Sustainability and Social Justice

Our research seeks to achieve social justice and sustainable societies by examining social, economic and environmental priorities in a local, national and global context.


A history of deer in Victoria, 1860s-2016: an exploration of the ties and tensions between conservation, game management and hunting cultures

Lead investigator: PhD student Melissa Lord (History and Archaeology)

Introduced deer species are an increasingly visible occupant of the Australian natural landscape. Victoria contains both the largest deer populations, and the most abundant deer game hunting opportunities. However these animals provoke highly divergent responses. Rural, remote and peri-urban areas today encounter several significant questions regarding the presence of deer within public conservation reserves and private freehold properties. Cumulative international evidence for environmental degradation and erosion of biodiversity provides arguments for legislative changes to the status of Victoria’s deer, particularly the heaviest and most successful transplant, the sub-tropical sambar. Yet the issue is clearly set within a prism of competing community interests, over a period much longer than the recent surge in deer media stories suggests. For over 150 years these charismatic mammals have inspired impassioned dislike, admiration and debate amongst hunters, landholders and scientists. This historical research will investigate how human responses have changed over time, how government departments have tried to control deer, and what influences have played into this intriguing matter.

Food sovereignty, urban agriculture, gender, and mobility in Vanuatu

Lead investigator: Dr John Taylor (School of Social Inquiry)

Co-investigators:  Dr Tarryn Phillips (School of Social Inquiry) and Dr Natalie Araujo (School of Social Inquiry)

In recent years and especially following TC Pam, which wreaked devastation on Vanuatu in 2015, several prominent public servants and international development practitioners have called for the greater promotion of urban agriculture. Recognising long-standing community practices, this is framed as part of kastom economies of resilience, as a response to climate change and population growth, as a means of maintaining indigenous knowledge practices, and as a pathway to health and social justice for marginalized urban dwellers This cross-disciplinary qualitative project will undertake an applied ethnographic examination of urban agricultural practices in Vanuatu to investigate the ways in which these practices facilitate or obstruct contemporary development concerns, including gender equity, human mobility, increasing urbanisation, health, and climate change responses. The study will address a need to connect rapidly proliferating development and policy literature, with the lived realities and experiences of those at whom those initiatives are directed.

The realisation of money:  Global markets, economic citizens and democratic politics

Lead investigator: Doctor George Vassilacopoulos

Co-investigators: Doctor Miriam Bankovsky, Doctor Carolyn D'Cruz, Doctor Toula Nicolacopoulos and Doctor Jasmine-Kim Westendorf

Money is a major preoccupation in the contemporary world. We ordinarily think of it in relation to the benefits it brings, securing the conditions of a life lived well and successfully. But the series of financial crises that have rocked Europe and elsewhere highlight the problem of systemically generated insecurity. This project examines the social significance of money in a globalised world. It adopts a cross-disciplinary approach to analyse fundamental questions: How does money come into being? Under what conditions can the use of money in market institutions be viewed as legitimate? What economic citizens does the global financing system produce? How do existing monetary forms shape our understandings of future possibilities and democratic politics? What other forms of money might better serve sustainable living? These theoretical and empirical investigations will contribute to understanding how ideas about the indispensability of contemporary monetary forms underpin the current concentrations of wealth and widespread insecurity.

A history of the deinstitutionalisation of people with intellectual disabilities in the Western world

Lead investigator: Professor Katie Holmes

Co-investigators: Professor Christine Bigby and Doctor David Henderson

The widespread closure of large institutions for people with intellectual disability in the Western world has proved to be one of the most radical and transformative intellectual disability policy initiatives of the Twentieth century. As a topic of study however, the history of deinstitutionalisation remains largely unexplored. This project will investigate the complex issues at the heart of the debates surrounding the deinstitutionalisation of people with intellectual disability. Specifically, it will focus on the responses of parent-led organisations to the closure of institutions across the state over the past 30 years and investigate the nature of their opposition and the strategies used to oppose deinstitutionalisation. It will also explore how the government and professionals driving the programme adapt and respond to such opposition. This study will broaden our understanding of the role that parents' organisations played in shaping deinstitutionalisation policy and highlight the extent to which these organisations advanced the social justice/human rights of their children.

The Melbourne Laneways Project: contested public spaces and sustainable urbanism

Lead investigator: Doctor Trevor Hogan (Social Sciences and Communications)

The Melbourne Laneways Project will assess and communicate the value of Melbourne's laneways as critical and dynamic cultural sites to the city's liveability. Melbourne's laneways are an exciting example of the transformation, contestation and urban dynamism found within cities.

