Collaborating for deeper societal understanding

In a time of huge tensions across the world, through population movements, work and digital disruptions, political instability and climate change, many of us are just trying to keep our heads above water. Yet a large group of committed women researchers at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation (ADI) are doing all they can to dig deep into these issues – seeking answers to these difficult questions facing the modern world.

The ADI supports almost 90 researchers, nearly half of whom are women. While the breadth of their research is awe-inspiring, a common thread among the researchers is the belief that they have a duty to deepen our understanding of highly complex societal issues, if we are to learn from the past, educate the public and build a more equitable and sustainable future.

One of ADI’s most experienced researchers, Professor Linda Hancock is passionate about calling out injustice where she sees it. As Professor of Politics and Policy Studies, her research spans topics from gambling and alcohol industry tactics, to the ethical issues of disruptive technology, to gender equality in the workforce. In relation to the latter, Professor Hancock has been a relentless advocate for improving equity for women, having been State Convenor and on the National Board of Women’s Electoral Lobby and edited a book “Women, Public Policy and the State” in the early 2000s. She brings her energy and a wealth of knowledge to Deakin’s SAGE Athena Swan program, in its efforts to stimulate meaningful change.

Professor Hancock is a world-leading expert on gambling regulation. She has advised governments on gambling, and authored many publications, including the influential “Regulatory Failure? The Case of Crown Casino” (2011).

She is leading two Australian Research Council (ARC)-funded research teams. One involves collaborating with researchers from Deakin’s Faculty of Health, other universities and industry partners to gain insights into the tactics and improve accountability of the alcohol and gambling industries.

Professor Hancock, along with ADI’s Dr Natalie Ralph and partners from six Australian universities, contributes to a theme within the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) examining and understanding holistic ethical issues for emerging alternative energy industries across the supply chain.

“While this type of disruptive technology is exciting, there are ethical issues that need to be carefully considered,” Professor Hancock said. “For instance, we need to understand where cobalt, copper and lithium used in new-age electric car batteries is mined – and whether it comes from conflict-affected countries or if indigenous people will be displaced as a result and what environmental damage this mining might cause.

“We also need to consider future scarcity of these materials and whether that will affect affordability, particularly for people in developing countries.”

For this project and others, Professor Hancock and her team are pioneering interdisciplinary and cross-university collaboration, as a means of building broader understanding of complex social and ethical issues. They are collaborating particularly closely with women chief investigators, including Deakin’s Professor Maria Forsyth, who is also Deputy Director, ACES and a specialist in battery and corrosion research.

“This collaboration has brought political science to the science table,” said Professor Hancock. “We are breaking down the silos and many women are involved in the ACES project. Political science and public policy collaborating with the natural sciences will give us a much better chance of getting things right. So many issues require a multi-disciplinary approach.”

In the highly sensitive research realm of diversity and identity, several ADI teams are asking hard questions with the aim of teasing out issues and building academic and societal understanding. ADI Deputy Director Professor Andrea Witcomb is researching the nuances of identity in relation to multiculturalism. Her team is investigating how public exhibitions, museums, and heritage places offer unique opportunities for cross-cultural encounters. These official repositories reveal much about contemporary and historical attitudes. They not only reflect, but influence, social attitudes.

Professor Witcomb noted that cultural diversity has been increasingly presented and recorded in museums, libraries and archives since the early ‘80s. Australia established the world’s first immigration museum in 1986 in Adelaide, with Melbourne’s Immigration Museum opening in 1998.

“When we talk about Australia as a multicultural nation, the focus tends to be on ethnic groups,” she said. “‘Surprisingly, Anglo Celtic has not been seen as having ethnicity. It takes a big effort to change our thinking of Anglo Celtic people from settlers to migrants, but we need to. We need to ask what we mean by the phrase ‘us and them.’”

Newly-appointed ARC Future Fellow Professor Emma Kowal and early career researchers Dr Sam Balaton-Chrimes and Dr Victoria Stead co-convene ADI’s diversity and identity research stream, focussed on the nature of identity in plural, multicultural societies and issues between indigenous and non-indigenous people.

One of the projects, led by Dr Stead, examines labour migration pathways for both Indigenous Australians and Pacific Islanders. The team is taking an historical approach, investigating the labour mobility of Indigenous and Pacific Island people. This extends from the time of “Blackbirding” in the late 19th century, when South Sea Islanders were brought to Northern QLD as indentured labourers, through 20th century attempts at supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to “orbit” from their communities to find work, to the current Seasonal Worker Program that brings Pacific Islanders to Australia for temporary work on farms across the country.

“We have a lot to learn from comparing the history of these two groups – Indigenous people and Pacific Islanders – who are rarely considered together,” said Professor Kowal.

“Innovative collaborations like this one lead to new ideas that help us better understand the world we live in. Understanding labour migration is particularly important because increasing inequality, climate change and resource scarcity will accelerate all types of population movements around the world, and Indigenous people are often particularly affected.”

Partnership reveals true picture of Muslim youth

In a project that encapsulates the power of collaboration, a team led by Professor Anita Harris has revealed a more accurate picture of the positive contribution many young Muslim people are making to Australia.

Calling on young people from within Muslim communities to undertake peer-to-peer interviews within their everyday networks, Professor Harris’ ARC Discovery project has uncovered many positive ways that young Muslims are engaging in community and building social cohesion.

“It is so important to tell the real story, based on evidence,” said Professor Harris.

Her team undertook qualitative peer-based research to interview 80 ordinary Muslim youth, aged 16-25, in Melbourne and Brisbane, to find out what they did to make a positive difference in Australian society.

“We found many young people are involved in communities and civic activities beyond their own religious and/or ethnic group,” said Professor Harris.

“They far outperformed mainstream youth when it came to volunteering and helping out in a crisis. During the floods in Brisbane, for instance, they were helping out in hospitals and old people’s homes.

“For all its faults, Australian multiculturalism works. It comes up positively in international comparisons with many other countries. Its longstanding nature in Australia means we have a generation of young people who take it for granted and are committed to its values. This is a good thing.”

The four research streams at ADI:

Development, Inequality and Wellbeing

Centres on the theory, policy and practice necessary for achieving good development and the fulfilment of human rights.

Diversity and Identity

Examines the many forms and claims of identity within and between complex societies. It spans philosophical issues about the nature of identity and agency, historical studies of colonialism and migration, and anthropological, sociological and political questions concerning the contemporary world.

Governance, Justice and Security

The effective and just development of governance and security is a critical challenge of the 21st century. This research stream is concerned with the personal, social and global aspects of efforts to promote peace, stability and justice.

Heritage, Indigeneity and Sustainability

Taking disciplinary pluralism as its starting point, this research stream examines the concepts of heritage, indigeneity and sustainability as categories of critical enquiry, fields of practical and political contestation, and terms of increasing importance within international discourse today.