Centre for

Seminar Series

Energizing Science, Technology and Society: an Interdisciplinary Seminar Series

Industrialization has been integral to the development of modern societies. The extraction of fossil fuels at an increasing rate over the past century has underpinned the scale, speed and convenience of contemporary social life. However, the depletion of energy resources and spectre of climate change impacts raises new questions for societies built upon the tenets of industrial expansion. Policy-makers around the world have struggled to simultaneously address the challenges of energy security, national development and global environmental constraints. Each of these challenges has been met with, often cumbersome and complex, new policy frameworks which have received support, criticism and dissent from civil society and community groups. Social science has a vital role to play in understanding how and why social issues are asserted and contested in this complicated political, economic and techno-scientific landscape. Increasingly, social scientists have come to view technology as a source of social issues, rather than a separate domain. For the first time in Newcastle and the Hunter this interdisciplinary seminar series brings a range of social and technical expertise together to critically examine the energy and resource challenges facing the region and more widely contemporary Australia.


What's Social About Energy Anyway?

Presented by Dr Declan Kuch from the Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Declan Kuch is a Research Academic with CSRER. He is currently using Actor-Network Theory to research innovation in the energy sector. He completed his PhD, a sociological examination of carbon markets, in 2012. He has worked extensively with Non-Government Organizations, including holding the post of policy director for the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.


Mastering the extraction of fossil fuels into reliable, rationalized process of electricity production and liquid fuel distribution represents one of the crowning achievements of modern societies. The wealth created by these processes of rationalization gives modern societies their distinctive characteristics such as suburbs connected by electrified mass transit systems, industrial scale food production, automobility, and affordable consumer goods, to name a few. However, the spectres of peak oil and catastrophic climate change puts at risk both continued fossil fuel use and the social systems upon which they are founded. Extreme weather events are now linked to the earlier combustion of fossil fuels in the minds of publics (we call this 'The Making of Climate Publics' in our research programme). These crises of fossil fuel rationality, in other words, call for a re-examination of the ways the social and the technical have been thought of together.

This paper asks what is social about energy and resources historically and conceptually. Using the case study of a nineteenth century environmental controversy in Britain, I examine how techniques of measurement cooled the situation and led to the creation of a new kind of expert – the civil scientist. Looking closely at the specific character of this controversy, I argue that the difficulties with establishing connections between human activity and the environment surrounding industrial activity requires a rethinking of the traditionally 'social' concept of expertise. Rather, drawing upon an Actor-Network Theory approach, I argue that an interdisciplinary approach to understanding energy and environmental resources is necessary for understanding how societies of the past and future should be understood and researched.

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Stumbling towards collapse: Coming to terms with the climate crisis

Presented by Dr Terry Leahy from the Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle

Monday, 21 May 2012

Terry Leahy is a sociologist from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Newcastle. In recent years he has been conducting research on views on environmental politics in the Hunter region, as well as contributing to the international work on the response of sociology to the climate issue. Steven Threadgold is also a sociologist from the School of Humanities and Social Science. He has conducted a comparative analysis of the impact of class on views of the future held by students at three Hunter high schools. In the course of this he has been interested in the strong concerns shown about the environment in this cohort. Vanessa Bowden is conducting research on attitudes of Hunter region business leaders to climate change and to policies relevant to that.


Leading sociologists have approached the climate crisis by emphasising a way forward and identifying hopeful directions. What sense is to be made of suggestions that we are instead on the brink of a 'collapse' in which the crisis is not resolved but leads to the end of existing civilisation? Partly based on three studies of contemporary opinion in the Hunter Valley in Australia, a coal industry centre, this discussion is also based on an examination of the public response to climate change worldwide, the nature of the crisis as understood by science, the political response so far and the economic problems of replacing fossil fuels. What social theories might help explain what is happening? It is concluded that 'collapse' can be understood by conceiving capitalist society as a social machine, informed by a 'social imaginary'.

