School of Social and Political Sciences - Theses

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    Laws to Advance Gender Equality in the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond: Addressing the Conflict Between Work and Caregiving
    Raub, Amy ( 2024-02)
    The COVID-19 pandemic markedly increased the conflict between work and caregiving in nearly every country globally, a strain which has disproportionately been borne by women. Laws and policies play a critical role in enabling individuals to balance work and care needs, but much of the existing literature focuses on infancy. Given the powerful role that laws and policies can play in removing caregiving barriers to workplace opportunities, this thesis seeks to understand the approaches that countries are taking to addressing work and caregiving throughout childhood. This thesis uses quantitatively comparable measures of policies across 193 countries to examine aspects of laws and policies that matter to reducing gender disparities in care and at work. Three studies are included. The first published study included looks directly at country approaches to making paid leave available to workers during the pandemic to support increased child care needs due to childcare centre and school closures. The second published study uses the increased care needs of the pandemic as a motivation to look at country approaches to care needs beyond infancy. It focuses on approaches to paid leave to meet children’s everyday, serious, and disability-specific health needs. The third study (currently under review) explores whether paid leave policies for caregiving during infancy support the needs of a diverse range of families and caregivers. This study focuses on paid parental leave because these policies are nearly universal, and differences in access to policies during infancy can be perpetuated across the life course. This research provides the first in-depth global mapping of laws and policies that support balancing work and care beyond infancy, as well as the first in-depth examination of whether and how policies are structured to reach all families in 193 countries. Making transparent how gaps in legal frameworks or structural inequalities embedded in existing policies perpetuate inequalities is crucial for dismantling discriminatory barriers. Quantitative measures enable a country-specific understanding of gaps, as well as the rapid identification of what has been feasible in peer countries, supporting cross-country learning. At the global level, the data readily highlights areas where most countries have failed to take steps to advance gender equality, undermining population health and economic development. The data provides an actionable tool for stakeholders seeking to increase resiliency through social protection in the face of natural disasters, future pandemics, and economic crises. The data constructed for this thesis is also an important resource for future research. The construction of quantitative indicators enables research into the impact that policy decisions have on outcomes. A growing body of research is using quantitative measures of laws and policies to conduct quasiexperimental studies on the impact that changes in policies have on outcomes at the individual or household level. These studies have been used by policymakers to justify further investment in laws that matter to gender equality. This data lays the foundation for future analysis on the impact of these laws and policies on health and economic outcomes, supporting evidence-based policymaking and gender mainstreaming in social protection.
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    ‘Chasing the Better Life’: How Rural Ghanaian Students are Navigating Schooling, Indigeneity, and Aspirations.
    Mensah, Moses ( 2024-01)
    Africanist scholars and activists have been strongly advocating the decolonization of education on the continent since the independence era. In recent decades, they have increasingly employed the language of critical indigenous pedagogy and have become aligned with the International indigenous peoples’ movement. However, their calls for the overhaul of Eurocentrism in the curriculum and for the mainstreaming of indigenous African epistemologies have been largely ignored by policymakers and electorates alike. Moreover, the comprehensive sweep of neo-liberalized schooling across the continent has created and entrenched aspirations of modern, urban, and non-farming lifestyles, especially among rural agriculturist students. Consequently, indigenous lifestyles being championed through the African decolonization agenda are often associated with ‘poverty’, and current forms of schooling represent the prime route towards ‘prosperity.’ My doctoral project discusses these global and local debates on decolonized schooling, indigenous livelihoods, and rural student aspirations by connecting the existing scholarship to ethnographic data from my field participation with a cohort of rural students from an agrarian community in Ghana’s Krachi West district. Throughout the thesis, I highlight the ambivalences, contradictions, and complexities that emerge. My aim is to better understand how these students, while navigating indigenous subsistence practice side by side with schooling, are pursuing their imagined futures in the context of these (inter)national narratives. I also demonstrate how their ideas of identity, livelihoods, and life aspirations are shifting even as they engage with the school system. I develop the argument that rural students are uncompromising in their commitment to current forms of schooling because the educational structures that marginalize them also represent their most promising chances of escaping suffering. My work interrogates contemporary theory around the decolonization of schooling in Africa and places rural students’ aspirations towards a better life within discussions around what a decolonized curriculum should look like.