The first phase will be a pilot study of the popular Hosier Lane, a small laneway opposite Federation Square said to be Melbourne's third largest tourist destination, a site of contestation between developers, planners, artists and residents. The project will develop links with local and international collaborators and seek external funding for the second phase.

The second phase, contingent on external funding, will broaden the study to answer the question of the role and future of Melbourne's laneways for the CBD's liveability and sustainability. International research networks will be utilised resulting in publications and collaborations that give it a comparative and contextualised footing.

Treatment-seeking practices and capacity-building for healthcare services in regional Fiji

Lead investigator: Doctor Tarryn Phillips (Social Sciences and Communications)

On the Fijian island of Ovalau, medical staff and the Board of Visitors at the local hospital have identified an increasing social problem. A high number of preventable health conditions and deaths from otherwise treatable conditions are caused by people neglecting to seek timely medical treatment from hospital staff. In this proposed project, the multidisciplinary research team will examine the relationship between treatment-seeking practices, access to healthcare and health outcomes on the island.

The project has two parts: a) a pilot project, which will collect initial data on the socio-cultural, political and economic reasons behind the delayed use of the hospital; and b) support for the development of an ARC Discovery grant application, which will examine medical practices in the wider region of Lomaiviti province. The outcomes will be both academic and policy-oriented, and the findings will be applicable to healthcare in developing contexts globally.

Education program to reduce violence against  women in Timor-Leste

Lead investigator: Professor Susan McDonald (School of Nursing and Midwifery)

Violence against women in any setting is unacceptable behaviour. For women in developing countries such as Timor-Leste, almost 40% (and in some districts up to 76% of) women experience physical and or sexual violence. Where gender inequality and disempowerment is heavily embedded in social custom, violence is allowed to be perpetuated with impunity and imposes serious physical, mental health and productivity impacts on women, families and communities (WHO,2005).The prevalence of violence against women is particularly elevated during pregnancy.

Midwives are in located throughout the community in hospitals, health centres and health posts across a wide geographic area in Timor-Leste and held in high regard by the community and other health professionals. Being able to work with colleagues at Univercidade Nacional Timor Lorosa'e to design a program that can be included as part of the midwifery degree program will ensure the next generation of health workers enter the community with better skills to work with women and families to reduce violence.

The aim of this scoping study is to work with key stakeholders and educators in Timor-Leste to develop, implement and evaluate an education program for health professionals designed to enhance their skills in recognition, reporting and support of women and families who experience violence.

The International Labour Organisation's history from 1919

Lead investigator: Professor Diane Kirkby (School of Humanities and Social Sciences)

This project will seed funding for application for ARC Linkage funding for a history of the International Labour Organisation that coincides with the centenary of the organisation. The interdisciplinary team of researchers will address the question of how the organisation's tripartite philosophy of managing the interests of workers, employers and governments was challenged by the flows of both labour and patterns of exploitation that transcended or evaded national borders.

Harmony: Achieving social justice for Indian domestic violence survivors

Lead Investigator: Professor Angela Taft (School of Nursing and Midwifery)

Preventing and reducing domestic violence (DV) is a national priority. Migrant women in Australia are particularly vulnerable to DV due to gender inequality, social isolation, unstable legal status and little knowledge of support. Responding to this challenge requires systematic, culturally appropriate strategies to enhance women's safety and that of their families. Indian born migrants are an emerging population.

Australia's health system benefits from bilingual Indian doctors. A UK GP model successfully increased referrals of DV survivors sixfold to support agencies. By working closely with Victoria's Indian communities, Harmony will develop culturally safe strategies for Indian GPs partnered with bilingual advocates to promote prevention and adapt the UK model to increase disclosure, support and referral among Indian families.

The study will pilot data for a large grant and generate globally new knowledge on the feasibility and effectiveness of culturally safe strategies to enhance the rights and safety of immigrant women experiencing DV.

Negotiating grief and trauma in the Coroners Court of Victoria

Lead investigator: Mr Marc Trabsky

Co-investigator: Professor Paula Baron

This project aims to explore and understand the experience of legal professionals working in the Victorian Coroners Court. The project is placed within the wider context of the lawyer well-being research.  This research evidences abnormally high levels of depression, substance abuse and suicide amongst the legal profession in Australia. To date, no research has been undertaken in regard to the well-being of legal professionals in the Coroners Court, despite what would appear to be a uniquely difficult and stressful work environment. This project thus aims to investigate the intimate, affective and relational aspects of working in the coronial jurisdiction. It questions how legal professionals who work in this jurisdiction negotiate their affective responses to grief and trauma, and maintain boundaries between their public roles and private lives.

