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Research themes

Understanding complexity and connectedness
Learn more about our initial research themes.

Our themes

Politics and Economies of Health and Wellbeing

Leads: Alex Broom, Lisa Adkins and Barbara Prainsack

While it is often assumed to be a characteristic of individuals, health is, in many ways, a global production, emergent at the nexus of political and economic interests.

The political and economic dimensions of health and wellbeing run much deeper than the life chances of individuals, or even the aggregate well-being of particular societies. Instead, they include different flows of capital, adjudications of value, avenues of profit-making, forms of care, mechanisms of accountability, and temporalities of perceptibility that vary across the local to global scale.

All of these dimensions variously interact in producing health and wellbeing for some, while undermining it for others. Looking beyond individual’s experiences of illness, here we foreground the connections between health and its global political and economic dimensions to reimagine what health and wellbeing mean - individually, collectively and planetarily.  

Broom, A. & Kenny, K. (2020) Survivorship: A Sociology of Cancer in Everyday Life, Routledge

Broom, A., Kenny, K., Kirby, E., & Lwin, Z. (2019). The collective/affective practice of cancer survivorship. The British Journal of Sociology70(4), 1582-1601.

Adkins, L., Cooper, M., Konings, M. (2020). The Asset Economy. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Adkins, L. (2018). The Time of Money. Stanford University Press.

Wagenaar, H. and Prainsack, B. (2021, in press). The Pandemic Within: Policy Making for a Better World. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

Race, Ethnicity and the Biohumanities

Leads: Anthony Ryan Hatch, Amade M’charek, Anne Pollock and Nadine Ehlers

This theme focuses on the relationship between race, ethnicity, and health across various social contexts.

While health is often attributed to supposed biological differences based on racial or ethnic status, we explore how social, economic, political, and environmental factors contribute to disparities in health and become biologised.

Taking a biohumanities approach—which foregrounds humanities and social sciences perspectives on the contours of biological life—our concern is to map how poor health is linked to forms of racism, inequality, and structural violence.

Drawing on innovative interdisciplinary scholarship, the theme examines a broad and often-amorphous arena that encompasses efforts in (and relays between) the biological sciences, clinical medicine and public health, the pharmaceutical industry, and patient and community-based advocacy to address minority health and illness.

Ehlers, N., & Krupar, S. (2019). Deadly Biocultures: The Ethics of Life-making. U of Minnesota Press.

Ehlers, N., & Hinkson, L. R. (Eds.). (2017). Subprime health: Debt and Race in US Medicine. U of Minnesota Press.

Hatch, Anthony Ryan (2019) Silent Cells: The Secret Drugging of Captive America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Hatch, Anthony Ryan (2016) Blood Sugar: Racial Pharmacology and Food Justice in Black America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Pollock, A. (2012). Medicating race: Heart disease and durable preoccupations with difference. Duke University Press.

What about Race? Amade M’charek & Irene van Oorschot. Forthcoming in A. Blok, I. Farias & C. Roberts (eds.) Routledge Companion to Actor-Network Theory. London: Taylor & Francis.

M'charek, A., & Schramm, K. (2020). Encountering the Face—Unraveling Race. American Anthropologist.

A highly magnified, digitally colorized scanning electron microscopic image, revealing ultrastructural details of numerous yellow colored, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) viral particles.

Health/Care Across Time, Place and Scale

Leads: Katie Kenny, Alex Broom and Danielle Celermajer

Taking a ‘healthy societies’ approach to questions of care, we carefully consider how care is imagined and enacted in ways that are productive or deleterious not only of what we typically think of as health and wellness, but of the more general conditions of human and more-than-human flourishing, too.

Such an approach takes seriously the historical, social, political and economic contexts in which bodies and selves are variously drawn into relations of care with each other, with institutions, with the social and economic order, and with built and natural environments. It entails considering care as a relation, ethic, practice, and infrastructure across scales from the microbial to the planetary.  In this way, we reposition care as a key organizing principle of contemporary societies – as central not only to the health and wellbeing of the people within them, but as central to the health of societies themselves.

Drawing on innovative scholarship across the full spectrum of social sciences and humanities, we are rethinking health and care, across time, place and scale.