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    Superstition or social reality? Approaches to witchcraft-related conflict in Ghana
    Wumbla, Issah ( 2024-02)
    Media accounts and research have highlighted the plight of accused witches in Ghana, but the genuine fears that motivate witchcraft accusations are rarely addressed. Approaching witchcraft as a social reality rather than superstition, this ethnographic study traces how diverse actors—family heads, traditional priests, Christian prophets, NGOs, and state institutions—manage witchcraft suspicions before they escalate to violence or banishment. I explore how these approaches are changing and suggest that they are effective as far as they adequately address witchcraft fears. Based on data collected from extended fieldwork in Northern Ghana, this thesis explores how different worldviews shape the approaches to managing witchcraft-related disputes. The study contrasts the secular approaches of the state and NGOs with those of traditional ritual specialists and other religious actors who take witchcraft seriously. Indigenous worldviews shape the understanding of ordinary Ghanaians and local spiritual experts. This shared understanding influences their strategies and techniques for dealing with witchcraft-related conflicts. On the other hand, NGOs and the state take a rational-legal approach that dismisses the concerns of rural people who dread witches. I argue that whether one believes in the supernatural force of witchcraft and witch-finding shrines or accepts human rights and modern justice, these are systems influenced by different worldviews. The shared spiritually oriented views by ordinary Ghanaians, traditional authorities, and the rational-legal/human rights-oriented perspectives of modern institutions highly contradict and sometimes frustrate each other in the management of witchcraft-related conflicts in Ghana. The processes of modern institutions do not work effectively in practice because people rarely send concerns about witchcraft to the police or courts, for instance. NGOs also only have an impact when they collaborate effectively with indigenous structures.
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    Democratic constitutions, disobedient citizens: conflict and culture in Habermas’ political theory
    Field, James ( 2023-12)
    This thesis reads Habermas’ political theory in light of his arguments about civil disobedience. I argue that the concept of civil disobedience stands in as a model of democratic conflictuality that is otherwise absent from Habermas’ formal political theory. The idea of social conflict within boundaries, formed not by legality but by a democratic ethos, is the basis of what I term ‘disobedient citizenship’, a concept implicit in Habermas’ theory that nonetheless displaces his model of procedural civic patriotism as the cultural centre of democratic politics. I argue that Habermas' central programmatic claim that ‘democracy and the rule of law are internally related’ can be revisited from this perspective. In addition, his writings on religion and interstate relations indicate that the notion of disobedient citizenship is central to spaces of ‘complementary freedoms’ that are constituted by a culture of tolerance, rather than procedural secularism or international law. The thesis argues that both conflict and tolerance are core values in his democratic theory. The thesis therefore presents a critical but sympathetic reading of Habermas’ ‘unwritten monograph’ on political theory. It argues that the modernity of democracy emerges in Habermas’ work not primarily through epistemic or cognitive rationality, but rather through the openness with which the democratic imagination approaches disagreement and conflict, evaluates and sets limits to it.
