Transnationalism: from local to global

Understanding links between people and places in our global world
We research the way in which transnationalism (the movement and exchange that takes place between national borders) influences activism, commemoration, celebration, and diaspora.

Our research brings together academics from multiple disciplines within the School of Languages and Cultures who work on different kinds of transnationalism, all from the perspective of the people involved and the societies in which they live.

One subset of this work focuses on social activism.

  • Professor Michele Ford, and her team are engaged in an extensive program of work on the links between the international labour movement and local labour movements Southeast Asia.
  • Dr Vek Lewis explores gender, sexuality and transformation in identity among Latin Americans of the diaspora.
  • Dr Lucia Sorbera investigates feminism across the Arab world. In each of these projects, a major theme is the link between activists in these countries and elsewhere.

A second subset focuses on trauma, memory and commemoration. War, natural disasters and political upheavals have caused great suffering across a multitude of nations and communities.

Individuals who have survived these experiences have often migrated from their home country to seek safety and begin new lives.

They bring with them not only the painful memories of persecution, but also cultural and religious traditions through which they commemorate these experiences, mourn for lost family and communities and re-establish a sense of identity in tandem with the new host society.

  • Associate Professor Avril Alba explores this in her ARC Discovery project focussing on Holocaust memory in Australian public life.
  • Dr Su-Kyoung Hwang examines the legacy of war and environmental disasters in the Korean context.

For all these topics the movement of memory and commemoration across borders functions as a unifying theme.

Our projects

Led by Associate Professor Avril Alba. As Australians respond to the largest movement of refugees since WWII, debate the meaning and process of reconciliation and ponder the make up of their multicultural nation, the memory of the Holocaust is consistently invoked.

By tracing the historical contours of these associations this project uncovers how this enduring memory has and continues to influence pressing contemporary concerns.

In laying bare how Holocaust memory has been utilised in the Australian setting, the research explores how this memory has crossed borders and cultures, providing an antipodean contribution to international forums concerned with Holocaust memory’s global efficacy.

Led by Professor Michele Ford. Each year, millions of dollars of trade union aid is distributed globally, but we have very little understanding of how it is allocated or what it achieves.

Focusing on Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar and Timor Leste, this project examines local unions’ relationship to the international trade union movement, and the extent to which they depend on, and have been transformed by, the financial resources and conceptual frameworks that trade union aid brings.

The project uses these country-based analyses to systematically examine the ways in which international trade union aid programs are envisioned and implemented, and the extent to which the political, economic and social regimes of a particular national context determine their success or failure.

Led by Professor Michele Ford, Associate Professor Michael Gillan (University of Western Australia) and Associate Professor Htwe-Htwe Thein (Curtin University)Reforms designed to attract foreign investment after 2011 – when the country’s leadership began re-engaging with the world – saw the introduction of a regulatory framework based on international labour standards. However, putting these standards into practice is another matter entirely.

This project assesses the role of the international labour movement in helping local garment workers leverage their capacity to act collectively in pursuit of better wages and working conditions.

It uses these findings to better theorise how local politics and labour agency influence the operation of the global production networks.

Led by Professor Michele Ford, Associate Professor Petr Matous, Dr Aim Sinpeng and Associate Professor Jie Yin. Unions globally, nationally and locally increasingly rely on digital activism as a strategy to effect change. But what impact do their online and social media campaigns actually have?

Using techniques drawn from social media and social network analysis, and country-based case studies, this SSEAC-funded project assesses the nature, audiences and impact of digital campaign strategies by unions at the global level and in four Southeast Asian countries.

Led by Professor Michele Ford, Dr Wayne Palmer Bielefeld and Dr Dedi Adhuri (BRIN, Indonesia). Growing awareness of conditions on commercial fishing vessels – which many equate to human trafficking or modern slavery – has led to international pressure to address the plight of fishing workers.

This ARC Discovery Project assesses the interactions between international regulators, supply chain actors, and labour activists around the Indonesian government’s attempts (and failures) to ensure fishers’ access to its industrial relations processes and mechanisms.

