Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Asparagus revolution is here! I’m moving to a new Blog Site!

It’s been over a year since I last managed a blog post on this site.

I needed a break from writing and needed to get my teeth into a project with a bit more direction.

So, I bring you the Asparagus Revolution.

It’s a place for all my writing on community and connection and social change for sustainability. And it’s also a place for experimenting with social norms and community. Come along and play with me!

Thanks for reading this eclectic mix of writing for the last few years.



Sharing and community

I’m graduating next week. WAHOO!

I jumped the gun just a little yesterday by speaking with Belinda King from ABC Northern Tasmania as Dr Millie Rooney, sharing expert.

Last week the ABC’s 7.30 Report, ran a segment on the sharing economy and the value of sharing networks such as Airbnb and Uber. These networks run through peer to peer trading where individuals sell other individuals their idling goods and services (such as their spare room, or their unused car).

I support the sharing economy but I also have some concerns about it*.

For those who want to listen to what I have to say about the sharing economy and the importance of unmeasured sharing exchange, check out the podcast on the ABC website.

*When the universe grants me a little time, I hope to write about this further here.

Connection and disconnection in our suburbs: Part One

Part I: Connection – everyone’s wanting it

Recently The Conversation published a piece by Julian Burnside which resonated with me and the work that I do. While Burnside was writing in the context of the Australian response to asylum seekers, much of what he wrote about gets to the heart of what I think is an important contribution of my own work.

Burnside argues an increasing sense of disconnection, felt by an increasing number of people, is a major problem in contemporary Australian life. He writes:

People are disconnected so they are not heard, then they shout louder, and are still not heard, so they shout louder and louder until people become afraid of them and shun them and so the downward spiral continues.

I recently submitted my PhD ‘All give and no take? Suburban life and the possibilities for sharing in Australia’ looking at how middle class Australians understand practices of neighbourly sharing. A key finding of this work is that people really want to share, and in expressing this desire understand sharing to be an act of generous giving.

I’ve written about this valorising of giving over receiving both on The Conversation  and over at Shareable. But here I want to write about how important experiences and dreams of disconnection and connection are in shaping attitudes toward neighbourly sharing, and why I think Burnside is right on the money when he argues about the value of taking time to connect, even with those we fear.

In conducting my research, I talked with two seemingly different groups of people. First were those from inner city suburbs who were actively interested in sharing (things, ideas, conversations) with their neighbours and were actively involved in an online sharing network (the Sharehood).

The Sharehood website

The Sharehood website

And second, were people living in the outer suburbs who had no explicit or obvious interest in neighbourly sharing (I will write later about how in setting up the research I set up an arbitrary dichotomy between inner suburban and outer suburban identities).

Housing estate

Housing estate

My research was conducted via qualitative interviews and written correspondence (see Rautio 2009 and Harriss 2002). With many of these people I developed long and ongoing relationships through a process of regular exchange of written letters.

Covering a range of topics, from neighbourhood life, to practices of sharing, to life stories and suburban childhoods, overwhelmingly participants from both groups spoke about their desire for ‘connection’.

According to the Grattan Institute, an independent think tank,

Social connection refers to our relationships with others. More specifically, social connection is meaningful, positive, interaction between people. It makes us feel that we matter, that we are engaged with others and that we are embedded in networks of mutual appreciation and care (Kelly et al. 2012, p.4).

That people desired social connection was revealed in a number of different ways by both groups. First, participants expressed joy and delight when recounting the first-hand experience of sensing that they mattered to those around them. For example, as one man described:

One older lady who I saw a few days after my return said to me ‘Oh you’re back! [Heather] told me she thought you were back!’ They had been discussing my whereabouts – two septuagenarians paying attention to the comings and goings of their young neighbour. That made me feel good and strongly connected to my community.

