Call for applications: Fully-funded PhD opportunity at UWA

Automation and Creative Labour 

Deadline for Expression of Interest: 25 May 2021

 The University of Western Australia is pleased to invite applications for a full PhD studentship, awarded under the ARC’s Discovery Project scheme to the project ‘A Cultural and Intellectual History of Automated Labour’, CIs Sarah Collins (UWA), Ionat Zurr (UWA), Oron Catts (UWA), and Elizabeth Stephens (UQ) –

The project examines the history of automated labour through the lens of aesthetics. It aims to: 

  • map key changes in how automated labour has been depicted in literature, music, fine art and the biological arts, and to explore the interaction between these shifting artistic representations and contemporaneous debates about labour automation in economic, scientific and philosophical texts, as well as in newspapers, government policy and in personal accounts.
  • analyse how perceptions and experiences of labour automation have been shaped by aesthetic categories. This will involve tracing the parallel shifts in concepts that are significant to both art and labour, such as ‘value’, ‘judgement’, ‘creativity’, ‘production’ and ‘consumption’.
  • explore historical and contemporary practices of exhibiting technologies of labour automation for public spectacle, as well as artistic practices that incorporate automated technologies or processes. We will analyse how these curatorial and artistic practices partake in changing attitudes toward agency and toward human interactions with non-human entities – including both mechanised and synthetically-created biological entities – involved in the automation of artistic labour.

The dissertation may focus an historical topic, looking at the interrelation between technologies and practices of automation in labour and art of the past. Or it may focus on the impact of a recent technology of automation or AI on artistic labour today. 

We encourage particularly topics that include consideration of practices or ideas related to the Global South or the Australian context, or topics that engage with either the creative sector or the galleries, archives and museums sector. But all topics and candidates will be considered.

The PhD project will be jointly supervised by Sarah Collins and Ionat Zurr (UWA). The award will cover the standard ARC grant towards living expenses for three years, plus a top-up from UWA, totalling $AUD 30,000 per year. This studentship will also give access to the standard UWA schemes to support some travel/research expenses and equipment. 

For informal enquiries about the scope and details of the project, applicants are encouraged to contact Associate Professor Sarah Collins ( The closing deadline for Expressions of Interest is 25thMay,through this portal:

Petition: A charter to guide Ministerial assessment of Australian Research Council recommendations

The Australian education minister has the power to veto Australian Research Council (ARC) recommendations to award research funding. These recommendations are the result of multiple peer reviews and expert assessment.

However, in exercising ministerial discretion, the education minister does not have to abide by any stated code of conduct or adhere to guiding principles. The last two grants that were approved for funding by the ARC but ‘held’ by Alan Tudge were on 1) transforming educational inequality and 2) better understanding humanitarian aid crises. Extensive ARC assessments already deemed these projects as being in the national interest.

The taxpayers of Australia deserve to have an education minister who at least abides by a publicly approved code of conduct when exercising ‘ministerial discretion’ in these situations. Sign to call for a ministerial code of conduct for research approval that can hold our education minister to account.

To sign the petition, please click here.

Call for Mentors for the CSAA Mentoring Scheme 2021

After a hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic, the CSAA Mentoring Scheme is back in action for 2021.

The Mentoring Scheme is designed to provide professional guidance and support to CSAA members who are early career academics, independent scholars and in non-continuing positions or regional locations. Applicants should already have their PhD, although if you have submitted and are awaiting results, you may also apply.

At this stage, we are asking for established scholars to volunteer as mentors. It would be great to see mid-career scholars sign up, as well as more senior members. As anyone who has mentored or been mentored will know, it can be a very rewarding experience that can lead to enduring friendships. It does involve a time commitment, however, which would typically be 4-6 online meetings over the remainder of 2021.This year, we will be supplementing one-on-one meetings between mentors and mentees with some group sessions for the mentees to share experiences, ask questions and get to know one another. Those will be entirely optional for mentors.

To apply, send an email to Michael Richardson via with a couple of words about the kind of mentoring you’d feel best equipped to do (publishing, grants, teaching, job applications, etc). Please note, if you volunteered to mentor in 2019, Michael will be in touch directly to see if you still want to stay on the roster.