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    Decoding Discrimination: Unraveling Gender Bias in Semi-Automated Recruitment
    Njoto, Sheilla Marcelina ( 2023-08)
    This thesis examines the complex issue of gender bias in recruitment, focusing on the potential discrimination perpetuated by predictive technologies. It investigates the extent to which semi-automated hiring systems discriminate against women and the use of feminine language in recruitment settings, highlighting the ethical implications and accountability for potential discriminatory outcomes. While previous studies have explored subconscious biases and the effectiveness of anonymizing applicant names (i.e., blind hiring - Goldin & Rouse, 2000), this research goes beyond surface-level indicators to investigate the discrimination arising from subtle cues, feminine indicators and language usage in CVs. The study is grounded in classic sociological perspectives, highlighting scholarly works of Goffman (1998), West and Zimmerman (1987), Correll, Benard and Paik (2007) as well as Acker (1990), and couples them with computational approaches to unbox the algorithms and analyze gender discrimination within the hiring process. It examines how recruitment algorithms replicate prevailing gender biases and scrutinizes the construction of gender in curriculum vitae (CVs) using Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques. Additionally, the study explores the effects of caregiving gaps in men and women's CVs and examines the interplay between gender composition in occupations and gender bias in semi-automated recruitment processes. The research findings presented in this study yield noteworthy scholarly contributions on several fronts. Firstly, they provide compelling evidence to substantiate the claim that semi-automated hiring systems can exhibit discriminatory tendencies when evaluating CVs, when confronted with gender indicators such as gender-indicating names. This empirical insight serves to underscore the potential biases inherent in such systems and highlights the need for proactive measures to identify, mitigate, and rectify these discriminatory practices. Secondly, the study effectively elucidates and categorizes gendered keywords that algorithms tend to prioritize as predictive markers of gender. This identification and classification of key linguistic elements employed by algorithms offer valuable insights into the underlying mechanisms driving gender-based discrimination within semi-automated hiring processes. Furthermore, the research findings shed light on how susceptible semi-automated hiring systems are, not only to the effects of gendered names, but also to feminine traits. This observation underscores the nuanced nature of discriminatory biases embedded within these systems, extending beyond mere gender identifiers to encompass broader societal expectations and stereotypes associated with femininity. Importantly, the study uncovers how the presence of caregiving roles, traditionally considered feminine responsibilities, can adversely impact job candidates, particularly when observed in men applicants. This reveals the intersectionality between gender, caregiving roles, and employment prospects to illuminate the challenges faced by individuals who do not conform to traditional gender norms and underscores the barriers they encounter in the hiring process. Lastly, the research findings dispel the notion that semi-automated hiring systems inherently discriminate against women and feminine language. Rather, these systems tend to perpetuate and replicate existing gender imbalances observed within occupations characterized by different gender compositions. This insight emphasizes the crucial role of these automated systems in perpetuating societal disparities and underscores the imperative for interventions aimed at fostering more equitable hiring practices.
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    Beyond the clinical dichotomy: a phenomenological examination of echolalia from the parent perspective to inform educational and clinical policy and practice
    Cohn, Eli Gabriel ( 2023-12)
    Historically, echolalia has been defined as the repetition of words, phrases, sounds and noises. In practice, echolalia has predominantly been siloed within the fields of speech pathology and behavioural psychology. This form of speech has been frequently reported in Autistic school-aged children (and is observed in other conditions such as Downs Syndrome, certain speech aphasias, dementia, and Giles De La Tourettes, amongst others) but has also been observed to occur in adulthood. Within the literature are two paradigms that have sought to examine echolalia. One paradigm, termed “developmentalism”, understands echolalia to hold important communicative and non-communicative functions. This perspective seeks to develop communicative echolalia towards more self-generated speech while maintaining that non-communicative echolalia holds important emotional-regulatory purposes. The alternative paradigm, termed “behaviourism”, perceives echolalia to be non-communicative and seeks to supress or abate echolalia. Behaviourism also seeks to modify instances of echolalia for emotional-regulatory purposes because of the perceived negative social factors. These paradigms, which are clinically orientated and academically constructed, have created a dichotomous literature. That is to say, the literature has given little consideration to any alternative perspectives that may exist. So, too, is the literature relatively silent on those who experience echolalia across a variety of different environments and contexts, such as parents, teachers, and other caregivers. Practice wise, clinicians, largely guided by literature, come to approach echolalia through either one of the two paradigms. Ironically, parents, who arguably have the greatest exposure to the echolalia of their children and who are intimately involved in intervention programs, have rarely been asked their perspectives in a research context to contribute to inform policy and practice. This research sought to step