Social, Political and Economic Change (SPEC)

Our research examines the dynamics driving change and continuity in human societies. Our methodological and disciplinary traditions generate new insights into how social power, production and distribution disrupts and transforms societies.


Nexus between competition and risk for financial institutions:  Informing regulatory and governance design

Lead Investigator: Doctor Chrismin Tang

Co-investigators: Professor Xiangkang Yin, Associate Professor Darren Henry and Doctor Jing Zhao

This project investigates the link between competition and risk for financial institutions as a function of the market, regulatory and institutional frameworks under which banks operate. Applying a panel regression framework to data for OECD and APEC countries, the cross-country and cross-time variations in the risk-competition nexus for financial institutions is examined. The cross-time variations, in particular, identify structural changes in the nexus motivated by Basel III, a global standard on bank supervision in response to the deficiencies in financial regulation revealed by the recent financial crisis. Alternative measures of bank risk are developed using Credit Default Swap (CDS) data to better accommodate fundamental economic factors and further adopt this measure to investigate the risk-competition nexus. Finally, co-dependence of banking sectors across countries using CDS spreads and potential contagion effects during periods of financial turmoil is examined. This project is expected to be of high relevance and interest to financial regulators and financial institutions.

Facing economic maturity: Australian farmers 1788-1914

Lead Investigator: Dr Charles Fahey (History, ASSC)

Co-investigators: Dr Dmytro Ostapenko (History, ASSC); Lionel Frost (Monash business school, Monash University)

This project explores the economic history of the Australian farmer, one fifth of the workforce in 1901, in the long nineteenth century, from 1788 to the eve of World War 1. Successful farming relied on cheap land, exportable commodities and horse-powered mechanisation to reduce labour costs. Our study builds on recent Victorian studies that challenge the common perception that farm families were a largely impoverished and exploited section of the Australian society. The focus of our study is the farm. We look new primary sources such as farm diaries and accounts, probate inventories and wills, rate books and parish statistical returns and we employ new statistical and geospatial data analysis techniques to large quantitative and qualitative data bases. We return to the farm gate to identify of how farms handled a multitude of problems and challenges: acquiring professional knowledge, accumulating capital, marketing produce and managing resources and the environment.

Labour Internationalism and social movements in the post-1945 world

CI: Prof Diane Kirkby (Emiritus)

Additional CI: Dr Dmytro Ostapenko (History, ASSC)

This project is a study of the meaning of labour internationalism during the Cold War period. It takes the organisation of the Word Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) as a means to assess Cold War politics in key international campaigns: disarmament, anti-racism, women's rights and environmental protection. The WFTU is an organisation not yet explored in any detail in Western academic literature and the prevailing perception is that the WFTU was a USSR-controlled body, largely aiming at projecting a positive image of communism outside the Eastern bloc. Social movements, however, united people across class-based ideological divisions and were instrumental in the emergence of a global civil society by the end of the twentieth century. The project aims to identify moments of confluence and conflict between the WFTU and social movements, to reconstruct the history of the WFTU as a player in the labour and other social movements, and to locate alliances and cooperation between organisations. We aim to begin this study with a symposium exploring the themes of internationalism in social and labour movements in the post-war decades.

China pivots west: ethnic contact & conflict along the new silk road

Chief Investigator: A/Prof James Leibold (Department of Politics, Media and Philosophy, School of Humanities and Social Sciences)

Co-Investigator: Dr Chen Yangbin (Department of Languages and Linguistics, School of Humanities and Social Sciences)

This project interrogates the tension (both physical and discursive) between interethnic contact and conflict along the eastern corridor of China's "Silk Road Economic Belt" – a rugged and remote hinterland comprising 1/4 of Chinese territory. It will assemble a multidisciplinary team of international and Australia-based experts to explore how elements of ethnic, religious, cultural, and ecological diversity complicate statist narratives and projects in China, while analysing their implications for human security in the world's largest nation-state. This RFA application seeks funding for the first phase of this project: an international symposium at La Trobe, which in turn will lead to the following outcomes: 1) an iTunes U digital master-class on the eastern corridor of the New Silk Road; 2) a series of SSCI journal special issues on specific sub-themes related to interethnic contact and conflict; and 3) a C1 or C2 research grant application to fund the second phase of this project.

Mapping the impact of sexual abuse and exploitation by interveners in peace operations

Chief Investigator: Dr Jasmine-Kim Westendorf (ASSC)

Additional CI Name(s):

Beth Eggleston, Director, Humanitarian Advisory Group.

Louise Searle, Director, Humanitarian Advisory Group

In the past 15 years, despite the adoption of UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, and the Secretary-General's Bulletin on Zero Tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) by peacekeepers, abuse by interveners remains prevalent in peace operations. This project will be the first global study to investigate the impact of SEA by peacekeepers, aid workers, private contractors and other civilians associated with peacebuilding operations on the capacity of the international community to fulfil its goals related to promoting security, stability and peacebuilding in post-conflict contexts. It will also research SEA by interveners during emergency response operations, which has not yet been studied. The project will conduct pilot case studies in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Timor-Leste, and will generate new knowledge that has the potential to inform policy and legal reform processes and training programs both in Australia and globally. The project adopts a mixed method approach including focus groups, interviews, archival research and round-table discussions, and will produce both academic and policy-oriented outputs.