At our last call for mentors in 2019, the vast majority of initial volunteers were women. And, as many members would know intimately, women often take up the bulk of mentoring responsibilities in their work contexts too. So in making this call, I would like to emphasise two things:First, it would be excellent to see more men put their hands up to mentor. Second, if you know that you already do a lot of this work, please don’t feel obliged to put yourself forward now.

With many talented and thoughtful scholars in our midst, I’ve no doubt that we can put together a terrific group of mentors that captures the richness and breadth of cultural studies and cognate scholarship in Australasia that is also more equitable in its distribution of labour.

Stay tuned for another call for mentees in the next couple of weeks.

Queering Our Worlds: A Tribute to Mark McLelland

Thursday, February 25, 2021
7:00-8:30pm Eastern Time

Co-sponsored by Japanese Studies Association of Australia
Consulting organizers: Vera Mackie and James Welker

Mark McLelland (1966-2020) was a pioneering scholar, whose work served as an inspiration to so many people in various fields—Japan Studies, Queer Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Cyberculture Studies, and more. This memorial roundtable captures some of that richness. Speakers come from a broad roster of scholars to share their reflections on Mark’s contribution to their own work and to the field. James Welker and Vera Mackie have helped organize the roundtable and its speakers to encompass the richness of Mark’s legacy. Mark will certainly be missed, but this roundtable reflects some part of the community of scholars that he and his work created. His inspiration lives through the multiplicity of voices in this roundtable and beyond.

For further information, and to register, please click here.

Rob Cover: ‘Cultural studies, the strategy of the teaching/research nexus and professional engagement: Establishing a career in Cultural Studies (Tips, tactics and track records)’

The following is a written-up version of Professor Rob Cover’s keynote speech at the CSAA Prefix 2020, hosted by Edith Cowan University in December.

Academic careers in Cultural Studies have become even more difficult to forge in an era marked by the demise of Cultural Studies departments or disciplinary clusters and—in Australia—two decades of vitriolic attacks on the value of humanities and social sciences research and education from governments, some university executives and opinionated members of the public. Ongoing casualisation of the academic workforce and the perennial persistence of precarious labour in universities add to the issues that complexify the traditional trajectories for academic careers.

The present situation has exacerbated the longer-term problem: only a relatively small percentage of people who undertake a doctorate and who desire to work permanently in academia do so straight away. The situation, however, is not a simple binary as if some Cultural Studies graduates have a clear pathway into research while others are rejected and must find something else to do with life. 

Common wisdom given regularly to postgraduates and recently-completed PhD candidates is that a continuing academic appointment results from publishing (a lot) and winning prestigious grants (especially DECRAs and internally-funded postdoctoral awards).  While a good number of Q1 journal articles and a prestigious award that pays a salary are very helpful in the present climate, they are only one part of the picture and not an exclusive pathway. 

Over the past decade I have spoken to people who, 2-3 years out from a PhD and working in industry or government, have felt their long-desired academic career is now out of reach.  Some have imagined that two years without an academic post means a permanent barrier to academic employment. Not true.

At the same time, I have regularly heard postgraduates and early-career researchers state that in order to best positioned for continuing academic roles, they are concentrating exclusively on research and are not interest in any part-time teaching work. The view is that not only is research more desirable (as if teaching ought to be depicted as undesirable), but that unless the teaching is about their research it is a distraction that will reduce the chance of future academic success. Some have turned down teaching opportunities for that reason, while others have found work in alternative sectors and taken that as a sign to give up on academia altogether.  In most of these cases, this absolutist thinking has been detrimental and meant good people with a great starting trajectory have been lost to academia and Cultural Studies. 

An alternative is found in more fluid thinking about what an academic career should look like in the second decade of the twenty-first century, and the fluid, mutually-engaged relationship between research and other forms of work. 

Professional job and university careers are not mutually-exclusive: Amorphous bounds and academic identities

My own trajectory is a little strange, but also instructive.  After a PhD in Cultural Studies at Monash University, I found my first continuing academic role in Aotearoa New Zealand in the closely-related field of Media Studies. While an important learning experience, I left this role (and academia) after three years. Partly, my partner and I wanted to return to Australia where moving back would benefit his own career, even if it disrupted mine (equitable relationships have ethical obligations of mutuality, of course, and the geography of career trajectories is often one part of that).  At the same time, however, I had become concerned that my university was recruiting students to study Media by advertising that our expert staff would shepherd them directly into professional media careers—while in fact very few of the teaching staff had held substantial roles ourselves in key media areas (and my few years of freelance journalism between Honours and PhD degrees didn’t quite cut it). How were we to make a legitimate link between the analysis of media cultures and its application in a genuine media setting? The possibility of adding an element of further frame of legitimacy to my academic work (and self-identity as an academic) was attractive.