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Blockies and Black Soil: The Sociology of CSG Protest in Western Downs

Presented by Dr Mark Bahnisch from the Centre for Medical Education Research and Scholarship, University of Queensland

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Dr Mark Bahnisch is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Centre for Medical Education Research and Scholarship in the School of Medicine at The University of Queensland. He has over 37 academic publications, including in 2012 co-authorship of a major report for Health Workforce Australia, Competency-based education and competency-based career frameworks: Informing health workforce development and a chapter in Clegg and Hauggard, Power and Organizations, in the international SAGE Library of Business and Management series. He was also conjoint Chief Investigator on a rural health workforce project last year for Clinical Education Queensland. As Director of FAQ Research, he led a pilot project on the social and cultural impacts of mining activity in rural Australia earlier this year. His PhD in Sociology, The Phenomenology of Utopia, was awarded by QUT in 2009 and his current research interests include the changing culture of health professions, realistic utopias and the sociology of contests over land use 'rights' around extractive industries.

Dr Bahnisch is also a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development and has contributed substantially to policy debates and public affairs analysis through the media and as an online publisher and writer. Combining tertiary teaching and consultancy over the past decade, his applied research has focused on public policy, workplace equity, employment relations and organisational strategy and culture. As a consultant, his work has attracted commendations from EOWA and the QIRC. His most recent project is around deepening research engagement for The Australia Institute.


This paper draws on findings from a media and research project, Coal Seam Gas: Behind the Seams, conducted by FAQ Research in conjunction with media partner Crikey in the lead up to the Queensland state election on 24 March this year. Themes from interviews with a variety of activist, landholder and government stakeholders are synthesised to draw some conclusions about the sociology of the interaction of protest movements, science and corporate and legal modes of governance around coal seam gas extraction on Queensland's Western Downs. It is argued that while surprising alliances can form around a 'new' and controversial issue of a clash of rights around land use and 'lifestyle', the pattern of interaction and discourse in fields around economy, science and law poses barriers to a 'new' politics. There are broader implications for the problematisation of 'rights' within a neo-liberal mode of governance which the paper seeks to draw out.

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Lessons learned and emerging best practice in CCS stakeholder communication and engagement

Presented by Kirsty Anderson, Public Engagement Manager at the Global CCS Institute and former Knowledge Share Manager for the ScottishPower CCS Consortium

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Kirsty Anderson joined the Global CCS Institute in February 2012 as the Public Engagement Manager. In her role, she is focused on providing guidance and support to CCS projects and other stakeholders on effective methods for delivering project specific public engagement activities, and improving access to the host of communication and public engagement resources available from the Institute.

Prior to starting at the Institute, Ms Anderson was the Knowledge Share Manager on the ScottishPower Consortium CCS Project, responsible for the creation of the project's knowledge sharing strategy, the production and delivery of the ScottishPower Consortium's Front End Engineering Design knowledge products, and for stakeholder engagement activities including education and outreach.

Ms Anderson possesses a combined skill set of large scale CCS project delivery experience, with expertise in developing and executing communication, dissemination and stakeholder engagement strategies. Before working on CCS, she held a number of media and communication roles in both elite sport and public health demonstration projects.


The topic of public engagement in the context of CCS demonstration is an area of growing international significance.

Recent high profile examples of the damaging effects of organised public opposition, in combination with increased sensitivity to public spending following the global financial crisis, has meant proponents of CCS demonstration projects are having to become more adept at understanding and engaging with key stakeholders.

By combining the growing body of social research on CCS engagement with the practical learning's of early CCS demonstrations we are able to define a number of success factors that could emerge as best practice for CCS public engagement.

This presentation will attempt to synthesise the key findings from the body of social research supported by the Global CCS Institute, with emerging experiences reported by early CCS Demonstration projects, in order to identify some key lessons for CCS public engagement.