Effects of genetic predispositions on cultural adaptation of international students

Lead investigator: Associate Professor Emiko Kashima

Co-investigators: Doctor Matthew Hale, Associate Professor Stephen Kent, Associate Professor Robert (John) and Doctor Danuta Loesch-Mdzewska Mitchell

This project seeks to understand the potential impacts of genetic predispositions on cultural adaptation of international students who study in Australia. Recent cultural neuroscience research has begun to shed new light on the genetic as well as cultural influences on human adaptation to their social environment, especially in terms of socio-cultural sensitivities. This project investigates the relevance of this knowledge in the domain of psychological acculturation – i.e., how individuals maintain their wellbeing while building social ties and learning new culture. Questions to be tackled include "Do genes that are expected to influence individuals' socio-cultural sensitivities influence the ways in which individuals adapt to life in Australia? Which genotypes have what implications and how strong are those influences? How do they relate to the development of social ties and personalities?" By addressing these questions, this project will advance the existing knowledge concerning psychological acculturation of international migrants in some significant ways.

Competition and cooperation: Comparisons of public and private school students

Lead investigator: Associate Professor Buly Cardak

The relative effectiveness of public versus private schooling has been widely studied over the past several decades, but past studies tend to focus on readily available outcome measures, such as test scores, dropout rates and wages. This project will focus on more fundamental drivers of individual success in life. It will be the first study that attempts to: (1) document whether students and graduates from different school sectors differ in their competitiveness, altruism, time patience, risk preferences, and reasoning ability; and (2) assess if differences can be interpreted as "causal" by using a range of statistical methods and several cohorts of students to isolate selection bias. The findings will not only draw attention to the roles of school types and family backgrounds in moulding individuals' cognitive and behavioural traits which past studies neglect, but will also inform educators and policy makers on potential school inputs that matter to these traits.

The role of the creative class in transforming rural towns

Lead investigator: Ms Melissa Kennedy

Co-investigator: Doctor Marco Amati

This PhD project seeks to add to the literature on the rural creative class, by firstly developing an index to scope the extent of rural creative towns in Victoria. Following this, three case studies of 'creative communities' will be undertaken in order to analyse the characteristics of the rural creative class and extrapolate how their networks, knowledge and creative activities are brought to bear on the transformation and regeneration of small towns.

CSR strategy and social risk management: Developing a process model

Lead investigator: Associate Professor Suzanne Young

Co-investigators: Professor Tim Marjoribanks, Professor Geoffrey Durden, Doctor Fiona Sutherland and Ms Swati Nagpal

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) 'is the responsibility of an organisation for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour that contributes to sustainable development, including the health and the welfare of society; takes into account the expectations of stakeholders; is in compliance with applicable law and consistent with international norms of behaviour; and is integrated throughout the organisation and practised in its relationships' (International Organization for Standardization (ISO)). CSR is a relatively new phenomenon in the business sector, with the potential to create significant additional business and social value for organisations who successfully manage its alignment and integration with existing corporate values and strategy. The aim of this project is to develop a new process-oriented model for CSR that can be implemented as a means of managing corporate social risk arising from the nature of their products such as tobacco, alcohol or gambling. The project will use ethnographic case studies of Australian-based organisations currently experiencing social risk.

Responding to environmental change: The threatened forager hypothesis

Lead investigator: Associate Professor Emiko Kashima

Co-investigator: Doctor Matthew Hale

Humans and animals alike need to respond adaptively to sudden and drastic environmental changes that take place in their surroundings. Awareness of sudden environmental changes however can trigger threat reactions, causing strong emotions and hindering effective actions. This project aims to clarify the psychological and neural bases of threat reactions, and how culture and genes influence those reactions. This project uniquely brings together the analyses of cultural influences, intrapersonal psychological processes, brain activities and human genetic influences within a single framework. It will show that cultural beliefs and narratives that remind people of human resilience can alter threat reactions and enhance adaptive responses, despite high environmental sensitivity that some individuals may show genetically. The project will contribute to the development of culture that fosters psychological resilience and high quality of life in the current and future generations.

