Research in the Department of Social Inquiry

The Department of Social Inquiry is recognised for its research in Aboriginal Studies, Anthropology, Crime, Justice and Legal Studies, Criminology, Geography, Regional Planning, Sociology, and Sustainability and Development Studies.

Our researchers are partnering with industry, government and community organisations to improve access to wellbeing, social justice and opportunities for all.

The Department is home to the Thesis Eleven Forum for Social and Political Theory, which represents an international network of scholars exploring issues of culture, society and power.

We also have close links to La Trobe Asia, which provides leadership on all aspects of La Trobe University’s engagement with Asia, including the Philippines-Australia Forum, which supports research, engagement and teaching initiatives to increase awareness of Philippine politics, culture and society.

Our research aligns with La Trobe University’s research themes: Social change and equity, Healthy people, families and communitiesSustainable food and agriculture and Resilient environments and communities.

Find out more about how our partnerships enable transformative research.

Research areas

We pride ourselves on our multidisciplinary approach to research, with expertise and collaborations across a range of research areas:

Our researchers explore major cultural and social shifts in Australia and abroad by asking questions about our institutions and societies, cultural and social practices, and their meanings in different contexts and over time. Projects explore new technologies, public inquiries, and modern forms of sorcery and witchcraft.

Key research questions include:

  • What does good research with Indigenous peoples look like and how is it best achieved?
  • How do new technologies shape our everyday lives?
  • How do public inquiries contribute to social change?
  • What is meaningful work?
  • What do modern forms of sorcery look like and how do governments respond to them?
  • How does charity, philanthropy, and crowdfunding shape who we see as ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’?

Our researchers explore how we shape our environments and our environments shape us. Projects investigate climate adaptation and food security, children’s access to the cities in which they live, Indigenous mobilities, religious tourism, the trade unions that shape mining activity in Africa, and precarious work in food supply chains in Australia and Asia.

Key research questions include:

  • How do farming practices impact the environment and food security?
  • What are the impacts of colonisation upon Indigenous peoples of Australia?
  • In what ways is working in food supply chains in Australia and Asia precarious, and how can it be improved?
  • How do Global South economies relate to moral norms and affective relationships?
  • How do children’s everyday mobilities affect the environment?
  • What are the environmental impacts of religious and spiritual tourism?
  • What does unionism look like in a development context?

Our researchers examine the complex social and cultural dimensions of health and wellbeing. Projects include maternal health in Indigenous communities, transnational aged care, health inequalities in Pacific Island nations, access to reproductive health care, abortion stigma, human-animal relationships, medical tourism and bibliotherapy.

Key research questions include:

  • How are health and wellbeing understood by individuals, governments and practitioners?
  • What social factors and inequalities shape everyday experiences of health, and responses to poor health and wellbeing, in Australia and the Pacific region?
  • How are healthcare access, food inequality and poverty related?
  • How do healthcare and other practitioners, policymakers, patients and communities make sense of emerging health conditions?
  • How are mental health conditions understood and treated?

Our researchers apply a critical lens to the experiences and governance of migrants in Australia. Projects include migrant workers in regional and rural Australia, forced displacement and resettlement, irregular migration, forms of population movement and border controls that shape the lives of Indigenous Australians, and transnational migrants in Australia and abroad.

Key research questions include:

  • How do people with migration backgrounds experience life, work and family in different settings, including regional towns or Melbourne’s suburbs?
  • What social, cultural and political factors shape the lives of resettled refugees in Australia and what would address barriers to their wellbeing?
  • How do governments, businesses and communities affect migrants’ experiences of employment and life overall?
  • How does racism affect the lives of Indigenous Australians, migrants and their descendants, and how can it be addressed?

Our researchers conduct critical socio-legal research on the justice system in Australia and internationally. Projects focus on gender-based violence, reproductive justice, homelessness, courtroom architecture, the remand-system, racism and anti-queer violence, and comparisons of constitutionalism and the rule of law.

Key research questions include:

  • Why and how do gender, sexuality and race matter for accessing justice?
  • Which alternatives to policing and punishment could better respond to social problems?
  • How can equal access to reproductive justice be achieved?
  • How have incarceration and border securitisation regimes been resisted?
  • How can gender-based violence be addressed?
  • How does courthouse architecture influence jury decision-making?
  • What is the relationship between judicial politics and the rule of law and the state of democracy in different countries?

Graduate research

The Department of Social Inquiry is educating the next generation of researchers in Aboriginal Studies, Anthropology, Crime, Justice and Legal Studies, Criminology, Geography, Regional Planning, Sociology, and Sustainability and Development Studies.

Our Higher Degree Research and postgraduate coursework programs give candidates the opportunity to join a community of researchers who use robust methods and cutting-edge ideas to address all aspects of the human social and cultural experience.

We have Honours, Masters and PhD opportunities, where candidates conduct high impact projects under the direction of experts in their field. PhD candidates also have the option of working with organisations in government, private or the not-for profit sector in our Industry PhD.

Our graduate researchers are well supported by teams of at least two supervisors, Progress Committees and a carefully tailored milestone program.

They enjoy a vibrant research culture with reading groups, writing workshops, skills-based workshops, and an annual 3 Minute Thesis competition and Higher Degree by Research conference. Some also teach, preparing them for a career in academia.

All graduate researchers are part of La Trobe’s Graduate Research School, which nurtures a vibrant research community and upskills researchers through the Research Education and Development (RED) team. The RED team run workshops on topics from preparing literature reviews through to data manipulation and visualisation. They also run initiatives including Shut Up and Write!

Find out more about graduate research opportunities at La Trobe or contact the Department of Social Inquiry’s Director of Graduate Research, Dr Nicholas Smith.

Research centres

Our staff make key contributions to the Centre for Human Security and Social Change and the John Richards Centre for Ageing Research.

The Centre for Human Security and Social Change works for inclusive social change. Staff work with a wide range of individuals, organisations and networks that are involved in social change with a particular, but not exclusive, focus on Indigenous Australia, the Pacific and Southeast Asia.

Find out more about the Centre.

The John Richards Centre for Ageing Research seeks to develop and implement programs of research that make a difference to the wellbeing of a diverse range of older people living in rural communities.

Find out more about the Centre.