An academic journey in Political Economy

22 May 2024
Insights from the winner of the 2024 Frank Stilwell Award

Cooper Sheather is an emerging scholar in political economy from Tharawal country, South-West Sydney, whose passion and dedication have earned him the prestigious Frank Stilwell Award in Political Economy. Driven by a vision for equity, Cooper’s research in political economy is bridging the gap between theoretical frameworks and real-world applications.

Cooper Sheather in a tuxedo holding a microphone

Cooper Sheather

Early Influences and Academic Path

Raised by parents who were primary school teachers, and grandparents who worked as truck drivers, nurses, and paper mill workers, Cooper developed a strong interest in the humanities and social sciences early on.

"By the age of ten, I had become obsessed with history, politics, and English literature," Cooper recalls, crediting his grandfather's collection of "enormous" books on poetry, history and politics for sparking this passion.

Cooper's academic journey began at the University of Wollongong, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in International Studies, majoring in International Relations with minors in Philosophy and French. It was during an elective in political economy that Cooper found his true calling. This led to an Honours Degree in Political Economy and a casual teaching position at the University of Wollongong. In July 2023, Cooper started his PhD in Political Economy at the University of Sydney.

Receiving the Frank Stilwell Political Economy Award

Being selected for the Frank Stilwell Award is a significant honour.

To be regarded by my advisors and colleagues as worthy of consideration for the award is a tremendous honour and a prodigious privilege.
Cooper Sheather

The award is named after Emeritus Professor Frank Stilwell, a leading figure in political economy. “Emeritus Professor Frank Stilwell is a giant of our field, an excellent advisor and critic, and a generous colleague committed to enhancing the skill and experience particularly of early-stage scholars. To receive an award in his honour is something I take great pride in.”

Inspiration and Research Focus

Cooper's interest in political economy is driven by a desire to foster a more equitable world, inspired by figures such as Nina Simone, Susan Sontag, Dr Charles Perkins, Dr Galarrwuy Yunupingu and Nelson Mandela. Cooper realised that understanding material conditions through economy, labour, and power relations was crucial to engage more broadly. "Political economy was the perfect pluralist intersection; combining several relevant disciplines to critique and reformulate economic thinking," Cooper explains.

By focusing on innovative historical theory and developing new concepts for contemporary economic challenges, Cooper seeks to address and remedy current economic issues. His work challenges mainstream economics and strives to offer practical solutions to persistent and emerging problems.

Cooper's research includes a PhD manuscript titled 'Neoliberalism, Neo-feudalism or a New Era? Investigating the Gig-Asset Economy' and a journal article, 'Capital as Authority: A Contemporary Theory of Power.' The manuscript examines new forms of inequality, while the article offers innovative theories on capital power relations. The article has earned Cooper recognition, and invitations to present at the Association for Heterodox Economics Conference in Bristol, United Kingdom, and Finance and Society Network in Sheffield this year.

Overcoming Challenges and Future Aspirations

Despite personal and research challenges, Cooper remains committed to his academic goals. Accessing primary sources and developing robust methodologies are notable hurdles, but Cooper's resilience is unwavering. Cooper aims to become a professor, driven by a passion for teaching and research.

Impact of the Award and Acknowledgements

Receiving the Frank Stilwell Award not only boosts Cooper's credibility but also provides financial support for his research. Cooper expressed gratitude to his supervisors Professor Martijn Konings and Dr Gareth Bryant, mentor Tatiana Andersen, Frank Stilwell and my “family who have continually supported and encouraged me throughout my education, passions and life.”

Receiving this award will have a remarkable and immediate impact on my life and career.
Cooper Sheather

Cooper's journey through political economy exemplifies his passion, perseverance, and the impact of mentorship and recognition in academia.

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