Second, participants expressed desire for social connection through nostalgic references to a more connected suburban past. One fellow, who had spent some time in Russia, compared Russian life to that of Australia explaining: “Relationships are different [in Russia], [because of] the richness is in your relationships with people over there, like it was here in the ‘50s.” While other participants said things like: “When we were little we used to play in the front yard and, you know, everyone knew everyone and that sort of thing. Now it’s all kind of closed door”, “I don’t know, streets aren’t how they used to be. When I grew up it was likely Ramsay Street Reference to long running Australian television drama Neighbours and now… you don’t really get that” and “We tend to live in our own worlds in a modern society and just don’t care anymore about other people that we don’t have a personal relationship with”.

Similarly when I told one participant that the barista at my local coffee shop knew my order she exclaimed “If the guy in the café knows what you drink, that is awesome and hats off to him for taking time to notice. This is one of the things that we are missing in life now, is connection with other people.”

For Sharehood members, those people consciously interested in sharing practices, many saw the Sharehood network as a way of creating the desired social connection. In response to my query about why she was interested in the Sharehood, one participant reflected: “Well, I suppose I’d be very interested in being part of something. Both the thought of taking part in making a change in people’s lives, encouraging people to connect with each other, and how I could personally benefit from having a community”. When I asked her how she would personally benefit she replied that “I guess… having a community in your neighbourhood, the fact that it’s right there… [there would] be people who you could chat with when you go out your door. Or people might casually invite each other to their houses…” As one of the founders of the Sharehood explained, “I think the main thing for people [joining the Sharehood] is wanting to know their neighbours and wanting more of a sense of community and stuff… Yeah, I reckon for most people it’s about wanting to get to know people”.

In my research, the idea and experience of connection has emerged as neighbourhood trait strongly desired by suburban residents. Indeed not only is it desired, but it is seen as an attribute that is absent from many contemporary experiences of suburban life.

So… what is it that stops such connection from flourishing?

Stay tuned for Part II of Connection and disconnection in our suburbs: Connection – everyone’s afraid of it


Harris, J. (2002). The Correspondance Method as Data-gathering Technique in Qualitative Enquiry. Internation Journal of Social Research Methodology, 1(4).

Kelly, J. F., Breadon, P., Davis, C., Hunter, A., Mares, P., Mullerworth, D., & Weidman, B. (2012). Social Cities. Melbourne: Grattan Institute.

Rautio, P. (2009). Finding the Place of Everyday Beauty: Correspondence as a Method of Data Collection. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 8(2).

Climate Change is boring

Given the recent release of the Fifth Assessment from the IPCC and the fact that my climate change students challenged the class to provide some kind of creative response to climate change, I thought now might be the time to post my climate change rap.

Climate Change is Boring

Climate change is boring
I’m left snoring and drawing
in the margins
of relevance, the elephants
in the room
are not doom and gloom
as we assume
it’s the action of you
and me too, who
while here proclaiming, exclaiming
at the simplicity
our complicity in maintaining
the status quo, repeat
show of comfortable living
to which we are giving
in to expectations, inclinations
of conformity
we’re f%^&ked
you’ll see.

Engaging the rage and being neighbourly at election time

It’s the Australian Federal Election next weekend, and like most of my friends I’m nervous at the inevitable outcome that will see Tony Abbott become the ‘leader’ of our country. In the run up to the election I’ve been feeling so dis-empowered and so despairing about the political climate of this country.

I’ve thought about leafleting for the Greens, or helping Get Up distribute how to vote cards, but realistically I don’t think this will help. Everything I’ve learned during my PhD suggests that people are not going to change their minds about things simply because a random stranger on the streets pleads with them. Realistically, our politics are often not decided through a rational process of policy comparison, but rather as an ingrained belief in ‘what kind of person’ we are. I vote the way I do because the people around me whom I trust vote in similar ways and I am like them and believe in the things they do (for an example of just how powerful social norms are in subconsciously influencing behaviour I recommend a look at Griskevicius et al’s 2008 paper Social Norms: An underestimated and underemployed lever for managing climate change).

I live in a suburb with one of the highest proportion of Greens Party voters in Australia. I don’t know how most of the people in my street vote, and I can only assume that there is a diversity of views that the sameness of the houses fails to reveal. I do know however that the people living in the house several doors down are Liberal Party supporters. For the past two elections they have had Liberal Party signs in their front yard.