My partner and I moved, then, to Brisbane with the view that I would work for a few years professionally and gain experience that might benefit my research, give me opportunities to engage, and help develop conceptual links between media theory and professional practice that could come back into the classroom. 

It was by a combination of fate, fortune, stumbling backward into roles and a few false starts that I gained a few years’ experience as a communication strategist, a planning officer and a policy development lead with the Queensland Government. I was lucky to have been hired, on the basis of a PhD, for a role for which I was actually out of my depth and would need to learn to do very quickly through researching it and hurriedly connecting with others.  Fortunately, some of departments I worked with were related to areas of my research interests (minorities, social welfare, youth, community advocacy) so I could draw on some existing knowledge, but on the whole this meant learning a new vocabulary and a couple of new dialects–public service speak and policy language. 

The career benefits were, in retrospect, enormous and extremely valuable:

  • gaining a sense of how academic research converts into policy and practice;
  • understanding contemporary approaches to strategic communication;
  • learning about how the public, policy-makers, politicians, key sector workers, etc., and what ways of framing cultural research were palatable to non-academics and meaningful for ‘end users’;
  • understanding how a professional office environment and professional networks actually operate (rather than relying on stereotypes and myths I’d picked up from friends and, more often, from TV). 
  • having—at last—material that could help explain workplace realities, practices, frameworks and routines to eager media and communication students. 

There were hard yards to be walked: trying to draw conceptual links and trying to maintain some semblance of academic activity. When people suggest that a full-time job is only about eight hours a day, leaving at least another eight hours free (and weekends) to be part-time academic they’re bullshitting. The reality is more like trying to find 2-3 hours on a Sunday (if it’s raining) and enough motivation to keep up with the field, write a little, and try to maintain a self-identity as an academic. 

It would be a lie to claim that I comfortably imagined a return to university working life. Rather, the different temporalities of professional working life, the attraction of what I was doing, and the re-configured performativity of the ‘career co-ordinate’ of identity that comes with the fracturing of selfhood leaving the university sector was troubling and confusing, and there were daily doubts about whether I was truly still an academic (or what that even meant). When the time came to return to university work, applying for jobs was neither easy nor immediately successful. Indeed, success came when I presented a subjectivity marked by performing ‘professional with academic experience’ rather than ‘academic with professional knowledge’. And, even still, a non-normative trajectory obliges a very careful theatrics of self-presentation (in job interviews, at least). 

There are a few helpful ways to think about a professional role if that is how one is earning a living while desiring to be a Cultural Studies researcher in continuing academic employment:

  1. Retaining connectivity with academia—while it’s not possible to be working full-time professionally and academically, there are a few ways to retain the kinds of connections that allow self-identity as an academic to persist.  A few hours a week reading and writing is vital.  Offer (widely) to take some later afternoon or evening tutes, or classes on days off. A half-day research assistant role. Request an honorary fellowship and library access (beg if you must). Give the occasional seminar and attend one conference a year (e.g., CSAA). Some or all of these activities are helpful for keeping one’s hand in academia, rather than seeing the world of Cultural Studies research and teaching as something from which one is temporarily ‘cut off’.
  2. Utilise the professional role—find ways to see it not as an alternative job but as a period of participatory fieldwork.  It’s a long-term cultural investigation and critique of a workplace, its structure, mechanisms, socialities, practices of policy development, etc.  Take notes and use those Cultural Studies and critical theory skills both to make sense of it and to analyse it.  Let it shape research interests and make the learnings useful as things to pass on to future students. 
  3. Keep teaching in mind—thinking daily about how professional routines work and what I wished I had learned beforehand, and how that might be communicated to future students.

