Who I Am

I am a social scientist and ethnographer. Or, to put it simply, I study people.

I study the stories people tell about themselves and others, about the places and times they live in, and the pasts they’ve lost (or found).

Most of all, I study the industrial revolution – not the history books, but the reverberations. More than two centuries after power looms were automated and steam engines proliferated, the industrial revolution still affects us all. The industrial revolution reverberates when we put on a t-shirt; when we take a trip out of the city to ‘get away from it all’, we’re thinking about geography in ways that settled in the nineteenth century; when we read the latest headlines about climate change, we’re reading the later chapters of a story that started in the age of steam.

My research focuses on the home of the industrial revolution: Britain. I especially look to Northern England. “It’s grim up North,” they say, but I look beyond the assumptions. I’ve written and presented on the life histories of former textile workers and the ruins of postindustrial Britain, on why rural places don’t exist (or at least not how we think they do), and on my grudging appreciation for Wuthering Heights. (Amongst many other things.)

I don’t stay in the library, or see truth only in statistics. I go out into what my academic tribe call ‘the field’, where I do plenty of talking and learning, and plenty of what Clifford Geertz called ‘deep hanging out’. This matters – most of us don’t actually report accurately on our lives (and especially not to someone with a survey on a clipboard). It has also led me into many adventures, glorious and otherwise, from milking goats, to morris dancing for Prince Charles, to falling headlong into horse dung while coming last in a fell race.

When I’m out of my fieldwork wellies, I teach anthropology, social theory, and travel at The University of Melbourne. I’m also a member of the Faculty of Arts Curriculum Design Lab, where I work to help university education meet the challenges of what might just be another industrial revolution