Rural tourism: Heritage, identities and sustainability

Lead investigator: Associate Professor Warwick Frost

Co-investigators: Doctor Jennifer Laing, Doctor Susan Gillett, Ms Sarah Mayor Cox, Mr Paul Morris and Ms Melissa Kennedy

This study will identify critical success factors which must be addressed to strategically achieve rural and regional change in an Australian context. The focus will be on change related to tourism, cultural events and tourism-related agriculture and manufacturing (such as wine and artisanal and niche food production). This qualitative project will focus on three regions across Australia AND utilise the Critical Success Factors framework as a theoretical lens to understand the processes of successful rural development. These critical success factors will be identified through a series of semi-structured long interviews with key stakeholders involved in the processes of restructuring, diversification and innovation. The study will also identify people who take on the role of a 'champion' or 'change agent', leading and inspiring others to be involved in the processes of restructuring within a region or rural area. Critical success factors that have been identified will be analysed from both a business and social sciences perspective. Clearly the problem of restructuring for rural Australia is typically conceived in economic terms, particularly employment. However, it is also important to recognise and understand the social and community implications. Findings will be used to both better understand the processes of successful rural development and to assist regions, government agencies and community organisations in future development processes and strategies.

The language and literacy skills of adolescents in out-of-home care

Lead investigator: Professor Pamela Snow (LRHS / College of Science, Health & Engineering)

Co-investigator: Associate Professor Margarita Frederico (School of Allied Health, Human Services and Sport, College of Science, Health & Engineering)

Children and adolescents in out-of-home care who have experienced trauma from abuse and/or neglect have poor outcomes in all life domains in adulthood. Previous studies suggest that language and literacy difficulties may be over-represented in this population, though data are scarce. This interdisciplinary pilot study will entail speech-language pathology assessments of a small number of adolescents in out-of-home care and will identify the types of receptive and expressive oral language and literacy problems experienced by these children. Aboriginal young people will be included as they are over-represented in out-of-home-care statistics. We will ensure that assessment tools and approaches will be culturally appropriate. Findings will inform the development of a larger, representative descriptive study, and a language and literacy intervention protocol for the population.  The intervention protocol will take account of the impact of trauma on these children and the challenges associated with traditional speech pathology service delivery in such cases.

Shouting back: exploring street harassment victims' justice needs and justice responses

Lead investigator: Dr Bianca Fileborn, ARCSHS

This project explores street harassment victims' justice needs and their preferred justice responses. International research and anecdotal evidence collected through online activist sites have documented the pervasive and harmful nature of street harassment. Despite this, many forms of street harassment are not currently responded to in current Australian legislation, or through other informal means. This project seeks to address this gap by establishing street harassment victims' justice needs, and exploring the types of justice responses required to meet these needs. Given the dearth of research on street harassment in Australia, this research also seeks to explore participants' experiences of street harassment, and the ways in which these experiences are shaped or informed by demographic variables such as gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. Together, this can inform the production of nuanced policy, practice and legislative responses to street harassment developed from the starting point of victims' needs and experiences.

It's a lonely world out there: Deinstitutionalisation in Victoria

Lead investigator: Professor Katie Holmes (History, College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce)


  • Professor Christine Bigby, College of Science, Health and Engineering, School of Allied Health, Human Services and Sport
  • Dr David Henderson, College of Science, Health and Engineering, School of Allied Health, Human Services and Sport

The widespread closure of large institutions for people with intellectual disability in the western world has proved to be one of the most radical and transformative intellectual disability policy initiatives of the twentieth century. As a topic of study however, the history of deinstitutionalisation remains largely unexplored. This project will investigate the complex issues at the heart of the debates surrounding the deinstitutionalisation of people with intellectual disability. Specifically, it will focus on the responses of parent-led organisations to the closure of institutions across the state over the past 30 years and investigate the nature of their opposition and the strategies used to oppose deinstitutionalisation. It will also explore how the government and professionals driving the programme adapt and respond to such opposition. This study will broaden our understanding of the role that parents' organisations played in shaping deinstitutionalisation policy and highlight the extent to which these organisations advanced the social justice/human rights of their children.

Midwives' knowledge, attitudes and practices to gender-based violence in Timor-Leste

Lead investigator: Professor Angela Taft (School of Nursing & Midwifery and  Judith Lumley Centre)


  • Professor Sue McDonald, School of Nursing & Midwifery, and  Judith Lumley Centre
  • Dr Kayli Wild (Institute for Human Security and Social Change)

Gender-based violence (GBV) is one of the most pervasive and damaging social issues of our time. The need to address violence against women has been recognized by all leading international funding agencies (WHO, UN, World Bank). It is a major component of Australia's overseas aid in the region, with the Australian Government investing $20 million from 2014-2017 to address the effects of violence against women in Timor-Leste. The health sector is a critical partner in prevention, early intervention and leading change in community attitudes but, to date, no research has included the perspectives of health providers in Timor-Leste. This qualitative and participatory study of midwives' knowledge and needs in responding to GBV will provide the baseline research necessary for informing sustainable interventions that have the most chance of supporting midwives to respond effectively and to be agents of change in their communities.

