Zizek and Politics (Edinburgh University Press 2010). The other research practice I would like to mention, since it has been a source of great pleasure and pride, is collaborative work. Research in the humanities can be very isolating: long periods with a book for company, or a word processor, and very few people at hand who even know exactly what you're working on, or why. What a privilege then to be able to share ideas, to learn and be challenged, and to work alongside colleagues! This was something I also did in 2008 with my book Understanding Psychoanalysis with Joanne Faulkner, and I am presently doing with graduate students - also as a means to introduce them to the world of academic editing and publishing. Such collaborative research is something I hope to continue doing in future.

Dr Matthew Sharpe
August 2011

photo of Matthew at the Parthenon

Matthew Sharpe at the Parthenon, Athens

photo of Matthew on site at Delos Greece

Matthew Sharpe at the theatre at Delos, Greece

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