Broom, A., Kenny, K., Prainsack, B. Broom, J. (2020) Antimicrobial resistance as a problem of values? Views from three continents. Critical Public Health

Broom, A., Doron, A. (2020) Antimicrobial resistance, politics and practice in India. Qualitative Health Research

Doron, A and Broom, A. (2019) The spectre of superbugs: Waste, structural violence and antimicrobial resistance in India. Worldwide Waste: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, 2(1)7, 1-10

Doron, A., Jeffrey, R. (2018). Waste of a nation: Garbage and growth in India. Harvard University Press.

Work, Education and Welfare

Lead: Gaby Ramia, Michelle Peterie, Myra Hamilton

Health and wellbeing are deeply embedded in the multiple dimensions of ‘welfare’ across place and setting, which include, but extend well beyond, the formalised welfare state.

Welfare, in the broadest sense, refers to the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities, but it also necessarily denotes the institutional structures (i.e. social security, housing, education, employment) through which it is shaped.

This theme will use sociological, political science and anthropological approaches as well as the specialist techniques of policy, governance, regulation and administrative analysis, to focus on the critical analysis of the multifarious institutions of work, education and welfare, including, but not limited to: informal care; formal employment and working conditions; state-provided and marketised income assistance; formal education (including early childhood, schools, and the technical and higher education levels); public and private housing; and, how these spheres intersect with community health and wellbeing.

Ramia, G. (2020). Governing Social Protection in the Long Term: Social Policy and Employment Relations in Australia and New Zealand. Palgrave.

Ramia, G., & Perrone, L. (2021). Crisis Management, Policy Reform, and Institutions: The Social Policy Response to COVID-19 in Australia. Social Policy and Society, 1-15.

Ramia, G. (2021). Crises in international education, and government responses: a comparative analysis of racial discrimination and violence towards international students. Higher education, 82(3), 599-613.

Morris, A., Mitchell, E., Wilson, S., Ramia, G., & Hastings, C. (2022). Loneliness within the home among international students in the private rental sector in Sydney and Melbourne. Urban Policy and Research, 40(1), 67-81.

Peterie, M. (2022) Food, Care, and Carceral Power: The Politics of Commensality in Australian Immigration Detention, Journal of Refugee Studies.

Broom, A., Peterie, M., Kenny, K., Ehlers, N., Ramia, G.,. (2022) The administration of harm: From unintended consequences to harm by design. Critical Social Policy.

The Social Life of Food and Nourishment

The Social Life of Food and Nourishment

Lead: Professor Alex Broom, Dr Katherine Kenny, Professor David Raubenheimer and Professor Paul Griffiths

Food is not merely a bare necessity, required to sustain life, it is fundamentally social. How it is grown, produced and manufactured; how it is processed, transported and distributed; how it is ‘made safe’ and variously ‘made available’; how it is selected, prepared and consumed; and the pervasive paradoxes of access and excess all include a wide range of social, economic and political dimensions. If we look closely, the social life of food and nourishment tells an evolving story, inclusive of, but not limited to: accelerating inequality, multispecies relations, biodiversity loss, environmental degradation, geopolitical tensions, global financial incentives and much more.

Food can be seen as a broad-based social issue, in and of itself. But it can also serve as a useful lens through which to examine and address some of the most pressing social problems facing our world, today. Escalating food poverty and malnutrition speak to the enduring but seemingly intractable problem of social inequality, borne out through limited access and food scarcity in some locales, and excess and overconsumption in others. For example, although Australia is a high-income country with per capita disposable income above the OECD average, a full third of Australian households have experienced moderate or severe food insecurity in the last 12 months (Foodbank, AUS), with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people disproportionately impacted. Globally, that figure is 1.9 billion people, over half of whom live in areas of Asia or Africa. But at the same time, 1.9 billion adults worldwide are overweight (WHO).

The paradoxes of contemporary food relations extend even further. Food is also central to multispecies and environmental relations. The intensive use of antimicrobials and other chemicals, agricultural encroachment, and live-animal markets contribute to global health threats such as new zoonotic diseases and antimicrobial resistance. Intensive farming practices contribute to environmental degradation and biodiversity loss, which have grossly uneven and inequitable impacts on different populations around the globe. And the ever-increasing appetite for meat raises important and enduring questions about the ethical treatment of non-human animals.

The ‘Social Life of Food and Nourishment’ research theme will examine food and nourishment in their full social contexts and from a multidisciplinary perspective at the intersections of the economy, environment, culture and politics