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Associate Professor Michelle Duffy

Associate Professor

School of Environmental and Life Sciences

Finding our place in the world

Associate Professor Michelle Duffy is fascinated by the ways in which we interact with our physical, social and emotional worlds to form our identities, build our relationships and find a sense of belonging.

Michelle Duffy

Associate Professor Michelle Duffy is a human geography educator and researcher. Her work is highly participatory, inviting individuals and communities to tell their stories — from a child’s experience of living in south-east Melbourne, to a crowd’s emotional response at a music festival, or even a nation’s evolving relationship with the natural environment.

“As a cultural geographer, I draw on a range of approaches to tease apart the entangled, embodied and heterogeneous relationships that are fundamental to how we create and imagine place, identity and subjectivity,” says Michelle.

Michelle is particularly drawn to exploring the role of emotions in forming our relationships. Our emotions are constantly at play as we interact with other people and places, she explains, and motivate and mobilise us into action.

“How we are affected and respond to our emotions can tell us much about our capacities and vulnerabilities. It also offers possibilities for transforming our ways of thinking about ourselves, our relationship with community and place, and our responsibility to future generations.”

Early beginnings

Michelle began her career in the allied science industry, before completing a degree in music and arts.

During this time, she became curious about the way that music connects, moves and shapes our identities and relationships. This curiosity led to a PhD in cultural geography and a research interest in music festivals as a microcosm of community and a way to explore people’s relationship with sound.

“Festivals are significant to geographic inquiry as examples of the complex and diverse processes of place-making.

“They also reveal a lot about how our identify is formed and operates and, as my research has since revealed, often have a role in creating stronger communities in rural and per-urban regions in Australia.

“What was very clear from my PhD research was the importance of the emotions that arise out of being part of a music performance – whether that be as a performer or audience member – and how these emotions can continue rippling out after a festival event.”

Methods of music

Michelle also uses music and sound as a novel research method. For one VicHealth-funded project, her team invited children to record their experiences of ‘home’ within Melbourne’s south-east growth corridor.

The children’s recordings, backed up by semi-structured interviews that explored social connection and meanings, were developed into two sound art exhibitions: one at Cardinia Cultural Centre, Pakenham, the other at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne.

“One child told me at our Melbourne exhibition how excited she was that people from the city wanted to hear her story. This really touched me, as during our data collection, many children talked about the negative perceptions that people outside their town had of their community.

“Enabling others to tell their stories is really important for my research.”

Over the past few years, Michelle’s work has sashayed into the world of dance as an alternative way to explore the impact of sound: the connection between how we move to sound and our notions of place.

“When we observe a movement, even inattentively, we understand that movement in terms of its relationship to a particular environment but also with regard to our own capacity to move.”

The work of Michelle and her research team sheds light on how people interpret movement within their own unique contexts and expectations. For their most recent project, the team is exploring how mobile devices have been taken up by ballet companies to continue dancing during the COVID-19 lockdown, which has led to a reimagining of choreography.

Community wellbeing and resilience

Michelle’s research is helping to build stronger communities, and informing new policies and programs. One example of this is her membership with the Community Wellbeing Stream of the Hazelwood Health Study, a 10-year longitudinal study, funded by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.

The large-scale project has worked closely with community groups and stakeholders to identify the health and wellbeing effects of the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire, located in Morwell, and its associated smoke event and rebuilding efforts.

“Our research demonstrated there was a significant impact on community wellbeing, most notably a loss of trust in authorities when dealing with a crisis. However, our research also highlighted incredible capacities held by individuals and within community groups.

“For example, community-initiated Facebook groups emerged during the mine fire event and were used by the community to comment on the emergency response and to share a range of self-sourced information.”

In response to community discussions about the future for Morwell, Michelle’s team drew on participatory and arts-based research approaches to explore what community groups want for the future of their town.

The resulting photographic exhibition, Our hopes for the Future of Morwell, was exhibited at locations such as Federation University’s Switchback Gallery in Churchill, Victorian State Parliament, and elsewhere.

The team is now developing a regional resilience barometer as a holistic tool to capture the changes in key dimensions that underpin community wellbeing.

“This will enable us to map the overarching strengths and capacities that contribute to community wellbeing, which will be of value to local and state government in planning and allocating resources to further enhance these capacities.”

The sound of progress

Michelle believes the current geological age of human activity, known as Anthropocene, “heralds unparalleled challenges that we urgently need to address.”

Challenges such as climate change, inclusion and belonging, community development and sustainability, and identify.

In response, Michelle’s work is helping us make sense of how we engage with our world and each other using our senses, so that we can take concrete steps towards a healthier, more sustainable and connected future.

“The path I am taking, along with my colleagues, is to find ways to recognise the intricate, deeply entangled relations present between the human and non-human world. We are excited to continue exploring these relations through experimental, emergent, and creative practices.”

Michelle Duffy

Finding our place in the world

Associate Professor Michelle Duffy is fascinated by the ways in which we interact with our physical, social and emotional worlds to form our identities, build our relationships and find a sense of belonging.

Read more

Career Summary



Michelle is Associate Professor in Human Geography at the University of Newcastle. Prior to this she worked as a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Federation (Gippsland) and Monash (Gippsland) Universities, and Lecturer in Australian Studies, Australian Indigenous Studies and Human Geography at the University of Melbourne. Prior to her academic career she was employed at CSL Ltd in Bacteriology R&D and then as an immunochemist at ICI.