It’s hard to know how to react to such signs when one rides past them everyday – not particularly good for the blood pressure! In 2010 one of my housemates sheepishly admitted to having given the Liberal Candidates fangs and a snot nose, and riding home late one night the Gazelle did yell out an anti-Liberal profanity. But I felt that this year that kind of a response was a helpless cop out, especially given it looks like the Liberals will win by a large margin.

One of the things that irritates me most about our current style of politics is the intense oppositional nature of debate; you’re for or against, right or wrong, black or white, believer or denier. Given the complexity of challenges we face in the 21st century, climate change, refugees, global financial crises, food security, etc., etc., I feel we need a more sophisticated capacity for nuanced debate.

So, I decided to try apply this approach for myself try to engage in some real dialogue with my Liberal voting neighbours.

I was extremely nervous about knocking on their door and I could feel my heart racing as I approached their house. I rang the doorbell and cleared my throat. A man in his 70s opened the door and looked at me quizzically. I apologised for barging in on him and explained that while I did not usually vote Liberal, I was genuinely curious as to why they did. He called his wife, a 79 year old German woman and we stood on their front veranda for at least half an hour and had a chat.

In deciding to knock on their door, I had also decided to listen as openly and respectfully as I could. I allowed myself to disagree but not to argue, to question but not to retort. This is what Tom and Gretchen (not their real names) said:

  1. We can do anything under the Liberals. Gretchen was particularly vocal that in her experience, under a Labour government workers had to be members of the union. She felt that this gave the union enormous power and meant that if she worked harder than one of her colleagues she was no better off – unions were an opportunity for slackers to free-ride.
  • While I didn’t agree with this argument, it kind of made sense. I explained that I thought my generation didn’t really see Labor as being about unions, but that I personally supported unions because of my own experience in the tertiary education sector. Tom actually acknowledged he could see where I was coming from.
  1. Kevin Rudd has the charisma of Hitler. Gretchen grew up under Hitler and felt that Kevin Rudd had a similar charismatic power.
  • To be honest, while comparing Rudd to Hitler may be a little extreme, I too find his charisma creepy. I remember asking the Gazelle what it was that people seem to love too much about him, why is he the golden saviour boy of the Labor party?
  1. Tony Abbott is a really nice guy. According to Gretchen, they saying goes ‘if you don’t want to like Tony Abbott, make sure you never meet him’. Gretchen had never met him but believed him to be honest, trustworthy and a genuinely nice guy.

While I don’t necessarily agree with Gretchen and Tom, the arguments they put forward above make a kind of sense that I don’t find too confronting. It got a little harder when they asked me why I didn’t vote Liberal. I explained that in particular I was concerned about their climate change policy and their stance on refugees (which is not to say the Labour party is necessarily any better). This is how Tom and Gretchen responded:

  1. Climate change is not real. According to Gretchen climate change is crap. Her evidence for this was that “Greenland would not be called Greenland if it had always been covered in ice”. As a friend pointed out, Greenland was actually called Greenland by Vikings who were trying to make it sound appealing to settlers… Gretchen was also concerned that if we were actually going to take climate change seriously, then we’d be required to go back to living by candlelight.
  • This argument had me flummoxed. I didn’t know whether to burst out laughing or to cry. I did tell them I disagreed to which they responded with a story about how the science of smoking was wrong and it wasn’t actually bad for you – they were living proof. Aside from not even knowing how to respond, neither Gretchen nor Tom was open to listening and anyway, that wasn’t why I was there.
  1. Refugees are paid to stir up trouble. Despite having grown up under Hitler and fled war torn Germany, Gretchen had little sympathy for so called queue jumping refugees – those who arrived by boat. In fact, according to Gretchen, someone was paying these people to risk their lives, and the lives of their children, in order to stir up trouble in Australia. Her perspective was that no real refugee would risk the life of their child on a boat like that. She left Germany because they had nowhere to live, but if it had involved a leaky boat, she would rather have died with them at home.
  • Needless to say I found this very hard to take. I had to stop myself from bursting into tears. I told her I disagreed but she was adamant.

