Alfred Deakin Professor Fethi Mansouri wants people to think differently about cultural diversity and his research shows it can lead to better societies in the end.
Understanding our differences can bring us together
An abiding interest in what makes different cultures tick and a deep commitment to social justice has shaped the impressive career of Professor Fethi Mansouri, founding Director of Deakin University’s Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation (ADI) and research chair in migration and intercultural studies at Deakin.
'Research on diversity management, social justice and intercultural relations is at the heart of substantive issues such as citizenship, good governance and sustainable development,' he says.
'I’m interested in enabling a deeper understanding of the impacts of policy and discourse on the individuals, groups and societies in Australia and throughout the world.'
Working together towards positive change
An internationally renowned expert on migration, diversity and intercultural relations, Prof. Mansouri joined Deakin in 1995 as an associate lecturer in Middle Eastern studies and was awarded a research chair in migration and intercultural studies in 2008. He serves as an advisor for United Nations agencies, as well as various government agencies and NGOs, including the Victorian State Government and the Australian Intercultural Society, and has held the UNESCO Chair in Comparative Research of Cultural Diversity and Social Justice since 2013.
'Deakin has provided an exceptionally supportive environment where a mix of support structures and an enduring progressive agenda meant that I was able to take my research interests to significantly higher levels in terms of activities, outputs and impact,' Prof. Mansouri says.
'What I enjoy most about my work is the process of discovery that is driven by collaborations across disciplines and partnerships with important stakeholders. This kind of partnership-led research often generates optimal social impact and not merely academic impact through publications. To be able to do both is extremely satisfying within humanities and social science research.'
Sharing all sides of the story
Prof. Mansouri’s significant multi-disciplinary body of research has led to new ways of thinking about diversity and intercultural relations as they relate to intercultural understanding, social justice, and human rights, especially for migrants and minorities in Australia and internationally.
'A lack of understanding of how to incorporate and reflect diversity in cultural, social, political and economic decision-making processes has led, and is likely to continue to lead, to discrimination, social fissures and, in many cases, outright conflict around the world,' he points out.
'This is why various United Nations agencies, in particular UNESCO, view intercultural dialogue as a key strategic objective that can mitigate against conflict and injustices.'
Prof. Mansouri’s 'deep intellectual curiosity' about how different cultural systems function and how they shape individuals’ views of and attitudes towards members of other ethnic and national groups first led him to study different languages and cultures and eventually to his focus on migration, diversity, and intercultural studies. His research has been applied in many different contexts, including governance, education, migration and media, to help understand how diversity in society can create social cohesion, justice and inclusion rather than conflict, injustice and exclusion.
'One simple thing anyone can do to improve society is to ensure that they show empathy and respect to everyone else, especially the most vulnerable amongst us,' he says.
'To put it differently, if we all treat everyone else exactly the same way we would like to be treated, then the world will surely become a much better place. This is the foundation for respect, inclusion and justice.'
ADI questions and answers
The Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation (ADI) is a leading humanities and social sciences research institute. It works to understand the complex meanings of citizenship, social inclusion and globalisation, and investigates the implications of these forces in our lives and communities.
We sat down with Prof. Mansouri to find out more about ADI and its work.
What is the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation (ADI) and what inspired you to become its Director?
ADI creates cutting-edge knowledge about citizenship, diversity, inclusion and globalisation that informs scholarship, debate and policy. Our mission is to understand the complex social issues associated with globalising processes through innovative, mixed-method, multidisciplinary research.
I was inspired to become ADI’s founding Director as it provides significant opportunities to embrace change, seek to critically understand the events and challenges of the world and continue to innovate.
What do you enjoy about being the Director and how do you balance that task with your own research?
Being the founding Director of ADI is a tremendous honour but also a heavy responsibility as we support and train hundreds of researchers across various levels of seniority. What I enjoy most about the role is the capacity to implement our vision for social impact through important investment and collaboration, both within and outside of ADI and Deakin.
There’s also the challenge of keeping my own research program ticking along with a number of externally funded projects as well as my UNESCO Chair commitments, my large cohort of doctoral students and other professional and public commitments. For me, what sustains this diverse and demanding workload is passion for and commitment to the underlying issues around justice, inclusion and human rights. At a more practical level, the best way to manage this diverse and demanding agenda has been to organise my working week into different day segments, each dedicated to a particular task so that there is enough time to engage meaningfully with my research and writing, doctoral supervision and the ADI and UNESCO management issues.
