School of Social and Political Sciences - Theses

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    Modest expectations: masculinity, marriage, and the good life in urban China
    Gosper, Sarah Maree ( 2022)
    There is a sense that there is a crisis unfolding in China. Marriage rates are dropping, divorce rates are rising, the birth rate is in decline, and a new population of rural ‘bachelors’ and urban ‘leftover women’ has surfaced. This new culture of singlehood is perceived as a ‘crisis of marriage’, precipitating a moral panic over how to address a problem that is often described by the state as a threat to social stability and order, as well as the advancement of the nation. This thesis explores the intersection of these so-called ‘crises’ facing Chinese society: a crisis of marriage, a crisis of masculinity, and a crisis of mobility. Since China’s ‘opening up and reform’ in 1978, extraordinary social, economic, and political change have occurred. Gender and sexual relations have also undergone significant transformation, subsequently contributing to this ‘marriage crisis’ in China today. How single rural men living in the city respond to this marriage crisis is a core concern of this thesis. In the gendered aspects of this crisis and the associated moral panic, single rural men have become a flash point in China for discussions about marriage, social organisation, the rural–urban divide, gender relations, class, and mobility. The demise of the rural economy and the rapid transformation of the urban economy have produced significant changes in gender roles and institutions in contemporary China. This thesis focuses on the impact of these socio-economic shifts on rural men who migrate to cities. Rural to urban migration has a long and well-documented history in China. The most recent wave of migration has been accompanied by changes in the nature of work and social organisation that have exacerbated the ‘marriage crisis’ particularly for rural men in urban settings. For rural men living in urban China, marriage represents a modest aspiration for a good life, expressed through the concept guo rizi (passing the days). The desire to marry and have children is however constrained by rural men’s experiences in the city. Their occupations, lack of social networks, new forms of dating and matchmaking and increasingly unattainable ‘bride-price’ demands, work together to undermine their desirability as potential husbands and fathers and entrench inequalities of wealth and power between rural and urban men. The ways rural men struggle with, negotiate, and imagine their futures is the subject of this thesis. I argue that the increasing socio-economic precarity of rural men and their largely unrealised desires to marry and have children demonstrate a fundamental reconfiguration of Chinese masculinity and mobility in urban China today and the social impact on central Chinese institutions. This thesis explores the lives of migrant delivery drivers (kuaidi and waimai) and tertiary-educated professionals who have migrated from the countryside to the city. In this thesis, I endeavour to make these men visible by investigating how they navigate the urban marriage market and avoid becoming ‘leftover’. What I have found is that their shared struggles in the marriage market and efforts to fulfill the ideals of manhood are indicative of how rurality continues to be experienced as an inhibiting factor for single rural men in Chinese cities, regardless of their education, income, or material assets. The nature of these men’s lives led me to question how such men are affected by changing social, cultural, and economic structures within the marriage market and the broader context of crisis that currently pervades Chinese society.
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    Big companies, small communities and the Government: Exploring the way public participation is conceptualised and practiced in coal mining in New South Wales
    Wright, Susan Elizabeth ( 2022)
    This thesis’ central challenge is to understand why rural communities located close to mining and extractive operations struggle to have the impacts of mining remedied despite consultative processes being in place. In response, this thesis adopts a three-layered approach to the data analysis. Drawing firstly from literatures examining resource extraction and public participation, the thesis identifies key constraints hampering community engagement. These constraints are then used to extend criteria from procedural fairness literature to frame and understand further, community conceptualisations of why the avenues provided to have their concerns heard and addressed so often fail. Secondly, the use of field theory isolates decision-making processes into action-fields, facilitating an in-depth, actor-centric focus. Thirdly, critical realism’s three-level model of reality demonstrates how action-fields are structured in terms of external influence, including the structures constraining community action and the strategies employed to create advantage in decision-making events. This analytical model allows the thesis to build upon and extend existing academic knowledge relating to community involvement in decision-making processes, public participation and procedural fairness in the mining and resource sector. The empirical component comprises a case study of two Australian mining communities, with data drawn from thirty-six interviews. Analysis of legislation, regulations and policy documents facilitate examination of how legislative processes are employed at community level, the potential sources of failure and the significance of procedural fairness.