While there are no guarantees about anything in the precarious university sector, the core to surviving as an academic is to embrace the fluid complexities of a subjectivity that allows one to say “yes, I am an academic” and “yes, I am a professional policy wonk” and “yes, I am a public servant” all in the same breath. While there are many fools who want to draw discrete insider-outsider boundaries around the university, the history of academia is that those bounds are amorphous—a careful, Cultural Studies attention to that amorphicity can help forge the kind of subjectivity that can successfully ride it.

The value of teaching to cultural research: Dynamic tensions

People who see the labour of teaching as diametrically opposed to—or a disruption of—research activity can fuck off. To start with, there is an ethical obligation for institutions that are funded to conduct research to also teach the next generation of scholars, professionals and interested community members. Taking up that ethic as a personal responsibility early in one’s career is helpful, although it does mean finding balance and finding ways to draw together the sometimes distinct activities of researching and teaching. It is almost impossible in the 2020s for a person to start out in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and to expect a research-only trajectory made up of a DECRA, a Future Fellowship and a prestigious research-only role for life. Being prepared to teach and building up a profile of teaching is a valuable CV entry. 

One of the problems with the discursive tension between research and teaching is how contemporary universities have framed a research-teaching nexus: that active research informs and enhances the delivery of teaching. This conceptualisation of the relationship, while very true, misses the opportunity to consider the reverse: that teaching can and should inform, lead, contribute to and shape research

Teaching is always beneficial to the practice of research. One reason is that it allows us to rehearse key concepts in the field which are too easily forgotten when the act of researching becomes specific and specialised. Returning to Raymond Williams, EP Thompson, Richard Hoggart and Stuart Hall is not something we might do when writing an article (nor should we cite ‘founding fathers’ uncritically or without attention to the privilege that allows their historical selection as ‘founding fathers’), but teaching this work has enormous value in reminding us of core Cultural Studies principles (and how they are historically located) that can further help shape and deepen our critical thinking about the research topic at hand. 

Secondly, the practice of explaining a difficult concept to an undergraduate audience—whether in writing, speech, a workshop or a handout—is always helpful in honing the ever-necessary skill of communicating and justifying our research to peers, communities, end-users, policy-makers and colleagues. In other words, it is never a distraction or disruption to something figured as the ‘real work’ of Cultural Studies as if that is only ever research.

What happens, then, when we can’t teaching Cultural Studies topics but are loaded down with teaching nevertheless?  The fact that most of us rarely have an opportunity to choose the exact topics we wish to teach, or to ensure they are directly aligned to our current research interests is a reality for most academic staff. This is particularly marked in Cultural Studies, where either reduced courses, the minimisation of electives or the embedding of Cultural Studies within other Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences courses is increasingly the norm. Once again, it’s important not to perceive the act of teaching something other than our own research as some kind of interruption to the ‘real work’ of research but as a powerful opportunity to open new research activities, ways of thinking, topics and interests. 

Attitude, which is a habitual mode of regard towards an object of thought, not only conditions the performativity of selfhood within the tensions between different aspects or ‘co-ordinates’ of identity (Cultural Studies researcher, teacher, citizen, gendered subject, etc.) but can either open up or shut down opportunities for the productive re-orientation of the self.  Sustaining a ‘negative’ attitude towards teaching something one wishes not to (or teaching as a practice itself) because it does not ‘fit’ within one’s perception of subjectivity as a Cultural Studies researcher usually means losing the opportunity to critically engage with that teaching material in a way which draws it into our own work, and taking advantage of the reverse flow of the research-teaching nexus.

Some things we can do:

  • Be a Cultural Studies researcher and accept that we teach other things. My work in strategic communication was unexpected and finding myself teaching it is perhaps not always fully desired (I’d rather teach queer cultural theory or digital humanities or critiques of popular culture). But carving a space in which one can be a critical researcher of strategic communication—even if only for a couple of side-line articles—finds success not only from a professional background in my case, but primarily from the benefits of intensively learning a scholarly field that is necessary for teaching a course in it. Nothing is ever wasted if we orient ourselves to see it as cultural research in the first instance.
  • As with professional work outside the university, the labour of teaching and engagement with students on any topic can perhaps best be understood as also a form of participatory fieldwork; it is an opportunity to investigate a set of orientations towards the world, the practices that govern contemporary students’ perceptions and interpretations of a field, and the cultural frameworks that tie—rightly or wrongly—their sense of education to a sense of a post-educational career. 
  • One might incorporate small elements of Cultural Studies research into teaching a non-cognate topic. This does not mean taking the dreadful risk of teaching what we enjoy and neglecting the curriculum that is, at least partly, built on the demands of students and future employment—contemporary students are exceedingly savvy and recognise very well when this happens.  Whether it is right or wrong that higher education be commodified and codified as a job-readiness investment, the argument that paying for something that was not as described or cannot justify its own value has an ethical element within our inescapable transactional frameworks. This does not, however, foreclose on utilising Cultural Studies to enhance the critical and reflective capabilities of students in any area of learning.
  • Finally, it is possible to benefit from the dynamic tension of teaching one thing and researching something else—the stresses of one alleviate the stresses of the other, creating productive ‘breaks’ from one another that make us both better researchers and better teachers. 


