As environment and society scholars, we critically engage the urgent issues of these times, which we understand as contextualised in long histories of human social and ecological interactions. Our research aims to recognise and create safe and thriving spaces – environmentally, culturally and socially – for all beings.

In acknowledging there are multiple ways of knowing and experiencing the world, we move away from imposed understandings of “the environment” and engage in conversations about possible and ideal presents and futures. Our research invokes creative approaches to understanding what it means to be human in a more-than-human world, what it means to be just in a human-disrupted world, and what ways of being constituted and foster caring and flourishing interrelated lives.

Critical geographies

The environment and society group has a research strength in human geography. We're active members of geographical societies and groups in Australia and around the world, generating and integrating critical and relevant scholarship for the discipline. We have collaborative research projects in Africa, North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific.

We have different focuses and approaches, including:

  • legal geography
  • urban geography
  • environment and development
  • political ecology
  • regenerative agriculture
  • public space.

Ecocultural studies & communication

Our group actively contributes to this broad and transdisciplinary area of scholarship. This work understands human ecological relations as both symbolically and materially constituted, and culture and ecology not as separate spheres but as entangled and always mutually informing one another.

Our work in this area takes place in diverse study sites around the globe and our points of interest include:

  • ecocultural discourse and environmental communication
  • ecocultural meaning systems, identities and transformations
  • environmental humanities
  • more-than-human and multispecies studies, posthumanism and new materialism
  • wildlife tourism, ecotourism and ecocultural tourism
  • transformative ecopedagogy.

Environmental justice

Much of our research takes a critical decolonising approach to address ways social and environmental injustices around the world are inherently entangled. This work illuminates power, difference, disparity and liberatory movements, and often uses collaborative, participatory and endogenous approaches. 

Our research in this area includes engaged work around resource conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, biocultural rights and justice for Indigenous groups in Australia and the South Pacific, energy justice dynamics emerging from the “ills” and the “goods” of global energy systems, and discourses of environmental and wildlife activism. Our focuses and approaches also include:

  • Indigenous ecological knowledge
  • community-engaged research
  • praxis and action-based scholarship
  • ecofeminism
  • spatial justice. 

Environment, technology & the politics of knowledge

Our work also focuses on issues related to contemporary techno-scientific cultures. In this work, our projects explore historically situated modes of generating authoritative environmental knowledge and expertise and the politics of knowledge across a range of environmental issues. This research is also focused on issues concerned with the interplay among technology, environment, risk and cultural innovation, and with developing unique interventions into contemporary environmental concerns.

Environmental history

Our work in this dynamic field explores how environments and human affairs have mutually informed one another, and seeks synergy between humanistic and scientific perspectives while maintaining a constructively critical stance toward both.

This research includes placed-based histories, ranging from water histories in Latin America to forest histories in West Africa, to more globally focused projects, including histories of human origins hypothesis and the geopolitics of population debates. This area includes the university’s flagship New Earth Histories research program, which brings histories of geosciences and select world cosmologies together to produce a fresh and cosmopolitan history of environmental sciences, analysing the significance of geological time and multiple cosmologies to global modernity itself.

Featured research projects & collaborations

  • This open fortnightly gathering provides a supportive transdisciplinary platform for sharing emerging research and learning from one another. We maintain a community of practice of friendly constructive feedback to help strengthen the ecocultural work of academic staff and higher degree students across the university.

  • This publication engages 40 international scholars across disciplines in rethinking and reimagining what it means to be human in a more-than-human world. The Handbook brings the ecological turn to sociocultural understandings of self, introducing a broad, insightful assembly of original theory and research on planetary positionalities influx in the Anthropocene – or what in this cultural ecologist David Abram presciently renames the Humilocene, a new “epoch of humility.

    View publications

  • The Grand Challenge on Rapid Urbanisation will establish Think Deep Australia, led by Dr Marilu Melo Zurita, to explore how we can use our urban underground spaces for community benefit.

    There has been a boom in underground urban development projects around the world in the last five years – a trend that is expected to accelerate – and Australia is no exception, investing billions of dollars in underground urban development. There are major projects in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane that will fundamentally reshape the urban subterranean space, creating new geographies of urban connectivity and movement. The largest projects are the expansion of the cities’ underground rail and road networks.

    While transport infrastructure enhancements may be deemed as critical for cities, can more holistic and inclusive projects be realised? And who gets to decide what projects are implemented?

    To address these questions and explore how we can use our urban underground spaces for community benefit, the Grand Challenge on Rapid Urbanisation has established a network of experts and policy makers called Think Deep Australia.

    “Like all forms of development, using what lies underneath cities can present a range of possibilities and challenges,” said Dr Marilu Melo Zurita, lecturer in the School of Humanities & Languages and a newly appointed lead of Think Deep Australia.

    “On one hand, urban underground development is widely recognised as an opportunity to move urban infrastructure underground to free up surface space, helping to create more sustainable, liveable and just urban environments. On the other hand, underground urban development has often been neglectful of planning mechanisms, with projects being conceptualised in technical terms rather than considering social and environmental aspects."

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Our people

Associate Professor, Convenor, International Studies Program Anne Bartlett
Associate Professor, Convenor, International Studies Program
Honorary Associate Professor, Environment and Society Group Paul Brown
Honorary Associate Professor, Environment and Society Group
Professor of Environment and Society, Deputy Head of School (Research), Environment and Society Group Matthew Kearnes
Professor of Environment and Society, Deputy Head of School (Research), Environment and Society Group
Associate Professor of Environment & Society; Convenor, Master of Environmental Management Program Tema Milstein
Associate Professor of Environment & Society; Convenor, Master of Environmental Management Program
Scientia Associate Professor in Human Geography Paul Munro
Scientia Associate Professor in Human Geography
Professor and Academic Lead Pacific (IGD) Daniel Robinson
Professor and Academic Lead Pacific (IGD)
Senior Lecturer in Human Geography Marilu Melo Zurita
Senior Lecturer in Human Geography

Environment & society's acknowledgement

We acknowledge the Gadigal and Bedigal people of the Eora nation, the Traditional Custodians of this Land within which we work, as well as the First Nations custodians of all lands and waters. It is our goal to teach and do research seeking out restorative relations between peoples and Country as a way of paying our respect to Elders – past, present and emerging – and to extend that respect to all beings.