Despite Tom and Gretchen having such radically different views to me, we did actually share some common perspectives. In particular, we all survived off extremely low incomes and felt rich in doing so. We talked in wonder about ‘those people’ who spent hundreds of dollars on multiple pairs of shoes. And Gretchen was baking a cake, just like I do.

At the end of the conversation I thanked Gretchen and Tom for their time. In turn they both thanked me for initiating the chat. Indeed Tom was particularly grateful and said that it was a nice change from the hate mail they regularly received. I was surprised to hear how frequently they had received anonymous notes since their signs had gone up.

And ashamed that that could have just as easily been me.

I didn’t change their minds and they didn’t change mine. But perhaps, just perhaps, we got one step closer to removing the fear.

PhD sneak peek – PhD in pictures

In a change from drawing PhD related octopi, I’ve been sketching some ideas for images to go as chapter headings… Reflecting on this I’m taken back to the hours I spent decorating the margins of my homework book in primary school. Good to see I have my priorities straight at this point.

So, as a preview of the story of my thesis, here are some of the chapter images… and in case you didn’t guess it, I’m missing the tricky ones like the introduction and the theory chapters…

Chapter 1 – Sharing for change: Sharing as a solution to contemporary Australian problems [no image yet – any ideas??]

Chapter 2 – Theories of social practice [no image yet – any ideas??]

Chapter 2 - Representations of Australian Suburban Life

Chapter 2 – Representations of Australian Suburban Life

Chapter 4 - Research Design

Chapter 4 – Research Design

Chapter 5 - Rules of Engagement

Chapter 5 – Rules of Engagement

Chapter 6a - Close yet distant: strong ties and prviate lives

Chapter 6a – Close yet distant: strong ties and prviate lives

Chapter 6b - Close yet distant: strong ties, private lives

Chapter 6b – Close yet distant: strong ties, private lives

Chapter 7 - Sharing as social practice: giving to take, taking to give

Chapter 7 – Sharing as social practice: giving to take, taking to give

Chapter 8 - Sharing to change: transactional or transformative change?

Chapter 8 – Sharing to change: transactional or transformative change?

An ode to my friends

I wrote the following poem as an ode to the three incredible woman in my PhD life. I plan on writing a post about just how important having trusted friends has been throughout this PhD journey. Not only do these women know my academic work well, they also know about my private life, the trials and tribulations of my relationship. As I know about theirs.

I wrote this as the four of us took our selves off on a writing retreat on the east coast of Tasmania. We spent six glorious days writing, talking, drinking gin and tonic, eating incredible food, crying, laughing, walking, skinny dipping, argueing, pontificating, procrastinating, and inspiring.

Language warning on this one!

To my three companians of nerdity:

You say ‘fuck’ a lot.

And shit.

And mother fucker.

You mumble to yourself.

Talk obscurely

To your computer.

You hate post modernists

Effected by affect

And move on.

You stretch

You run

You juggle

You dance

Physically and mentally it seems

We talk over each other

Under each other

With each other

And about each other.


We say:


It’s a discourse analysis

An emergent methodology

With iterative renditions

Of a human-ish ecology


It’s co-productive governance

It’s sharing with your neighbours

It ‘s migrating to the city

It’s colonising favours


‘I think I’m back to Layder’

‘Now don’t you Checkland me!’

‘Do you think your mum would edit?

Nah, only for a fee’


‘Today my data’s useless’

‘I know this writing’s wrong’

Someone mentioned Neighbours

‘No! Don’t sing that fucking song!’


Does co-productive governance,

Have a wanky kind of ring?

Why can’t the other tutors

Just get on with their thing?


Someone is a booze hag

Or that is what they say

But who of us rejects a drink

To finish off the day


The ship it sunk without a trace

I’m feeling quite dejected

I can’t believe with so much work

My paper was rejected


Have you read some of this literature?

I think you’ll find it sweet

How come your methodology

Is so ‘mother fucking’ neat?


Although we all procrastinate

Today I’m doing well

I’m writing freaking poetry

My work has gone to hell.