Much of the above is a question of temporality: how time is perceived in ways conditioned by attitude, and how that shapes a sense of identity.

Spending the majority of hours undertaking professional labour outside of a university, teaching in an unfamiliar or undesirable curriculum, or having time away from being a Cultural Studies researcher can reconfigure our sense of self as Cultural Studies researchers. There is always the risk that a narrowly-perceived sense of how time should be spent, or how we desire to spend it most, can undo an identity as a Cultural Studies person.  Chrononormativities describe the role played by perceptions of time and temporality in producing conformities and truths. They are a particularly powerful node in the constitution of identities which not only draw on cultural norms but stabilise alongside the longevity of those norms which, themselves, become stereotypes over time and about the place of the self in time.  Chrononormativies are powerful, and the mis-perceived idea that a true Cultural Studies researcher spends time as a leisurely, introspective, reflective nineteenth-century stereotype is a narrowing down that curtails all the opportunities to take advantage of the fact that nothing is ever quite that solid. 

However, re-orienting our perception of those other kinds of labour away from being distractions and seeing them instead as doing Cultural Studies itself not only helps to keep up the performativity of being a Cultural Studies person, but presents enormous opportunities for both feeding our critical research and for finding new intersections between our own work and other topics. And with reflective, critical engagement, these can happen in ways which help us navigate the disrupted normativities of career trajectories in the twenty-first century 

The trick is doing the hard work of finding not distinctions but relevance and bringing them together. That, in itself, is often undesirable labour, but remarkably fruitful once undertaken.  Certainly, my own career, my research trajectory and my attempts to keep cultural and critical research responsive to changing social and political needs—as haphazard and accidental and unplanned as it has always been for me—has benefitted most in those instances. 

Rob Cover is Professor of Digital Communication at RMIT University. Author of about one hundred journal articles and chapters, and seven books, his most recent is Population, Mobility and Belonging: Understanding Population Concepts in Media, Culture and Society (Routledge 2020). 

Kevin Howley: Assange and the global assault on press freedom

On 4 January 2021, British district court judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected the US government’s request to extradite WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, to face trumped up charges of computer piracy and espionage. 

For Assange and his supporters—human rights lawyers, investigative reporters, documentary filmmakers, among others—the welcome news is tempered by the realisation that Baraitser’s decision rested solely on her determination that Assange’s ‘recurrent depressive disorder’ could not withstand the harsh conditions of the US prison system: a stinging indictment of crime and punishment in the land of the free.

Conveniently, Baraitser’s ruling made no reference to the inhumane conditions Assange endured during his incarceration, since April 2019, in HM Prison Belmarsh—commonly described as the UK’s Guantanamo; let alone his seven years of asylum in London’s Ecuadorian embassy, where British authorities routinely denied him access to medical care, and American operatives spied on the WikiLeaks publisher, his family, and visitors, including members of Assange’s legal team. 

It remains to be seen if, in the waning days of the Trump administration, the US government’s appeal will succeed. In the meantime, what’s most disturbing is Judge Baraitser’s concurrence with the US government’s substantive claims: that Assange violated the Espionage Act of 1917—an antiquated law that was weaponised during the Obama era to intimidate, and sometimes incarcerate, national security reporters and their sources. 

The irony that Barack Obama, a self-proclaimed constitutional scholar, picked up where his predecessor, George W. Bush, left off—widening the US targeted killing program and doubling down on the Bush-era assault on national security reporting—hasn’t been lost on anyone, save perhaps the US press corps. 