What distinguishes ADI from other research institutes in the field?
ADI is one of the largest humanities and social science institutes in Australia and globally. It’s unique in its capacity to attract scholars who are thought leaders and experts in their respective fields and who are ready and willing to embrace our multi-disciplinary, problem-oriented, partnership-led research program. This generates not only academic excellence but also real social impact.
How does ADI contribute to Deakin's strategic priorities? What are your priorities for the Institute?
ADI is making significant advancements within society and culture research. We currently have 150 active research projects across several research areas, from decolonisation to peacebuilding in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific, to climate change activism.
Our focus is on sharing our research through practical channels, engaging in government and non-government partnerships and supporting high-quality research and doctoral students.
We’re committed to leading high-impact knowledge creation that has a meaningful and measurable effect on lived human experiences.
How can potential external collaborators work with ADI?
The Institute has collaborations and partnerships with universities, civil society organisations, the not-for-profit sector, government agencies and industry around the world. With expertise in the Asia-Pacific, Middle East, North Africa, and Europe, we design and conduct a variety of research projects with many partners in these regions. Our research within the Institute is organised around our four research streams: Governance, Development and Peace (GDP); People, Place and Heritage (PPH); Diversity, Mobility and Multiculturalism (DMM); and Culture, Environment and Science (CES).
To get involved with ADI, we encourage potential external collaborators to simply reach out to our researchers, who will be delighted to arrange time for conversations about how it might be possible to work together on issues of critical importance to both parties. In ADI, we view partnerships as genuine collaborative endeavours where different sets of skills and resources are mobilised to tackle pressing problems affecting our communities locally, nationally and, in some cases, internationally.
What are some of the major projects ADI is working on?
The impact and significance of ADI’s research is reflected in the breadth of our research expertise and how it speaks at once to academic innovation and societal concerns. Across our research projects, we make a difference by expanding the capacity, depth and quality of knowledge being used to solve the contemporary issues of society. Some illustrative research projects include:
- Professor Anita Harris, Dr Jessica Walton and colleagues from other universities, building an evidence base to identify everyday citizenship practices fostered through diaspora youths’ transnational digital media use.
- Professor Greg Barton, Associate Professor Anthony Ware and colleagues (in partnership with Plan International Australia) investigating how Plan’s humanitarian and international development activities should best address violent and hateful extremism in South East Asia.
- Dr Flip Slaveski, along with colleagues from several other universities, analysing the famine that followed a massive drought in the summer of 1946 across the western Soviet Union and led to the deaths of at least one million people.
- Dr Jason Gibson, with colleagues across the university, museum and corporate sector, applying current scholarship on museum collecting practices, art and anthropology to produce a better understanding of the significant Berndt Museum Collection.
Higher Degree by Research
What disciplines are you looking for in your HDR students and how can prospective students engage with ADI?
The Institute’s vibrant research environment supports excellence, innovation and collaboration among theorists and problem-oriented researchers who examine contentious and critical social issues.
We’re eager to support our HDR students through mentoring and training schemes and to help develop their career pathways. We’re open to new ways of thinking about and studying social phenomena, across diverse disciplines and areas of study.
We encourage all prospective students to attend our Public Policy Forums to see our research in action and keep up to date on ADI announcements for PhD scholarship opportunities.
How do HDR students contribute to ADI’s work? Where do you see your current HDR students working in the future? How do you see them contributing to the field?
HDR students are an integral part of the work and life of the Institute. Not only do we provide them with world-class training and support, but we try as much as possible to integrate them into real projects in order for them to gain practical experience around project design, implementation and translation.
We see HDRs emerging as experts in their fields and well placed to progress their careers, in different contexts, towards making significant contributions to the field in the future.
What advice can you provide to a prospective student looking to work in the same field?
Always make sure that you understand what’s motivating your choice for a particular field. For me, for example, it was a deep passion for human rights and social justice and a commitment to improve the conditions for those individuals and groups who happen to be the victims of oppression and injustice.
What's something you wish you knew when you were starting out your career?
I wish I knew more about institutional support available for early career researchers. This could have helped even more when I was combining heavy teaching duties with building a research career.
The future of IFM
What do you think will be some of the most exciting or ground-breaking uses of ADI’s research in 10-20 years’ time?
In 20 years’ time, I hope ADI’s research will have contributed significantly to the social justice agenda in Australia and internationally. This will be achieved through impactful input into decision-making and practice in key areas, especially those affecting vulnerable groups.