Methods Lab

From ethnography to oral histories, the Sydney Environment Institute launches its Methods Lab, unpacking new methodologies and expanding research horizons with expert researchers across the environmental space.

Research that considers environmental questions both draws on and requires that we move beyond traditional methodologies and methods. This expansion of research methodologies when contemplating environmental issues may include building enriched community relationships or undertaking varied creative approaches. As researchers think more seriously about understanding the more-than-human on their own terms, as well as the many different types of relationships between humans and the more-than-human, we are also experimenting with questions about how to find out, how to know, and how to represent. The SEI Methods Lab will reflect on the methods we are employing and the ones we would like to explore further. Each one-hour session will be led by an SEI researcher, with the aim of nurturing a multilateral conversation that will kindle a rich ecosystem of methodological practice.

Please note this is a closed seminar series for academic staff and students only. If you’d like to attend, please email an Expression of Interest to sei.events@sydney.edu.au.

This series was presented online from February - June 2022.

2022 Labs

Thursday 24 February, 4.00 – 5.00pm

In this seminar, Dr. Sophie Chao will describe the method of participant-observation and how it has helped her better understand human-environment relations in her field sites in West Papua. Sophie will also offer some concrete examples of how she’s put this method into practice in the context of understanding Marind-sago relationalities. Finally, she will discuss some of the practical and ethical challenges entailed in conducting participant-observation, including questions surrounding power, privilege, and positionality.


Sophie Chao is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry and the Charles Perkins Centre. Sophie’s research thus far has focused on exploring the intersections of capitalism, ecology, and indigeneity in Indonesia, with a specific focus on changing interspecies relations in the context of deforestation and agribusiness development. Her current research deploys inter-disciplinary methods to explore the nutritional and cultural impacts of agribusiness on indigenous food-based socialities, identities, and ecologies.

Thursday 10 March, 4.00 – 5.00pm

In this seminar, Dr. Sara Leon Spesny will discuss her experiences of conducting conversational interviews in the context of an ethnography of the military police in Brazil. Through these conversational interviews, many done while patrolling, Sara gathered significant biographical data from military personnel that sustained many of the observations she made. Finally, Sara will delve into some of the challenges and moral entanglements of the interview method, using examples from her work in Brazil.


Sara Leon Spesny an Academic Fellow in criminology in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney. She interested in the ways institutions of the State seek to manage, control and discipline historically marginalized populations. Her research has focused on the police, violence, migration (notably undocumented migrants), human rights, postcolonial (dis)order and the urban/symbolic borderlands of the Latin American city. Sara has carried out fieldwork in Central and South America. She obtained her PhD at the École de Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, France (2020). She worked under the supervision of Prof. Didier Fassin (Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, USA). She has been a member of the Institut de Recherche Interdisciplinaire sur les Enjeux Sociaux (IRIS) since 2013. Sara has also collaborated with projects involving indigenous rights and sex workers.

Wednesday 23 March, 4.00 – 5.00pm

Post-Qualitative Inquiry, based on New Materialist ontologies has emerged as an exciting paradigm in qualitative research allowing for the production of knowledge that is emergent, uncertain and grounded in the reality of the body, time and place. Research serves as a form of collective worlding that can occur between human and non-human actors with a focus on novelty. In this talk, Associate Professor Paul Rhodes, will situate this paradigm in the history of qualitative research, describe some key principles and outline three recent studies on the climate crisis to exemplify methods.


Paul Rhodes is a clinical psychologist and Associate Professor in the School of Psychology. He is interested primarily in ecologies, both relational, political and between species. He currently researches post-human approaches to eco-psychology, the decolonisation of distress, activist-practice as psychotherapy and post-qualitative research methods. He is a keen botanical artist, still learning, and writes using collective auto-ethnographies, art-based methods and bricollage. He is currently also involved in an ARC Discovery Grant taking an oral history of mental health activism and critical perspectives 1960-the present.

Thursday 7 April, 4.00 – 5.00pm

This seminar will attempt to defuse fears of roving across different methods and propose some principles and aphorisms to help guide what a researcher might choose to enact, given an assumed common desire to be generative and ethical in our endeavours.


Tess Lea is an anthropologist who specialises in the anthropology of policy. Her fundamental interest is with issues of (dys)function: how it occurs and to what, whom and how it is ascribed. Looking at extraction industries, everyday militarisation, houses, infrastructure (eg plumbing and roads), schools, and efforts to create culturally congruent forms of employment and enterprise from multiple perspectives, her work asks why the path to realising seemingly straightforward ambitions is so densely obstacled. As part of this she is also exploring ways in which Aboriginal families might tell their stories and commandeer policy openings and closings for their own ends.