Indeed, the same news organisations that received accolades for reporting based on material supplied by WikiLeaks were instrumental in smearing Julian Assange’s reputation and undermining his legitimacy. More recently, the media blackout during Assange’s protracted extradition hearing—and its dire implications for press freedom—is nothing short of willful ignorance in the face of an existential threat. A threat that grows increasingly commonplace in authoritarian regimes and so-called democratic societies alike. 

Consider the backstory to the release, in November 2020, of the long-awaited (and heavily redacted) Brereton Report into alleged war crimes committed by elite units of the Australian Defense Force (ADF) operating in Afghanistan. Shocking accounts of Australian soldiers abusing prisoners and killing civilians reverberated across the globe. Here in the United States, news outlets offered dramatic accounts of the atrocities: a rare instance when American news workers uttered the phrase ‘war crimes’ to describe allied action in the decades-long, US-led war on terror. But the upshot for Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, the national security reporters who broke the story of ADF war crimes, barely registered with their counterparts stateside. 

Flashback to June 2019. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) raided the offices of the ABC following the broadcast of a series of investigative reports, The Afghan Files, based on leaked government documents alleging Special Forces units committed war crimes. The AFP warrant named the two reporters and ABC news director Gaven Morris. (Two months earlier the AFP requested Oakes and Clark’s fingerprints as part of its investigation.) Following an hours-long search of ABC’s Sydney headquarters, federal police confiscated two USB drives containing well over 100 files. 

Purposefully designed to intimidate investigative reporters, this shocking episode and its deeply unsettling aftermath—an Australian court dismissed ABC’s legal challenge to the search—signal an escalation of press intimidation and ruthless intolerance for critical reporting of national security regimes with expansive powers and limited accountability.

Kevin Howley is Professor of Media Studies at DePauw University. He is the author and editor of several books including, most recently, Drones: Media Discourse & The Public Imagination(2018). This essay stems from recent work published in the Journal for Discourse Studies.

Sam E. Phillips: ‘Reading Great Recession Fiction During the Great Pandemic’

Early in 2019, my uncle joked that by the time I’d finished my doctoral thesis — a comparative analysis of fiction inspired by the Great Recession — we’d be in another world-changing recession. I could laugh along with him at the time. Partly because I had thought it unlikely (and partly because the idea of me, grey-haired, surrounded by dusty ceiling-high piles of books and still working on the thesis in 2047, seemed vaguely amusing).

My uncle turned out to be right, but it’s no laughing matter. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so sceptical though, because this is the very nature of capitalism: boom and bust — and culture responds in interesting and creative ways.

Indeed, the Great Recession of 2008-2012, which followed the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008, inspired a collection of novels from predominantly the US, UK and Europe, but also other parts of the world. My thesis examines 62 such novels through a cultural materialist analytical framework that also draws on Marxist and feminist thinking. The novels, which cover a variety of genres, though predominantly literary fiction, portray or utilise crisis and recession causes and/or conditions in their plotting or as a part of their backdrop.

My thesis examines the popular deployment of literary realism within such Great Recession fiction (and the implications of this); it describes a post-crisis ‘structure of feeling’ (following Raymond Williams); and it identifies and analyses popular motifs, archetypes and myths circulating within Great Recession fiction.

Literary realism was the dominant style across the 62 novels, even amongst the small collection of fantasy and dystopic Great Recession novels I identified. As a narrative style, realism enabled some authors to depict and reveal the workings of capital that are taken as common-sense and natural; in other words, it played an important function in denaturalising capitalism in their works. However, as I found, literary realism, in its traditional commitment to verisimilitude and mimesis, is also often a double-edged sword. It can lead to the reproduction or reflection of the status quo, thus contributing, in various ways, to the reification of naturalised ideologies — particularly neoliberalism in the case of much Great Recession fiction.

So, why Great Recession fiction? Following the media reportage throughout the instigating Global Financial Crisis, I found myself appalled and fascinated by the devastation wrought on national economies and innocent people (particularly from the “working” and “middle” classes) by neoliberal capitalism and the impropriety of major banks. When novels clearly inspired by crisis and recession began to emerge, I was interested in their social commentary on capitalism and subjectivities under capitalism. I was particularly interested in how the novels “spoke out” against capitalism, if at all. Thus began my research journey.