Global citizenship and social justice: Exploring higher education discourse

CI: Dr Tracy Fortune Allied Health /SHE

CI 2: Dr Dell Horey School/College, affiliation: Public Health/SHE

CI 3 A/Pro Emiko Kashima; School/College, affiliation: Psychology &/SHE

CI 4: Toula Nicolacopoulos; School/College, affiliation: HUSS/ASSC

CI 5: A/Pro Bernice Mathisen; School/College, affiliation: Rural Health/SHE

Higher education plays a critical role in producing the leaders of society, and has a vital role in preparing graduates with knowledge, abilities and willingness to address social injustice. Many higher education institutions within and beyond Australia, aim to prepare graduates who are global citizens, capable of contributing to the common good, however global citizenship is a highly contested concept, and consensus regarding how it is defined is limited. The researchers wish to understand how graduates can be prepared to address social injustice, and how higher educational policies and practices related to global citizenship could enable this. Significant conceptual work is required. Our research will: systematically review what is known about global citizenship, analyse current discourse on global citizenship to identify where and how social justice is positioned within the university context, and undertake a Delphi study with higher education experts to obtain consensus-based definitions and measurements for global citizenship.

Creating safer communities through youth-based sport programs

Lead Chief Investigator (CI): Emma Sherry

School/College, affiliation: La Trobe Business School (Centre for Sport and Social Impact), ASSC

Additional CI Name(s): Nico Schulenkorf, University of Technology Sydney, Sport Management

Additional CI Name(s): Emma-Louise Seal

School/College, affiliation: La Trobe Business School (Centre for Sport Social Impact), ASSC

This project will explore the use of sport as tool for preventing violent extremism. The strength of sport as a tool for non-sport outcomes lies largely in its ability to draw in people who are not necessarily interested in broader social or political objectives. Sport-based programs possess unique capacity to engage young people - who are otherwise experimenting with radical ideologies that promote violence - in a socially comfortable, safe and stimulating environment. This project aims to better define how the study and practice of sport for development applies to radicalisation prevention for the purpose of leveraging the impact of sport-based programs and initiatives, and informing more effective monitoring and evaluation systems by investigating whether sport-based activities can reduce radicalisation in the community, and, importantly, how their impact can be measured.

Local government discourses on active citizenship and ageing in rural communities

CI: Dr Rachel Winterton ; John Richards Initiative, College of Science, Health and Engineering

This project will identify how older people's rights and responsibilities within rural spaces are conceptualised within local government strategic plans for ageing. A critical discourse analysis (CDA) of Victorian rural councils' positive ageing plans will be undertaken, to identify what local governments expect older adults to contribute to their rural communities. Significantly, this analysis will also explore what policy dictates that older adults can expect in return, from the perspective of access to local government services and support. As well as providing a critical perspective on the implications of current policy discourses for diverse older adults and rural community sustainability, this work will provide both a rationale and a sampling strategy to inform an ARC Discovery and/or Linkage proposal.

Families at work: sustainable strategies to support Australian working parents

Lead Chief Investigator (CI): Dr Amanda R Cooklin. School/College, affiliation: Judith Lumley Centre (JLC), College of Science, Health and Engineering (SHE)

Additional CI Name(s): Professor Jan Nicholson. School/College, affiliation: Judith Lumley Centre, College of SHE

Additional CI Name(s): Dr Naomi Hackworth. School/College, affiliation: Judith Lumley Centre, College of SHE

Additional CI Name(s): Associate Professor Angela Martin. School/College, affiliation: School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania

Additional CI Name(s): Associate Professor Lyndall Strazdins. School/College, affiliation: National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Aust. National University

Additional CI Name(s): Dr Rebecca Giallo. School/College, affiliation: Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

Additional CI Name(s): Dr Nerida Joss. School/College, affiliation: Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne

A fundamental social transformation in recent decades is the increased participation of mothers in employment. Most families are dual-earner households, where both mothers and fathers face challenges in meeting the dual demands of parenthood and employment. Thirty per cent of parents report high levels of conflict between work and family roles. Work-family conflict has adverse effects on parents' mental and physical health and parenting stress, and translates into poorer socio-emotional development for their children.

This innovative pilot research will bring together intervention expertise on parenting, organizational management and workplace health promotion to design new approaches for supporting the health and wellbeing of parents who are also employees, in the early years of parenting. We address a priority goal of the Australian Human Rights Commission by seeking sustainable ways that workplaces can support parents, promoting gender equity.