Ms Anderson's experience of working on the UK's ScottishPower Consortium CCS Demonstration Project (the Longannet Project) will be drawn on to provide tangible examples to explain key areas of public engagement strategies such as early engagement, third party advocacy, and education and outreach.

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Coal & Allied: Building relationships and resilience (Includes case study: working with small and medium enterprises (SME's) to build community resilience)

Presented by Jennifer Bowcock, Manager Community Relations NSW, and Stephen Sneddon, Principal Advisor Community Investment, Coal & Allied.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Jennifer (Jen) Bowcock has been a member of Coal & Allied's Community Relations team since 2007, following a background in media, communications and marketing. Based in Coal & Allied's shopfronts across Muswellbrook and Singleton, Jen leads a team of nine to deliver Coal & Allied's community relations approach with local communities, including aboriginal groups. Jen is an active member of the community and holds a number of Board and executive positions with local organisations including the Muswellbrook Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) and the Upper Hunter Vocation Education and Industry Network (UHVEIN).

Jen holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters of Business (Marketing) and resides in the Upper Hunter Valley with her husband and three children.

Stephen Sneddon has almost 40 years experience in the coal industry, and has enjoyed a career with Coal & Allied spanning a number of operations and projects in the Hunter Valley across both Environmental and Community Relations functions. In his current role as Principal Community Investment Stephen oversees Coal & Allied's approach to community investment and development, including acting as Executive Officer of Coal & Allied flagship Community Development Fund programme.

Stephen is passionate about working in partnership with the community to build capacity and foster long term sustainability and resilience. He is currently on the selection panel for the UoN Young Leaders Award, is a Board member of the Hunter Region Business Enterprise Centre and a committee member of the Hunter Medical Research Institute Singleton Foundation. Stephen is Hunter Valley born and bred, and currently resides in the Paterson district.


Coal & Allied has a proud history of more than 165 years as a member of the Hunter Valley community. We believe our operations are part of local communities, including Aboriginal communities, employees and contractors, near neighbours who live close to our sites, as well as local businesses who provide goods and services to our operations.

We set out to build relationships with all of our communities that are characterised with mutual respect, active partnership and long term commitment. In practice this means:

Having robust relationships with our communities of interest - this requires understanding the issues and needs of different stakeholders

Effectively contributing to communities by understanding the socio-economic environment and communities' vision for the future, and providing contributions that are sustainable and build long term community capability.

Stephen Sneddon (Principal Advisor Community Investment) and Jen Bowcock (Manager Community Relations NSW) will discuss Coal & Allied's approach to community relations, including a case study focusing on working with small and medium enterprises (SME's) to build community resilience.

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Hefting onto Place: Intersecting Lives of Humans and Sheep on Scottish Hills Landscape

Presented by Professor John Gray, University of Adelaide.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

John Gray is Professor of Anthropology in the Discipline of Anthropology and Development Studies at the University of Adelaide. He has two continuing long term ethnographic research projects: one in a multi-caste village in Nepal focusing on the confluence of social and architectural dimensions of the household as well as on rituals, exorcisms and caste; the other in a sheep farming locality in the Scottish Borders focusing on sense of place through sheep farming activities, local poetry, auctions and local agricultural shows. He is the author of three books: The Householder's World (Oxford), Domestic Mandala: Architecture of Lifeworlds in Nepal (Ashgate) and At Home in the Hills: Sense of Place in the Scottish Borders (Berghahn).


This paper analyses the phenomenon of hefting—the natural instinct of some breeds of sheep to establish and remain and breed on a home range—on hill sheep farms in the Scottish Borders. It major theme is the way in which humans, animals and landscape form a configuration of intersecting relations in which the bonding of sheep to the landscape mediates the sense of place and abiding attachment of hill sheep farmers to their family farms. The analysis is framed by a critical perspective that moves from Actor Network Theory's inclusion of animate and inanimate participants in social phenomena to Ingold's concept of a meshwork of intertwining movements through the landscape as sheep and shepherds carry out their lives.

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