After working on my thesis part-time, I submitted it for examination in early November this year and immediately felt a mix of loss, relief and anxiety. I was anxious because I knew the journey wasn’t over yet; the examination process had only just begun. But I’d submitted it and that was something. I’m grateful to the CSAA for their part in helping me achieve this milestone.

Specifically, I received a small research grant this year from CSAA at a critical time — a strange time, really. A time of global pandemic and lockdowns. A time when the workforce was feeling the effects of a tremendous economic slowdown, and when universities were reaching out to their PhD candidates regarding mental health, extra support and deadline extensions.

During this strange time, I was busy finalising a thesis that considered Great Recession fiction amid … another great recession. The grant helped me cover various research and living expenses in the final critical months before submission, and for this I am hugely grateful to the CSAA.

Bio: Sam Phillips is an English literature PhD candidate with the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University. Sam enjoys rainy weather, PNG coffee, and reading anything with an anti-capitalist flavour.

Andrew Milner and J.R. Burgmann: Science Fiction and Climate Change (2020)

We’ve been working on this book for nearly six years and, in the process, we’ve analysed hundreds of novels, short stories, poems, films, TV shows and rock and folk albums. Just our luck to launch the book when the world is understandably preoccupied with the COVID pandemic rather than with climate change. 

Yet despite the pandemic and despite the occasional upsurge of climate change scepticism amongst Anglophone conservative politicians and journalists, there is still a near-consensus amongst climate scientists that current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gas are sufficient to alter global weather patterns to disastrous effect. 

Remember last summer?

The resultant climate crisis is simultaneously both a natural and a socio-cultural phenomenon. In the text, we argue that science fiction occupies a critical location within the nature/culture nexus. Science Fiction and Climate Changetakes as its subject matter what blogger Daniel Bloom has dubbed‘cli-fi’, that is, the fiction of anthropogenic global warming.

We don’t attempt to impose a prescriptively environmentalist aesthetic on the sub-genre. Rather, we seek to explain how a genre defined in relation to science finds itself obliged to produce fictional responses to the problems actually thrown up by contemporary scientific research, such as rising sea levels and desertification. 

We adopt a historically and geographically comparatist framework, analysing print and audio-visual texts drawn from a number of different contexts, especially Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, and the United States. The texts range from Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Green Earthto George Turner’s The Sea and Summer, Alexis Wright’sThe Swan Book and Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer

Our approach is inspired by Raymond Williams’s cultural materialism, Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology of culture and Franco Moretti’s version of world systems theory. 

Science Fiction and Climate Change is available now.

Andrew Milner is Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at Monash University. 

J.R. Burgmann is a PhD student in Creative Writing at Monash University. 

They are both actively involved in the Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub.

Further response to the Job-ready Graduates Package – Ned Rossiter, George Morgan, Geir Henning Presterudstuen

Dear Minister Dan Tehan,

 Amidst the ravaging of COVID-19, you have been tasked with introducing a piece of legislation designed to bring much needed reform to higher education in Australia. However, there are widespread fears and legitimate concerns that the outcome will dismantle the higher education sector in Australia. Framed around the intangible notion of ‘job-ready graduates’, it is likely that the legislation will not achieve its stated aims. A quick review of relevant literature may have delivered the signal this legislation has clearly missed. Namely, that target disciplines grouped together in Categories 2-4 are among those currently in the process of undergoing rapid automation in workplace settings. 

 What does this mean? That the jobs of the future assumed by the legislation will in many instances be performed by machines.

 See, for example, the following report by Deloitte:

 The rebuilding of Australia’s economy will depend heavily on an educated population able to work in sustainable tertiary economies. Without this capacity, the country will struggle to support an ageing population amplified by reduced levels of immigration. Moreover, financing the massive budget deficit from a taxation base not generated by a tertiary economy will inflict hardship on the people of this nation for years to come.

 Astute governments around the world have realised for decades the key role that universities have to play in fostering civic populations able to work in advanced economies. The rebuilding of post-war Germany is a case in point. The Scandinavian countries would be other examples. What lessons can be gleaned from how these national economies approach the governance and funding of higher education?

