Our research

Our research

Sociologists in the department conduct theoretically informed research on global and local social issues. Our research is organised within some major themes, including work, migration, social movements, social theory, social policy, gender, intimate relationships and the culture of daily life. Collaboration and engagement are at the core of our research endeavour.

Populism as political phenomenon

With Donald Trump in the Whitehouse, Pauline Hanson staging an unexpected comeback, and Brexit taking us all by surprise, the sociologist is left anxiously rummaging their conceptual tool box to find ways of making sense of it all. Pauline Johnson’s research explores different ways of thinking about populism as a political phenomenon. In particular, it investigates populism’s relationships with neoliberalism (competitor or an unholy alliance?) and investigates its attack upon liberal democratic and social democratic institutions.

The role of finance in social policy and impact on inequality

Ben Spies-Butcher is currently researching the growing role of finance in social policy, and its impact on inequality. Working with Adam Stebbing from Macquarie and Gareth Bryant from Sydney University, Ben’s research has explored how policy changes in student loans, housing, health insurance and pensions have integrated public provision and private finance. Throughout this research, Ben has worked with peak bodies Shelter and COTA, unions and think tanks to better connect theory and practice. The research highlights how financial accounting often drives policy change in surprising and contradictory directions, changing patterns of inequality across generations.

The future of work and welfare

Much debate about the future of work and welfare has turned to the universal basic income as a solution to joblessness and a failed welfare paternalism that harasses clients into finding any kind of work. While the basic income debate addresses problems of central importance, it overlooks quieter, and possibly more fruitful, achievements taking place to improve the quality of working lives for many low-paid workers in developed countries. Shaun Wilson's research focuses on activist movements for living wages in the liberal welfare states, movements that have pressured politics into improving minimum wages and that have challenged policy assumptions that higher wages always come at the cost of jobs. His recent article in Social Policy & Administration surveys these living-wage movements as well as improvements in minimum wages in five liberal welfare states, making the argument for living wages as a critical goal for progressive reform and one that needs to be taken as seriously as proposals for a basic income.

Traditional ideas about friendships and relationships

For better or for worse, traditional ideas about intimate relationships appear to be losing their orientating power. Friendship is not exempt from these changes. The very meaning of the word seems up for grabs. Is Facebook friend number 456 really my friend? What about colleagues? And to what extent do assumptions around gender still inhibit close friendships between men and women? Yet, close or ‘true’ friendships persist. What we know about them is not only that they are significant to our sense of wellbeing, but also that they are becoming increasingly rare, especially amongst men. Harry Blatterer’s research centres on the changing societal meanings of friendship as an intimate relationship that is ‘generative’ – potentially life changing, invaluable for integration into new environments, supportive of a sense of self as well as personal change. Having outlined his sociological perspective on friendship in Everyday Friendships (2015), Harry is now embarking on expanding that research to write on intellectual, political and artistic friendships to understand and explain the generative potentials of this vital human relationship.

Cross-disciplinary and international collaborations

Members of the department are engaged in a range of local, national and international research collaborations.

Many are participating in research streams under the university’s Research Strategic Framework, and several are co-leading them:

  • Dr Harry Blatterer is co-leading with Dr Shirleene Robinson (Department of MHPIR) the ‘Intimate Life and Lived Experience’ research stream;
  • Associate Professor Amanda Wise is co-leading with Associate Professor Chris Lyttleton (Department of Anthropology) the ‘Migration, Mobility and Diversities’ research stream;
  • Associate Professor Shaun Wilson is co-leading with Associate Professor Jean-Philippe Deranty (Department of Philosophy) the ‘Economic and Organisational Change’ research stream;
  • Dr Justine Lloyd is a member of the management committee of the Centre for Media History.

Other colleagues are co-leading international collaborations

  • Dr Toby Fattore is co-leading a 24-country qualitative study with Professor Susann Fegter (Technical University of Berlin, TUB) and Professor Christine Hunner-Kreisel (University of Vechta) on ‘Children´s understandings of well-being: global and local contexts’, with around 50 collaborators. For more information, visit the Children's Understandings of Well-being website.
  • Professor Gabrielle Meagher is co-convening with Professor Marta Szebehely (Stockholm University, Sweden) and Professor Anneli Anttonen (Tampere University, Finland) the Nordic Research Network on Marketisation of Eldercare, or Normacare. The network’s 2013 research report on the legislation, oversight, extent and consequences of marketization is now an authoritative source.
  • Dr Norbert Ebert is collaborating with Professor Sighard Neckel (Hamburg University) on the social consequences of global financialisation in a project called ‘Global Financial Markets - Global Financial Class’ and funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The project is based on empirical research in Sydney and Frankfurt as places of high finance.
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