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    Squatting in the age of austerity
    Watts, Adrian Dale ( 2022)
    In London, June 2012, the last of the remaining Occupy activists at Finsbury square were evicted. The evictions came as preparations for a historic piece of legislation to criminalize the act of squatting residential property in England and Wales were unfolding just miles away. While the emerging anthropological and geographical literature problematized the notion that the “return home” of Occupy signified an end to the movement, little attention has been paid to what a return home might have looked like for those, the last of the remaining activists, squatters, and homeless who had come to rely on the camps as home, and who now faced the criminalization of a practice that many had envisioned as a refuge for the movement. Based on twelve months of fieldwork with a group of squatters and ex-Occupy activists living in a derelict building (“The Black Stag”) on the outskirts of London in 2018, the thesis traces some of the legacies of Occupy within the contemporary squatters movement, as its members looked beyond eviction and beyond criminalization, toward an alternative practice of dwelling the city. Through an emerging set of strategies of cooperation – “property guardianships”, meanwhile contracts, and alternative housing arrangements – the criminalization of squatting has seen, I suggest, a complex entangling of interests between councils, property owners, and the anti-establishment roots of the squatting scene. These forms of cooperation have emerged as governments, put under extreme austerity conditions over the last decade, have turned to community iniatives as a nostrum for experimental urban development and policy-making. Property guardianships have had important implications for squatters working on the ground, as they weave discourses of regeneration into a practice and a movement that has long declared itself incommensurate with neoliberal development. But they have also given squatters a logic and a means with which to re-gain access to the city: to take up the call to “Occupy Everywhere”, and bring the solutions of squatting to a broader set of struggles and places.
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    The Life of Human Rights: An Everyday Approach to Understanding Human Rights in an Australian Parliamentary Enquiry on the Involuntary Sterilisation of People with Disabilities
    Hernandez Ruiz, Maria Paula ( 2022)
    This research questions how ‘human rights’ are used in a parliamentary inquiry on the coercive or involuntary sterilisation of people with disabilities in Australia. Throughout three chapters, the thesis breaks down ‘human rights’ as a concept and as a practical approach in development programming. Chapter two delves into the multiple understandings of rights in the development literature and incorporates contributions from legal anthropology and the field of the social studies of science and technology to understand human rights in the development context. Chapter three proposes an “ethnography in the archives” as a methodological design that pushes disciplinary boundaries to understand the value of documents and arguments in how different stakeholders inside and outside of the development field engage with issues such as the coercive sterilisation of people with disabilities. Finally, chapter four offers an analysis derived from 82 documents presented in the parliamentary inquiry in Australia. This chapter shows this thesis’s main argument: That human rights differ from what this research calls ‘everyday rights’, which are the claims articulated by people drawing upon their lived experiences rather than human rights treaties or arguments. This argument sheds light on how development practice often faces a gap between what the stated outcomes are in terms of Human Rights-Based Approaches and the practical realities of rights claims.
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    Diasporic Namus in Transition: Respectable Women Do Not Only ‘Do Things Right’- Turkish Australian Women and Shifts in Gendered Moral Identity
    Hadravová, Lenka ( 2021)
    Based on fieldwork among three generations of Turkish women in Australia, the thesis investigates nuances of collective and individual shifts in understandings of worth attached to self and other through the prism of namus. The persistence of and discernible shifts in the spheres of youth sexual morality, gendered and parent-child relationality highlight how narratives of namus serve as a crucial point of existential reference for women negotiating, resisting, and accommodating self and their place in the world. Considering the evolving interethnic dynamics in multicultural Australia, which have influenced Turkish immigrants’ perceptions of identity, the aim is to capture the shifts in collective and personal moral ideals attached to sexuality and intimate life in the diaspora. While the importance of Islam and the participants’ sense of Muslimness has been acknowledged, the collective Muslim identity was not the primary focus of the inquiry. The thesis speaks to the anthropological discourse that problematises morality as a fixed attribute of sociality whose norms people uphold and follow. It contributes with conceptualising namus morality as existential strategising, moral modalities that encompass both social reproduction and social change, moral agency, and moral identity. In addition, it adds to the literature on diasporic (Australian) Turks who reside outside areas of ethnic concentration (communities).