 Designing legislation able to support higher education in ways that prepare graduates for the future of work is a hugely important undertaking. Your ambition to address this matter is highly commendable. Certainly the sector needs policy attention. Yet to the extent numerous scholarly studies and empirically informed policy reports can ascertain, the impact of automation technologies on the future of work indicates that your legislation will have corrosive effects that undermine social cohesiveness and economic prosperity. 

 Please do take the opportunity to consult experts before proceeding further. The country and world is at a tipping point and smart thinking is required to design and orchestrate new paradigms of social and economic life. At this historical juncture, legislative reform for the higher education sector presents an opportunity to make critical decisions that contribute to the national interest—rather than damage it.


Kind regards, 


Professor Ned Rossiter

Associate Professor George Morgan

Dr Geir Henning Presterudstuen

Western Sydney University 

CSAA response to Job-Ready Graduates Package

Dear Minister Tehan,

As President of the Cultural Studies Association of Australasia, I write on behalf of the CSAA Executive Committee and CSAA membership in response to the draft legislation for the Job-ready Graduates Package released last week.

It has been widely noted that the proposed changes will likely not have the effects the government desires and may have deleterious unintended consequences. We are concerned about the burden the changes will impose on our next generation of Australians.

This response focuses on two probable consequences of the draft legislation, which are cause for serious concern.

Firstly, we are concerned that the recent fee proposals will disadvantage Indigenous Australian Studies and curriculum in tertiary institutions and adversely impact the government’s stated Closing the Gap priorities. Indigenous Australian Studies is predominantly located in humanities departments and schools. Increasing fees for humanities subjects will effectively increase the costs of accessing Indigenous Studies education and undermine the culturally competent graduate skills increasingly desired by businesses. Indigenous Studies and education is crucial for achieving Indigenous student retention. It has been consistently demonstrated in research that embedding Indigenous curriculum across a range of subjects, courses, and disciplines creates a culturally safe learning environment for Indigenous students. The Closing the Gap policy identifies higher education retention and graduation as a policy priority alongside employment. Strong cultural education in the tertiary sector will deliver these goals as identified by the policy. The National Agreement on Closing the Gap identifies Prioritising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Cultural competency of institutions, organisations, and services that deliver this policy is essential to its success as noted by the data reporting strong culture as connected to individual and community wellbeing. The proposed fee changes have the potential to significantly impact Indigenous student retention in tertiary education, undermine the cultural competence of university graduates, reduce the impact of Indigenous Studies education on service providers, and debilitate key segments of the Closing the Gap policy.

Secondly, it is widely recognized both in the university and employment sectors that some of the fastest growing job areas for university graduates are in new and emergent fields which require exactly the skills and experiences that the study of HASS subjects can provide. Content Specialists, Customer Officers, Data Scientists, and Sustainability Analysts are in high demand. These jobs did not exist five years ago, and a strong humanities or social science degree provides a foundation for working in these and the new, related fields that will inevitably emerge in the coming years.

HASS is core to universities continuing role as publicly engaged institutions serving the Australian community. The publics that our universities are part of face challenges, involving significant technological, environmental, economic, demographic and cultural changes. The knowledge and insights drawn from the study of HASS are essential to understanding and supporting the publics our universities serve. We are particularly concerned about the unequal effect that will result from the punitively largely fee rises attached to the HASS fields, given that these fields have tended to attract substantially more women than men as students. The evidence is that while there may be some shifts at the margins, most women will continue to enroll in these subjects. While the proposed changes are unlikely to improve pathways to employment for graduates, they will certainly burden the next generation with debts that will negatively impact on their future careers and family choices. Analysis shows that if this legislation goes forward in its current form young women will be burdened with approximately half a billion dollars more each year in debt as they invest in their educationi. Australia needs to invest in higher education to prepare graduates for the jobs of the future, not saddle them with additional debt. The people and place-focused skills that HASS graduates can provide the Australian community are essential. I am hopeful that the consultation period will lead to a rethinking of the proposed legislation, attentive to the important risks and opportunities outlined here.



Associate Professor Elizabeth Stephens, University of Queensland

Dr Holly Randell-Moon, CSU

Professor Rob Cover, RMIT University

Dr. Jay Daniel Thompson, RMIT University

Dr Michael Richardson, University of New South Wales


On behalf of the CSAA Executive and Membership