outside of the clinical dichotomy to provide a voice to parents and develop new insights to inform educational policy and clinical practice based on their experiences of echolalia. Employing a hermeneutical phenomenological methodology, 133 parents (of 134 people with echolalia) undertook semi-structured interviews. These data were subject to multiple analyses, such as thematic analysis, hermeneutic and transcendental phenomenological analysis, and grounded theory. The program of inquiry presents a series of studies which, using the same participants and their responses, analyse the data in different ways. Across all studies, it was found that not all parents experience echolalia in the same way as clinicians. That is, the parent experience is different. Specifically, some parents understand echolalia as something that fuses current perspectives, while others are not yet able to ascribe to a particular understanding due to their child’s relatively young age. It was also found that some parents describe and define echolalia in a different way than that proposed in clinically orientated literature. Here, parents shared six concepts they understand as essential to use when formulating a definition of echolalia from within the parental perspective. The proposed definition is one that does not align itself with any prevailing dichotomous perspective and instead broadens our understanding of what might constitute the possible functions, structures and contexts surrounding echolalia. Essentially, the proposed parent-informed definition means that echolalia can be defined in a variety of different ways, with parents experiencing these different ways within the ecosystem of echolalia. In addition to proposing a new definition of echolalia, experiences of echolalia emerged from the research inquiry whereby some parents have clear roles to play, such as advocating for their child in the community, as a part of their experience. Alongside this, some parents viewed their child’s echolalia through a neurodiversity-affirming lens in which they pushed back against any therapeutic approaches in favour of celebrating their child’s individual difference. The parent experience provided new ways of thinking about echolalia in such a manner that a new parent-informed taxonomy of echolalia is proposed. Essentially, the prevailing clinically orientated, and academically constructed understandings of echolalia, were not sufficient in scope to explain the multifaceted, complex parent experience of echolalia. The new ways of thinking about echolalia informed by parents have important implications for policy and professional practice. In practice, when consulting with parents (and people with echolalia), clinicians and teachers need to be open to a wide variety of different perspectives on echolalia and seek to incorporate these in a collaborative approach. Further, practitioners need to be aware of refraining from delivering discipline-driven intervention (either behavioural or developmental) in the first instance, and instead seek to understand the totality of the parent experience and consider these in their practice, be it in the formulation and delivery of therapy in a clinic setting, or the design of pedagogy and implementation of curriculum for the classroom.
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    Governing spirits: A poststructural analysis of the formation of Vietnamese alcohol policy
    Pham, Hung Hau ( 2023-09)
    This thesis examines how alcohol is problematised and sought to be governed in Vietnamese policy. As both a commodity and a cultural symbol, alcohol has provided a space in which different modes, discourses, and institutions of power (from the French colonial administration in the first half of the twentieth century to the current government) have come to organise themselves and justify the need to govern in a certain way. Spearheaded by the Ministry of Health, an alcohol policy framework to control alcohol use, production, and dissemination in Viet Nam was promulgated in 2019 with a policy-building process that can be traced back to 2008. This thesis draws from the poststructural conceptual lens and analytical tools of the What’s the Problem Represented to be framework developed by Carol Bacchi, combining document analysis (official policy texts together with policy-building and lobbying materials) and semi-structured interview data with experts from various sectors to interrogate the representations of alcohol problems in policy discourses and how they make possible ‘unexamined ways’ of knowing and being. The analysis aims to highlight the instabilities, contradictions, and contingencies in the constitution of alcohol discourses and subjects in this policy space and consider how they can be thought about differently. The discourses that emerge in this policy space rely on the stabilisation and containment of volatile concepts like addiction and risk, as well as the reduction of heterogenous imaginings of alcohol-related realities and experiences into rigid ways of thinking and being for the sake of control. These discourses constitute individuals as singular and self-enterprising subjects with biomechanical bodies and an innate efficacy for free choice and control. This constitution responsibilises the subjects for the management of conducts and relations around alcohol-related risks, conceived as inherently harmful, anterior to knowledge and discourse, and exogenous to the body. This empirical investigation offers original insights into the enactment of postcolonial social reality in Viet Nam at the intersection of power, subjectivity, and social policy. While the hegemony of the Western public health framework on alcohol control was largely reproduced in Vietnamese policy, findings suggest that local subjugated knowledges persist and inform modern understandings of alcohol realities, experiences, and subjectivities as multiple, flux, and becoming. Emic notions of nhau and ma men are introduced as conceptual openings from which alternative meanings, relations, and subjectivities can be arranged around alcohol in contemporary Viet Nam.