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    Modernity, Sociality and the Enigma of Justice
    Nyblom, Claire ( 2020)
    This thesis is an inquiry into the enigmatic idea of Justice. Like all foundational ideas, justice is subject to increasing tension as a result of competing interpretations of the ‘good’ in modernity and sociality and plurality in all its forms. This creates the enigmatic quality of justice which resides on the one hand in a proliferation of theories of justice which are irreducible and incommensurate and on the other, a hollowing out or fraying of any overarching idea of justice. Justice for this thesis is theorised within broader social rather than usual political frameworks and is situated between formal and contextual approaches and always contains an ethical orientation. This idea of justice is inclusive of both transcendent foundational and immanent regulative moments, which ultimately are not resolvable, which informs the enigmatic quality of justice, related finally to the openness of justice. In drawing out this enigmatic quality, this thesis focuses on early modern and contemporary approaches from Kant and Hegel to Heller and Honneth. The choice of theorists is related to the conceptual dialogue between their varying interpretations of modernity, sociality and their relationship to the idea of justice. This dialogue highlights key theoretical architecture from the earlier theorists, which resonates in the contemporary theories. Most notably, the continuum between form and context and between what I refer to as the ‘pivot points’ of justice, including the subject and their sociality, the right and the good, form and content, contingency and teleology framed within the overarching concepts of western modernity, freedom and value plurality. In developing this dialogue, I identify a number of under-theorised elements, leading to the argument that justice in contemporary modernity must include regulative moments or elements which allow for the negotiation of immanent empirical problems. The idea of justice is however, neither exhausted nor limited to the horizon of the present and always gestures beyond immanence to the immediate future or the distant future. I argue this immanent and transcendent dimension is internal to the idea of justice itself. I also argue that while the enigmatic quality of justice will remain, it may be mediated by mobilising key concepts from both Kant and Hegel which have been updated and modified by Heller and Honneth. The outcome of these updated ideas is that justice as an idea in contemporary modernity can be theorised as 'open', closely aligned to freedom and positioned between and drawing upon immanence and transcendence.
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    The ‘durability challenge’ for climate change policy: a comparative analysis of carbon pricing in Australia and British Columbia
    Alexander, Catherine ( 2022)
    While climate change poses a major threat to humanity, policymakers have struggled to enact policy responses capable of addressing it. Some policy instruments have been implemented only to be repealed, creating a ‘durability challenge’ for governments seeking to address climate change. In light of this challenge, this thesis asks: which government strategies are most likely to embed new climate policies so that they can persist long enough to produce the desired effects? Policy durability has received less scholarly attention than policy enactment. Some scholars emphasise the strategic management of stakeholders and interest groups to promote durability (Patashnik 2008), while alternative explanations highlight the importance of securing broad public acceptance for the reform, including by persuasive communication from political leaders. There is not yet enough empirical research to provide clear answers. Accordingly, this thesis presents a comparative study of two carbon pricing reforms, one of which was successful (the policy proved durable), and the other not (the policy was not durable); this approach approximates J. S. Mill’s Most Similar Systems Design. The durable case is the carbon tax implemented in British Columbia (BC), Canada, in 2008, which remains in place, while the non-durable case is Australia’s Carbon Pricing Mechanism, sometimes called ‘the carbon tax’, implemented in 2012 and repealed two years later. The cases are compared to analyse the government strategies that promote policy durability, with BC’s successful trajectory throwing the problems in the Australian case into relief. This study finds that the strategic management of interest groups is not enough to secure policy durability, nor is sophisticated policy design a sufficient condition, particularly if the policymakers stumble on the politics. Instead, the thesis finds that policymakers should focus, above all, on securing broad public acceptance of the reform. These findings challenge the assumption that durability strategies can be activated upon policy implementation (Patashnik 2008), concluding instead that policy durability is highly sensitive to the conditions of enactment. This thesis also challenges the applicability of general studies of policy durability to Westminster-derived jurisdictions, with the political party system, and the ideological orientation of the governing party, proving highly consequential in the two cases here. A key finding of this study is that Right-aligned political parties have a much greater chance of implementing durable climate policies than Left-aligned parties in Westminster political systems.
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    Responsibility, Refugees, and Crisis: An Analysis of the German Government’s Response to the 2015-2016 Asylum Governance Crisis
    Soderstrom, Kelly Michelle ( 2022)
    This thesis examines how the German government responded to the arrival of asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016, focusing on changes in German asylum policy as the result of a profound reconsideration of state responsibilities. The administrative, political, and social pressures associated with the arrival of 1.2 million asylum seekers created a crisis of governance for the German government. This “asylum governance crisis” challenged the German government’s management of asylum and forced displacement. In response to these pressures, the German government introduced a combination of expansive and restrictive changes to asylum legislation. By developing a typology of state responsibilities and associated state obligations in asylum governance, the thesis analyses how shifts in the German government’s management of tensions among responsibilities shaped German asylum governance. The thesis compares responsibilities and related obligations underlying German asylum governance in the pre-crisis (1945-2014) and crisis-response (2015-2018) periods to identify how state responsibilities shaped asylum legislative innovation and redesign. The thesis finds that the German government’s management of tensions among state responsibilities altered policy goals and delineated the boundaries of policy instrument development in responding to the crisis. The government sought to achieve an equilibrium among a number of often overlapping and often competing policy options using a logic of deservingness and a utilitarian rationale, which ultimately shaped asylum governance. The thesis contributes to the asylum governance literature by developing an innovative framework for analysing policy change through the lens of responsibility. Furthermore, the findings of this thesis are significant because they demonstrate how strategies and instruments of governance are used to navigate among the many responsibilities in asylum governance. Such insights are useful for understanding how states might respond to asylum governance crises in the future.
