Professor Helen

Professor Helen Lee

College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce

Humanities and Social Sciences

Department of Social Inquiry

SS 424, Melbourne (Bundoora)


PhD (ANU).



Membership of professional associations

The American Anthropological Association, Tonga Research Association, and a Fellow of both the Australian Anthropological Society (AAS) and the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania (ASAO) . President of AAS 2013. Chair of ASAO 2015

Area of study


Brief profile

My research has focused on the people of Tonga in the South Pacific and Tongans who have migrated and settled in countries such as Australia. The main focus of my research has been the question of cultural identity and belonging, especially the ways in which identity is formed by children and young people. I have also studied family relationships both in Tonga and in the Tongan populations overseas, and the networks of transnational ties between those overseas Tongans and the ‘homeland’ in the Pacific. I teach an introductory anthropology subject to first year students, and subjects on Kinship, Gender and Marriage, and Childhood, Youth and Culture, to later year students.

Research interests


- Migration, ethnicity, transnationalism

Social and Cultural Anthropology

- Childhood and youth

- Tonga, the South Pacific

Social Studies in Science and Technology

- Cyberculture

Teaching units

  • ANT1CAG – Culture and Globalisation: Introduction to Anthropology.
  • ANT2CAC – Childhood, Youth and Culture.
  • ANT3KAM – Kinship, Gender and Marriage.


Work in Tonga for the Pacific Leadership Program

Recent publications

Journal Articles (since 2000)

  • Nishitani, M and H. Lee (2017) ‘Invisible Islanders? Precarious work and Pacific Islander settlers in rural Australia’ Pacific Studies, 40: 3.
  • Mallman, M. and H. Lee (2017) ‘Isolated learners: young mature age students, university culture, and desire for academic sociality’ International Journal of Lifelong Education, 36(5): 512-25. (Published online 13 March 2017)
  • Lee, H. (2017) ‘CEDAW smokescreens: Gender politics in contemporary Tonga’, The Contemporary Pacific, 29(1): 66-90.
  • Mallman, M. and H. Lee (2017) ‘Isolated learners: young mature age students, university culture, and desire for academic sociality’ International Journal of Lifelong Education, 37(5): 684-701 (Published online 13 March 2017).  
  • Lee, H. (2016) ‘”I was forced here”: Perceptions of agency in second generation “return” migration to Tonga’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 42(15): 2564-2579. 
  • Mallman, M. and H. Lee (2014) ‘Stigmatized learners: mature-age students negotiating university culture’ British Journal of Sociology of Education early release online 24 November.
  • Lee, H. (2011) ‘Rethinking transnationalism through the second generation’, The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 22 (3).
  • Siokou, C., D. Moore and H. Lee (2010) ‘“Muzzas” and “Old Skool Ravers”: Ethnicity, drugs and the changing face of Melbourne’s dance party/club scene’, Health Sociology Review, 19(2): 192-204.
  • Lee, H. (2007) 'Transforming transnationalism: second generation Tongans overseas’, Asia Pacific Migration Journal, Vol.16, No.2: 157-178 (pdf - 59 KB).
  • Lee, H. (2004) '"Second generation" Tongan transnationalism: hope for the future?' Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 45(2): 235-254 (pdf - 166 KB).
  • Morton, H. (2001) '"I" is for Identity: What’s in a Name?' Special Issue of Social Analysis, 45(1): 67-80.
  • Morton, H. (2001) 'Introduction: Computer-Mediated Communication and Australian Anthropology and Sociology'. Special Issue of Social Analysis, 45(1): 3-11. [Special Issue edited by H. Morton]

Book Chapters (since 2000)

  • Lee, H. (2017) ‘Overseas born youth in Tongan high schools: learning the hard life’ in H. Lee and J. Taylor, eds., Mobilities of return: Pacific perspectives, pp. 75-98. Canberra: ANU Press.
  • Lee, H. (2016) ‘The Friendly Islands? Tonga’s ambivalent relationship with tourism’ in J. Taylor and K. Alexeyeff, eds. Touring Pacific cultures: mobility, engagement and value, Canberra: ANU Press.
  • Lee, H. (2012) ‘Pacific Islands’ in P. Beilharz and T. Hogan, eds. Sociology:  Antipodean approaches, second edition, pp.122-126. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  • Lee, H. (2011) ‘Missing persons: children in the history of Tonga’ in T. Steen and N. Drecher (eds) Tonga: Land, sea and People, pp.54-67. Nuku’alofa: Vava’u Press.
  • Lee, H. (2009) 'Pacific Migration and Transnationalism: Historical Perspectives', in H. Lee and S.T. Francis (eds) Migration and Transnationalism: Pacific Perspectives, ANU E Press, Canberra, pp.7-41.
  • Lee, H. (2009) ‘The Ambivalence of Return: Second Generation Tongan Returnees’, in D. Conway and R. Potter (eds) Return of Migration of the the Next Generations’: transitional mobility in the twenty-first century, Aldershot: Ashgate, Surrey, pp.41-58.
  • Lee, H. (2009) 'Introduction', in H. Lee and S.T. Francis (eds) Migration and Transnationalism: Pacific Perspectives, ANU E Press, Canberra, pp.1-6.
  • Lee, H. (2008) 'Second Generation Transnationalism', in H. Lee (ed.) Ties to the Homeland: Second Generation Transnationalism, UK, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp.1-32.
  • Lee, H. (2007) 'Generational Change: the children of Tongan migrants and their ties to the homeland', in E. Wood-Ellem (ed.) Tonga and the Tongans: Heritage and identity, Tonga Research Association, Melbourne, pp.203-217.
  • Lee, H. (2006) ‘“Tonga only wants our money”: the children of Tongan migrants’ in S. Firth (ed.) Globalisation, governance and the Pacific Islands, forthcoming with Pandanus Press.
  • Lee, H.(2006) ‘Pacific Islands’, in 'P. Beilharz and T. Hogan (eds) Sociology: place, time and division, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, pp.122-126.
  • Lee, H. (2006) 'Debating language and identity online: Tongans on the net', in K. Landzelius (ed.) Native on the net: indigenous and diasporic peoples in the virtual age, Routledge, London, pp.257-281.
  • Lee, H. (2004) 'All Tongans are connected: Tongan transnationalism', in V. Lockwood (ed.) Globalization and culture change in the Pacific Islands, Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, NJ, 133-148.
  • Morton, H. (2002) 'From ma'uli to motivator: transformations in reproductive health care in Tonga', in Vicki Lukere & Margaret Jolly (eds) Birthing in the Pacific: Beyond tradition and Modernity?, University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, Hawai), 31-55.
  • Morton, H. (2002) 'Creating their Own Culture: Diasporic Tongans', in P. Spickard, J. Rondilla and D. Hippolite Wright (eds) Pacific Diaspora: Island Peoples in the United States and across the Pacific, University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu, 135-149. [Reprinted from The Contemporary Pacific 10(1):1-30, 1998]
  • Morton, H. (2001) 'Remembering freedom and the freedom to remember: Tongan independence', in Jeannette Mageo (ed.) Cultural Memory: Reconfiguring History and Identity in the Postcolonial Pacific, University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu, 37-57.
  • Grimshaw, P. and H. Morton (2000) 'Theorizing Maori women’s lives: Paradoxes of the colonial male gaze', in R. Borofsky (ed.) Remembrance of Pacific Past, University of Hawai`i Press, Honolulu, 269-286.


