• Human-environment interactions over space and time
  • Cultures of nature
  • Cultural dimensions of environmental and sustainability issues
  • Responding to climate change and the Anthropocene
  • People and plants

Central to my contributions is the concept – and challenge – of coming to terms with landscapes that have been peopled for many thousands of years. Paradoxically, although it is now widely understood that human influences pervade all Earth surface processes, ideals of pristine past landscapes without people continue to dominate environmental management. Recent empirical contexts of my own research and that of my students include households, suburbs, cities, farms, national parks and Indigenous land. By using Australian evidence in international comparative work I have helped bring to light the cultural specificity of many Anglo-American conceptual frameworks. In collaboration with colleagues I am now applying cultural research methods and approaches to the pressing questions of sustainability and climate change through various research projects funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC).


Current Research Projects

Social implications of market-based policy instruments for carbon and water
(ARC Discovery Project 2019-21 with Sue Jackson, Lisa Palmer, Morgan Robertson, Noel Castree and Marie Stenseke)

This project aims to analyse socio-cultural benefits and risks in the two significant environmental markets of carbon and water across three sites in Australia and Timor-Leste. Research into market-based policies to manage significant environmental issues is yet to fully consider socio-cultural dimensions. This project intends to document local community producers, distant investor and consumer perspectives, and incorporate these perspectives into methods for improving the operation and impact of these expanding markets. By undertaking the first systematic comparison across resources and sites, the project expects to fill a key gap in environmental scholarship and contribute to international strategies to improve social and environmental outcomes in market-based environmental policy.


Sustainability and climate change adaptation: unlocking the potential of ethnic diversity
(ARC Discovery Project 2014-16 with Natascha Klocker, Olivia Dun, Gordon Waitt, Heather Goodall)

This project explores diverse ways of understanding and engaging with Australian environments. It is based on an understanding that Indigenous Australians, Anglo-European Australians, and recent migrants from across the globe, all have unique and valuable environmental understandings and capacities. We are interested in better understanding how these diverse sets of knowledge, and unique skills, shape people’s interactions with urban, peri-urban, rural and regional Australian environments. This includes asking the following questions: • How do diverse cultural groups understand and value nature? • How does cultural diversity shape agricultural practices? • How do diverse cultural groups understand and respond to debates over environmental sustainability and climate change?


Cultural environmental research: the missing link in multidisciplinary approaches to sustainability
(ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship 2009-14)

This umbrella project of my ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship brought together people with a range of expertise to make conceptual, methodological and practical contributions to the field of cultural environmental research. The research included conceptual research into relationships between culture and nature, and empirical research investigating how diverse cultures interact with various ‘natural’ and built environments. The former is summarised in my book Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene: Re-conceptualising human-nature relations. Examples of the latter include:


Making Less Space for Carbon: Cultural Research for Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation
(ARC Discovery Project 2009-12 with Gordon Waitt, Chris Gibson, Nick Gill and Carol Farbotko)

This project aimed to build adaptive capacity for climate change mitigation and adaptation, using cultural research. We focused on the Illawarra, a region central to Australia’s carbon economy. We undertook a baseline study of current knowledge of climate change and tracked community response over a period of five years from 2009 to 2013. We identified social and cultural resources for, and constraints to, more environmentally sustainable behaviours, with an aim to contribute to policy solutions. The project provides a basis for regional and international comparisons.

This project was summarised in our Connected Household report, where full referencing to journal articles can also be found. For overviews see Gibson et al. 2013 Household Sustainability: Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday Life and Head et al. 2016 A meta-ethnography to synthesise household cultural research for climate change responseLocal Environment 21(12): 1467-1481.