Sociology and sexual health scholar joins faculty

9 March 2020
Dr Mandy Henningham appointed Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Indigenous Social Sciences
Dr Henningham’s expertise in medicine, gender and sexuality, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth will bring a multidisciplinary approach to new research into what it means to be young, Indigenous and queer in Australia today.
Dr Mandy Henningham

What attracted you to the University of Sydney?

I've been at the University of Sydney as either a student or a staff member across several schools for the last 10 years. There is incredible work being done at the University with fantastic early career researchers, which is why I can’t think of a better place to begin my postdoctoral work. 

What does your current research focus on?

I am currently publishing from my thesis, which was a retrospective exploration of lived experiences of intersex people, dealing with topics such as school experiences, gender and sexuality, sexual satisfaction, friendships and relationships, family dynamics, and healthcare experiences.

I've worked on Indigenous research projects and look forward to merging my experiences with marginalised populations into a new project with Indigenous queer youth, that aims to gain a better understanding of what it is like to be Indigenous and queer in contemporary Australia. 

You have a unique background in medicine, how did you end up in sociology and how does this influence your research?

My PhD project began as a psychosocial project and as I moved through faculties my project and research team became increasingly multidisciplinary. I spent a lot of time working with clinicians, psychologists, educators, and sociologists. 

Because I was investigating a medical issue from a critical lens, there were clear sociological theories that emerged from my data. I also have a background in education so the end result was a highly interdisciplinary analysis, making it a complex and holistic examination of many aspects of life experiences. 

This process reinforced my research interests in healthcare (including sexual health), sociology and psychology (including identity and the self), and highlighted the problematic power of institutions over marginalised populations. This process forced me to approach research projects from multiple perspectives, such as feminist frameworks, clinical viewpoints and pedagogical practices, which complement the sociological frameworks I work within.

What’s been the biggest challenge in your research?

The biggest challenge when working with marginalised populations is trust. You're working with communities and individuals who have had negative or traumatic experiences with people in positions of power, such as healthcare professionals or researchers. It isn't a matter of just collecting data, you need to build relationships with people and always work with the community, not on top of it. 

There can also be politics and competing priorities involved in building these relationships, making it hard to appeal to an entire community. While building this level of trust and relationships with people can be challenging, it is very rewarding professionally and personally, and I wouldn't change it. 

What are you looking forward to the most in your new role?

I'm really looking forward to buckling down on more sociological work and working with new methodologies, as well as collaborating with the fantastic researchers in the School of Social and Political Sciences. It's great to be part of such a diverse team. 

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