  • Jolly, M., H. Lee, K.Lepani, A. Naupa and M. Rooney (2015) Falling through the net? Gender and social protection in the Pacific. Discussion paper for Progress of the World's Women 2015, UN Women.
  • Lee, H. (2015) ‘The Lucky Ones’? Overseas born Tongan youth in Tongan high schools. Report on research funded by the Australian Research Council and approved by Tonga’s Ministry of Education and Training. Presented to Tongan Government Parliamentary Committee for Social Services June 2015. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.2263.440

Older publications

Book chapters: before 2000

1999  Morton, H. ‘Islanders in space: Tongans online’ in J. Connell and R. King (eds) Small worlds, global lives: Islands and migration, pp.235-253. London: Pinter.

1998  Morton, H. ‘How Tongan is a Tongan? Cultural authenticity revisited’, in D. Scarr, N. Gunson and J. Terrell (eds) Echoes of Pacific War, pp.149-166. Papers from the 7th Tongan History Association Conference, Canberra, January 1997. Canberra: Target Oceania.

1995  Morton, H. ‘My "chastity belt": Avoiding seduction in Tonga’, in D. Kulick and M. Willson, (eds) Taboo: Sex, identity and erotic subjectivity in anthropological fieldwork, pp.168-185. London: Routledge.

1995  Patricia Grimshaw and H. Morton. ‘Paradoxes of the colonial male gaze: European men and Maori women’,  in Klaus Neumann, Emma Greenwood and Andrew Sartori (eds) Papers from the Work in Flux Symposium, pp.144-158. Melbourne: Melbourne University History Department.

Journal articles: before 2000

1998    Morton, H. ‘Creating their own culture: Diasporic Tongans’, The Contemporary Pacific 10 (1): 1-30. 

1995    Kavapalu, H. ‘Power and personhood in Tonga’, in John Morton and Martha Macintyre (eds) Persons, bodies, selves, emotions. Special issue of Social Analysis 37: 15-28.

1993  Kavapalu, H. ‘Dealing with the dark side in the ethnography of childhood: Child punishment in Tonga’.  Oceania 63, 4:313-329.

1988    Kavapalu, H. ‘The impact of colonialism on women's lives in Tonga between the 1830s and 1940s’, Pacific Island Focus 1, 1:90‑104. [Awarded J.W Davidson Prize: see Awards/Prizes.]





Research projects

  • My current research is on Pacific Islanders in regional Victoria, looking at their social and economic situation and wellbeing. Funded 2015-18: Australian Research Council Linkage Grant and 2014-18: La Trobe University grant through the Research Focus Area Transforming Human Societies. Partner Investigator is Mr Dean Wickham of the Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council, which is a Partner Organisation as is the Mallee Sports Assembly.
  • My recent research focuses on overseas born Tongan youth who spend time attending high school in Tonga, whether by choice or because their parents have sent them due to concerns about their behaviour. Funded 2012-14, Australian Research Council Discovery Project.
  • My earlier research includes a study of the second generation of Tongans living overseas and their transnational ties with the islands of Tonga. The project focused particularly on whether these overseas born Tongans send remittances to Tonga. Funded 2005-7, Australian Research Council Discovery Project.
  • I am also interested in Higher Education research and in 2009 I was the Faculty Teaching and Learning Scholar in a project funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) Leadership for Excellence in Learning and Teaching Program Grant. The project, ‘Sustaining distributive leadership in learning and teaching’, was jointly developed by La Trobe and Flinders Universities and also involved scholars from James Cook and Canberra Universities. I am currently studying 'University Culture' as understood by first year anthropology students, funded by La Trobe's Internal Research Grant Scheme (IRGS).