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    Beyond Consent: Queer Insights on Negotiating Sex
    Hindes, Sophie Louise ( 2023-11)
    Sexual consent is receiving increased attention at the centre of debates about sexual violence. It not only serves as the legal line between sex and sexual violence, but also a crucial factor in establishing ethical sexual relationships. However, dominant understandings of sexual consent have primarily been understood in the context of heterosexual relationships, and heteronormative and cisnormative understandings of sexual violence, erasing and obscuring queer experiences. Dominant understandings of sexual consent can also be seen as sex-negative because they prioritise the regulation of sexual communication without thoroughly considering whether consent communication leads to non-harmful sexual experiences. Indeed, positive constructs of sexuality in the field of criminology and broader sexual violence research field are lacking, with sex typically seen as a site of danger and something that needs to be controlled and managed. In this thesis, I address these critical gaps through a ‘queering’ of consent. I do this by including queer participants, disrupting heteronormative, cisnormative and sex-negative frameworks, and thinking about what possibilities for a better sexual future we can gain from queer perspectives and a strengths-based approach. Building on the work of feminist and queer theorists, I challenge the prevailing emphasis on individual responsibility and autonomy in understanding sexual violence and consent, urging a deeper consideration of how bodies and choices are shaped by social, cultural and historical contexts. Through exploration of 33 in-depth interviews and three friendship focus groups, I examine how bi+ individuals in Australia negotiate sexual encounters with partners of diverse genders. I focus on experiences where they felt they have been able to negotiate sex well, which I explore through a queer phenomenological framework of comfort and discomfort. This framework delves into the complex interplay between sexual negotiation, gendered norms and sexual scripts, and subjectivity. I argue that hetero and queer norms and scripts can both constrain and give possibility to sexual negotiation. Additionally, I propose that queer bodies and queer sex can disrupt normative constraints in ways that positively impact sexual negotiation. I advocate for a deeper understanding of the nuanced ways our choices are shaped during sexual encounters beyond dominant consent frameworks. I suggest that we must look beyond heterosexuality and violence prevention going forward.
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    Pulling back the cloak: A study of women’s election campaign leadership in Australia and the US
    Cooper, Stefani ( 2023-08)
    Election campaigns are supposed to provide voters with a choice of quality candidates and policies. However, the experiences of those who run the day-to-day operations of parties are largely unknown. While women’s participation in election campaign management is increasing, the field remains male-dominated. Using feminist, qualitative methods to contrast the Australian and US cases, this thesis reveals election campaigns as highly gendered and racialised spaces. The informal nature of the campaign system, combined with an at-times hostile culture, mean gender inequalities persist.
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    Justice in Crisis: Pursuing community-based liberation in Eastern Myanmar, its borderlands, and beyond
    Burgess, Bethia Jean ( 2023-09)
    This thesis explores the gaps between community aspirations for justice and the possibilities offered through international law, development, and justice interventions in Eastern Myanmar and its borderlands. Grounded in collaborative and reciprocal community-engaged principles, this research was undertaken with contributions from ethnic community-based organisations (CBOs) in Eastern Myanmar and Northern Thailand. Qualitative interviews (21) and small group discussions (SGDs) (9) with 51 individuals of Karen, Karenni, and Ta’ang CBOs explored questions of identity, justice, and development from the perspective of CBOs, activists, and the communities that they worked for. I applied a grounded theory approach to the thematic analysis of transcribed interviews and SGDs, holding discussions with contributing CBOs before finalising two key findings. Firstly, this research found that activists and CBOs approached community justice needs through the specificity and groundedness of injustices that they experienced, and by exploring a holistic and interconnected conceptualisation of how justice could be achieved. Secondly, while international responses were found to enable justice through the mobilisation of resources towards, and the legitimation of, justice demands, they could also hinder justice by approaching it from an abstracted and universal perspective and through siloed approaches. These findings are explored in this thesis through a detailed discussion of how activists and CBOs conceptualise injustice, the opportunities and limitations they experience in invoking international frameworks to address these injustices, and the potential for their own conceptions of justice to form part of a liberatory justice that is not simply of local relevance but could transform the coloniality of current hegemonic approaches. By engaging with anticolonial and critical theories through a post-disciplinary approach, I seek to explain the ‘justice gap’ that emerges between activist/CBO-based justice goals and the opportunities for justice that are enabled by international frameworks of human rights, international development, and transitional justice. This thesis builds upon critical, community-engaged research on ethnicity, development, and justice in Myanmar, while bringing in wider theoretical critiques of the coloniality of international frameworks that can offer explanations for the ‘justice gap’ discussed above. In doing so, I consider how these frameworks might actively and passively uphold the very structures of violence against which CBOs work. In identifying such limitations in advancing struggles for justice, this thesis offers a compelling argument for supporting community-driven futures in Myanmar and beyond.