By shifting the conceptual lens from human trafficking and modern slavery to employment relations, it aims to move away from analysis of the (errant) behaviour of rogue employers and towards identifying ways that states can better address systemic labour exploitation in commercial fishing.

Led by Professor Michele FordGender-based violence (GBV) is particularly prevalent in industries like construction, where dominant forms of masculinity are deeply entrenched.

As recognised industrial relations actors – and because their members are employed on the construction sites and in building materials production facilities where workplace GBV occurs – unions can play an important role in reducing workplace GBV. However, in countries like Cambodia, they seldom act alone.

This ARC Linkage Project, held with America’s Solidarity Center, the Building and Woodworkers’ International (BWI) and Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA, aims to assess how international labour actors transmit international norms about workplace GBV, how these norms are understood and contextualised locally, and how they become embedded (or not) in local practice.

Led by Dr Su-Kyoung Hwang. This project revisits the experience of the Korean War bombing from the perspective of civilians and through the multifocal lenses of personal documentation/narration, environmental catastrophe, literature and memory.

By focusing on environmental destruction during the Korean War, this research questions the view of post-1950s industrialization and urbanization as the main sources of environmental crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

Led by Dr Elisabeth Kramer (UNSW and Honorary with the University of Sydney), Professor Parisa Aslani, Professor Simon Butt, Professor Kirsty Foster (University of Queensland), Professor Paul Glare, Professor Barabara Mintzes, Professor Hans Pols and Dr Agnes Vitry (University of South Australia).

Global concerns about addiction to therapeutic opioids have had an unexpected knock-on effect in countries like Indonesia, where global limits on their supply and systemic bottlenecks mean that patients in need of this treatment are often denied it.

This ARC Linkage Project, held with the International Pharmaceutical Federation and the Indonesian Pharmacists Association, involves a holistic, multi-scalar analysis of the interactions between the international political economy of drug procurement and country-specific systemic and socio-cultural factors.

Its findings will inform policy, and practitioner interventions will have a deep and lasting impact in a national context where facilitating an improvement in health professionals’ awareness of effective opioid use has the potential to significantly benefit patients.

Led by Dr Vek Lewis. This research aims to assess to what degree male-dominant friendship networks are still conceived as socially important and operational in the gender orders – that partake of race and class – found in Australia and Mexico, past and present.

Both countries are enmeshed in postcolonising logics that are also foundational to race, gender relations and ‘national’ identities.

More recently the research has turned to the way Mexican migrants in Sydney use the vocative ‘mate’ in intercultural encounters to be ‘seen’ in this context (as a form of translation of ‘cuate’), and also to how they interpret representations about mateship/cuatismo in the post-migratory context. 

Led by Dr Lucia Sorbera. This research project contributes to the intellectual history of European frontiers and to the literature on women’s history from a decolonial feminist perspective.

Historical analysis of female Arab and African political activists crossing geographical and epistemic borders in the post-colonial age works toward better understanding the long-terms trajectories that link international politics and the construction of gender subjectivities.

Led by Dr Benjamin Nickl, this research series is an interdisciplinary project to offer a fresh look at Germany’s relations with other countries in the 21st century. This project speaks among other things to the renewed interest in Germany’s innovative stance on identity politics, climate science, higher education, fiscal policies, civil law and national cultures, and migration.

Series co-editor: Dr Irina Herrschner, The University of Melbourne (University of Bayreuth Gateway Office, Manager, Australian-German Climate & Energy College)

Led by Dr Yoko Yonezawa, this project aims to investigate the power of language as a vector for gender inequality in Japanese politics. By shifting the analytical lens from socio-political factors to the role of language, the project advances a new conceptual framework for the analysis of the political gender gap. Expected outcomes include a comprehensive analysis of politicians’ linguistic strategies and interactional patterns that speak to the well-established power imbalance between men and women, and an in-depth understanding of the nexus between language and entrenched gender ideology that contribute to Japan’s location towards the very bottom of the global political gender gap index.

Our people