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    Structure and event: the politics and poetics of settler colonial critique
    Al-Asaad, Faisal ( 2021)
    In recent years, the study and critique of settler colonialism has emerged as a distinct and key area of scholarship with a notable presence across the humanities and social sciences. This scholarly field has made a significant contribution to the critical study of race, colonialism, and empire, and many of its concepts and ideas are fairly prevalent and recognisable in both academic and activist spaces. This thesis examines the imaginary of settler colonial critique, highlighting some of its key terms and tendencies in order to reflect on the analytic and political effects, as well as analytic and political potential, of this critical practice. The discussion explores the structure of a critical narrative that gives this practice its efficacy and distinct character, while also generating some persistent questions for its practitioners. One of these questions can be understood as that of the colonial subject or the subject of race, and this thesis suggests that settler colonial critique reintroduces this question in a way that is both problematic and productive. It further suggests that the way in which a critical imaginary stages its subject is consequential for its analytic and political efficacy. To explore these questions, the discussion looks closely at the work of late historian and scholar, Patrick Wolfe, which has been formative for the emergence of settler colonial studies and in the articulation of its critical narrative and vocabulary. It highlights the multiple analytic possibilities in this work and considers the political and pedagogic motivations that shaped its imaginary. It further situates the latter in the onto-epistemic conditions of critique and critical practice, privileging the historical intersection of anthropological and Marxist thought and exploring this as a crucial if contradictory site for reimagining social forms and historical determinacy. I show how Wolfe’s theorising shapes the analytic gaze of settler colonial critique, and how the latter comes to predominantly ‘see’ or understand the social and historical logics of determinacy by which settler colonial practices and subjects are constituted. Critical responses to settler colonial studies have been alert to the problems of determinacy that have emerged as a result. While my argument is in conversation with these responses, it also departs from them by suggesting that Wolfe’s work remains highly instructive for reimagining and renarrating settler colonialism’s logic of social and historical determinacy in ways that can be analytically productive and politically enabling. The emphasis on the notion of the critical imaginary therefore is a way of arguing that settler colonial critique is a practice that participates in realising ethico-political possibilities in the process of imagining them and the subjects that embody them.
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    Indigenous relations of health: How Indigenous family life is associated with Indigenous child health and wellbeing in Australia
    Dunstan, Laura ( 2021)
    In Australia, Indigenous children experience poorer health and wellbeing than their non-Indigenous counterparts. Research on the social determinants of Indigenous health has mostly focused socio-economic factors, but family life is an important determinant, and central to Indigenous conceptualisations of wellbeing, that has been under-researched for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australia. Centuries of colonial policies and practices have treated Indigenous families as the problem in Indigenous child health. Furthermore, the small body of empirical research examining the Indigenous family and child health nexus has directed little attention to this colonial history and its influence on how this nexus is understood in contemporary policy and research settings. As a result, academic scholarship provides a limited understanding of how Indigenous families can, and do, shape the wellbeing of their children. This thesis aims to better understand the Indigenous family determinants of child health and wellbeing in Australia, by reflecting the colonial and relational contexts in which they live and thrive. I develop a multidimensional framework of Indigenous family life that captures family dynamics and resources in five dimensions, including: 1) family wellbeing; 2) socio-economic resources; 3) cultural resources; 4) family time and activities; and 5) community social capital. Using data from Footprints in Time: The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children, I use a range of multiple regression approaches, including ordered logit, quantile, and multinomial logit regressions, to examine children’s physical health (measured in terms of general health and body mass index), social and emotional wellbeing (measured in terms of emotional and behavioural difficulties and prosocial outcomes), and their trajectories of exposure to major life events (MLEs) over time. Results show that each dimension of Indigenous family life is associated with Indigenous child health and wellbeing, but in non-uniform and sometimes unexpected ways. Family wellbeing, socio-economic resources, and community social capital factors were significantly associated with child general health, whereas family wellbeing, cultural resources, and family time and activities factors were significantly associated with child BMI outcomes. Factors from each dimension were significantly associated with child emotional and behavioural difficulties, prosocial outcomes, and trajectories of MLEs, but in differing, and in some cases opposing, ways. These associations are shaped by the relational and colonial contexts in which Indigenous children live. Importantly, extended family, cultural and community relations play important roles in shaping outcomes for children who are faring well and faring poorly, challenging previous assumptions of their detriment to Indigenous child health. Together, these results highlight the importance of taking more comprehensive, careful, and better-targeted approaches to understanding the factors associated with the wellbeing of Indigenous children in Australia. This thesis contributes more nuanced evidence for better understanding the Indigenous family determinants of Indigenous child health in Australia.