Michelle graduated with a PhD in Cultural Geography from the University of Melbourne in 2001, and she holds BA (Honours), BMus (Honours) and BApplied Science.

Membership of academic committees and boards

  • Member of Steering Committee for newly formed research network, AusMob (, which focused on mobilities research in Australia across the social sciences and humanities
  • Editorial board membership

         Social and Cultural Geography 2009-2016 (ranked 13/76 in Geography) 2009-2016

         Gender Place and Culture 2014 - (ranked 9/39 in Women’s Studies and 37/76 in Geography) 2010- present


Key words:

Place, community, identity, emotion, affect, sound, culture, embodiment, belonging, alienation, public space, events, resilience, mobilities


Sound and music play an important but often overlooked role in our everyday lives. My work in this area covers a range of topics, including the performance of music and listening practices. More recently I have developed methodological frameworks (with Gordon Waitt, Theresa Harada, and Michael Gallagher) to better understand how listening draws attention to the ways in which we are constituted through and embedded in place. This exploration also opens up ways to access the emotional, affective and bodily responses that go on to constitute feelings of wellbeing, inclusion, connection and exclusion.

Research projects include


Images of Home: Children’s Creative Response to the Changing Landscape of Officer VicHealth Technology, Arts and Social Connections Scheme (TASC)


Michelle Duffy, Dean Merlino, Angela Grant

Brief description

The aim of the project was to offer children aged between ten and twelve the opportunity to explore meanings of ‘home’ in the rapidly changing environment of Melbourne’s peri-urban fringe. In developing the project the underlying argument was that when people are asked to be attentive to the sounds of their daily lives, very diverse personal, emotional and affective sets of social relationships can be uncovered, and that these are underpinned by values attached to both lived and imagined notions of home. 

Indicative publications/ presentations

Duffy, M (2016) Re-sounding place and mapping the affects of sound, in T Leppänen, P, Moisala, M Tiainen & H Väätäinen (eds) Becoming with Music and Sound: Musicking Deleuze and Guattari Bloomsbury

Duffy, M (2016) ‘The Listening ‘I’: Children’s emotional and affective representations of place’ in S Gair & A van Luyn (eds) Sharing qualitative research: Showing lived experiences and community narratives, Routledge; pp. 96-109

Duffy, M (2012) The requirement of having a body Geographical Research 51(2): 130-136


Making sense of climate change: Home, community engagement and a sensory approach Small Grant Research Support Scheme, Monash Gippsland, awarded 2012


Michelle Duffy, Gordon Waitt, Michael Gallagher

Brief description

Following the call for grounded analysis of how people make sense of sustainability in their everyday lives, this project draws on novel participatory methodologies to examine the complex, embodied and sensorial ways in which places, and our connection to these places, are constituted. New insights to sustainability are offered by asking the question: “What does it feel like to engage with particular everyday practices such as recycling, driving, walking, cooking and or cleaning?”.

Indicative publications/ presentations:

Co-authored presentation with Michael Gallagher (Glasgow), Gordon Waitt (Wollongong) ‘Making sense of climate change: sound as a methodological tool for re-thinking sustainability’Echo & Polis: Days of Sound, Athens, Greece (29 September – 3 October 2012)

Duffy, M, Wiatt, G, Harada, T (2016) Making sense of sound: Visceral sonic mapping as a research tool, Emotion, Space and Society 20: 49-57

Project: Images of Home (Photography Michelle Duffy)                           Project: Making Sense of Climate Change (Photography Michelle Duffy)


My research on festivals originated in my PhD studies, where I explored the ways in which music performance was used to construct community identity. Since then I have continued to explore the role of festival events in community development initiatives, particularly in peri-urban and rural areas. Current research (with Judith Mair and Gordon Waitt) uses the lens of the encounter as a means to consider  how we might define and assess the social benefits of festivals.

Research projects include:


The role of festivals and events in creating community cohesion


Michelle Duffy, Judith Mair, Gordon Waitt

Brief description

In this body of work on festivals we have explored the role of festivals and events may have in creating stronger communities in rural and per-urban regions in Australia. This has included examination of how change and transition impacts upon notions of community and belonging. Our current work seeks to devise a standardised tool for assessing and measuring the contribution of festivals and events to community wellbeing in rural and regional Australia.

Indicative publications/ presentations:

Duffy, M, Mair, J (2018) Festival Encounters: Theoretical perspectives on festival events and social cohesion Routledge Advances in Events Research Book Series

Mair, J, Duffy, M (2015) LGAQ Workshop: Understanding and measuring the positive community outcomes of events and festivals, prepared for the Local Government Association of Queensland, University of Queensland

Duffy, M (2014) The emotional ecologies of festivals, in A Bennett, I Woodward, J Taylor (eds) Festivalisation of Culture: Identity, Culture and Politics Farnham: Ashgate; pp. 229-250

Mair, J, Duffy, M (2014) Social cohesion and local festivals Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure & Events special issue, Social Justice & Events-related Policy 7(3): 282-298

Duffy, M, Waitt, G (2011) Rural Festivals and Processes of Belonging, in C Gibson & J Connell (eds) Festival Places: Revitalising Rural Australia Clevedon, UK: Channel View Press; pp. 44-59