Thursday 5 May, 4.00 – 5.00pm

Song and dance practice are intrinsic to Tiwi oral and embodied knowledges, to the intellectual, the physical and the political as well as the spiritual, metaphysical and artistic. Sydney Fellow Dr. Genevieve Campbell reflects on her research project with the Sydney Environment Institute and Sydney Conservatorium of Music entitled The interconnection between Tiwi song culture and death in the context of artistic creativity, cultural maintenance and community health.

In the seminar, Genevieve will present examples of collaborative work with her Tiwi colleagues that blur the lines between public performance and cultural performativity. This work straddles across fundamentally different concepts of the place of music in the knowledge-art spectrum.

Genevieve will also reflect on the bidirectional impacts of personal and cultural loss on their collaborative performance and research over the years, which have at times been surprisingly empowering and regenerative. She will also discuss and invite discussion around how a non-Indigenous researcher navigates the challenges and joys of creating, performing and co-‘owning’ artistic work based on Indigenous cultural content.


Genevieve Campbell is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Sydney Environment Institute and Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Since 1988, she has played horn in many of the major Music Theatre shows. Ngarukuruwala and her close involvement in the discovery and repatriation to the Tiwi islands of archived song recordings led her to complete a PhD, working with elders to document and preserve Tiwi song language and melody. Her current focus is on documenting endangered song sets and the creation of new work centred around archival recordings of passed Tiwi composers and the words, knowledge and voices of current Tiwi Elders and young people.

Thursday 19 May, 4.00 – 5.00pm

Qualitative data analysis is an important research approach in investigating environmental and social sustainability issues. In this seminar, Professor Christopher Wright from the University of Sydney’s Business School, will outline the qualitative data analysis workflow he has developed over three decades of researching complex organisational and societal conflicts, with a specific focus on environmental issues such as climate change.

This will include reviewing the collection and preparation of interview and document data, as well as the ways in which this data can be analysed to best effect using computer software such as QSR NVivo. His qualitative data analysis workflow involves multiple phases of data coding and an abductive approach moving between theory and empirics. He will illustrate this approach through reference to his research into business responses to climate change (Wright and Nyberg, 2017), as well as recently published work on the political controversy surrounding coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef (Wright and Nyberg, 2022).


Christopher Wright is a Professor of Organisational Studies at the University of Sydney Business School where he teaches and researches business responses to climate change, sustainability and critical understandings of capitalism. He is has published extensively on the political economy of climate change, organisational sustainability and corporate political activity and is the author (with Daniel Nyberg and Vanessa Bowden) of the forthcoming book Organising Responses to Climate Change: The Politics of Mitigation, Adaptation and Suffering (Cambridge Uni Press, 2022).

Thursday 2 June, 4.00 – 5.00pm

Currently, Indigenous peoples manage or have tenure rights over at least 38 million km2 in 87 countries and are increasingly recognised for their global role in protected area management. This global contribution to nature conservation is largely due to the endurance of Indigenous sovereignties in spite of colonialism and extraction. Thus the calls by Indigenous peoples globally for more protection for nature, go hand-in-hand with other demands for their recognition of land and cultural rights. As such, Indigenous rights remain a useful legal tool for justice and to support nature conservation.

In the final seminar, Dr June Rubis will present her recent engagement with the global ICCA (Indigenous and Local Communities Conserved Areas) consortium as Co-Chair of Documenting Territories, where she co-wrote global policy reports in the past year, including authoring a policy paper for the Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI). These reports have since been presented in global policy arenas, including the recent 2021 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France where June was invited to speak in person. June will also reflect on the process of interactions among non-governmental actors, both western and Indigenous, and the struggles of contradictions within alliances.


June Rubis is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Sydney Environment Institute. She began her career as a conservation biologist and has twelve years in hands-on wildlife conservation fieldwork in both Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo. In the last few years of practical work prior to her entry in graduate school, she started working on Indigenous land rights issues in collaboration with Indigenous activists in Malaysian Borneo (Sarawak and Sabah), and more broadly, participatory democracy with urban youth. She has carried out research on Bidayuh ritual revitalization, under the guidance of her Bidayuh father and relatives, linking the revitalization with environmental change in her home state of Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. Her recent PhD research examined a decolonial Indigenous approach to orangutan conservation in Sarawak.

Header image: Boba Jaglicic via Unsplash.