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Burnt bushland

Voices from Bushfire-Affected Communities

Research on diverse experiences of bushfire in Australia
An exciting opportunity exists for a commencing PhD student to join a group of leading scholars to undertake research on the diverse perceptions, experiences, impacts, and responses of bushfire-affected communities in Australia.

The School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry is developing an interdisciplinary research program centred on the diverse perceptions, experiences, impacts, and responses of bushfire-affected communities in Australia.

Right across the country, individuals and communities are still struggling to make sense of and recover from the devastating loss of life, property, income, security and more that occurred during the 2019-2020 bushfire season. Beyond its own immediate impacts, this unprecedented fire season also drove home to many people in a new way the significant challenges of learning to live with the impacts of climate change on this dry and highly combustible continent.

This research program seeks to draw on the approaches of the humanities and social sciences to contribute to the development of fuller understandings of the personal, cultural, and political dimensions of bushfire, as well as to cultivate more creative and inclusive approaches to working with communities to intervene in Australian fire-futures.

We strongly encourage First Nations candidates to apply.

The Chief Investigators will supervise the student based on their expertise and candidate preference.

  • Associate Professor Thom van Dooren, environmental humanities, public storytelling

  • Associate Professor Ruth Barcan, sustainability, embodiment, ethnography

  • Professor Mark McKenna, Indigenous history, Australian environmental and political history
  • Dr Sophie Chao, Indigeneity, capitalism, multispecies studies, anthropology

The successful PhD candidate will be based in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, working closely with our colleagues in the Department of History and the Sydney Environment Institute (SEI).

This PhD project will contribute to this broad area of developing research on community experiences of and responses to bushfire in Australia.

The specific focus of the research project remains relatively open and might include ethnographic, archival, and/or textual research. Projects should seek both to document community voices and to situate them within the long history and/or the intensifying future of fire in this country. We are particularly seeking applicants with an interest in developing their research in consultation with local communities, perhaps through the development of participatory approaches to public storytelling that might open up powerful new spaces for acts of personal witnessing, as well as for more inclusive community interventions into Australian fire-futures.

We encourage proposals that have a critical dimension, whether that be in their conceptual/theoretical framework and/or in their interrogative relationship to methods or data.

The University of Sydney is a world leader in the environmental humanities, with strong research programs exploring the diverse cultural dimensions of environmental change. Within this broader context, this PhD project will provide a student with an outstanding opportunity to be part of a dynamic, emerging, interdisciplinary group of scholars focused on bushfire in Australia.

Applicants are invited to submit a proposal for PhD research that aligns directly to this project. Prospective candidates may qualify for direct entry into the PhD program if their research proposal (see above) is accepted and they satisfy one of the criteria listed below.

  • Bachelor's degree with first- or second-class honours in an appropriate area of study that includes a research thesis based on primary data not literature review
  • Master's degree by research in an appropriate area of study that includes a research thesis that draws on primary data

  • Master's degree by coursework, with a research thesis or dissertation of 12,000–15,000 words that draws on primary data not literature review, with a grade-point average of at least 80 per cent in the degree.

For more information regarding applying for a PhD refer to the course details for Doctor of Philosophy (Arts and Social Sciences). Please also refer to guidelines for preparing a research proposal.

A number of scholarships are available to support your studies.

These scholarships will provide a stipend allowance of $35,000 per annum for up to 3.5 years. Successful international students will also receive a tuition fee scholarship for up to 3.5 years.

For other scholarship opportunities refer to FASS Research Scholarships (Domestic) or FASS Research Scholarships (International)

For further details about the PhD project contact


Thom van Dooren

Associate Professor
  • +61 2 9351 3918
  • Brennan MacCallum A18

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