Human Geography

See the supervisors involved in Human Geography in the School, and the projects they'll be working on in the coming year.

Prof. Jon Barnett

Upcoming and potential projects

Jon is interested in supervising topics relating to social vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in Australia and the Pacific Islands. He is also interested in research on development and/or environmental issues in the Pacific Islands; climate change and food security; environmental change and migration; and water resource management in the Pacific Islands.

Find an expert: Prof. Jon Barnett


A/Prof Simon Batterbury

Upcoming and potential projects

Simon is interested in supervising projects in environment & development, political ecology, social science of environment projects. He most recently supervised projects on finance capital in Mauritius, bushfire recovery in Alpine Shire, philosophy of degrowth. Local examples:  community bike workshops (Bike Kitchens), contributions to urban carbon reduction, Darebin's Solar Savers scheme, and attitudinal surveys on active travel in Melbourne.

Simon has a background in geography and environmental studies and works on interdisciplinary environmental and development problems. He is interested in a broad array of projects in environmental politics, rural development and political ecology and is happy to devise projects in conjunction with prospective students. Current research in 2019-20 is on community bike workshops in Europe and Australia. For more information, go to his web page of past student projects.

Find an expert: A/Prof Simon Batterbury


A/Prof. David Bissell

Upcoming and potential projects

David is interested in supervising topics relating to how different practices of travel are transforming people and places. His own research explores this theme through four projects: understanding how commuting is transforming urban life; how forms of mobile work where couples live ‘together apart’ are changing our sense what ‘home’ is; how mobile digital platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo are changing production, consumption and governance in the city; and how automation and robotics are changing the future of work.

In each of these projects, he works with social theories that can help to better understand the complexities of contemporary power and politics. David would be delighted to hear from students who are interested in pursuing projects relating to any aspects of cities, mobilities, digital technologies and labour.

Find an expert: A/Prof David Bissell


Dr Brian Cook

Upcoming and potential projects

Brian is interested in supervising students exploring topics related to flood management, risk, knowledge, and/or human vulnerability.

Proposals situated in Australia, Bangladesh, India, the UK, and Portugal are welcome, though other contexts may be possible. Brian has experience with both quantitative and qualitative research methods, for example including projects that explore flood impacts on homes or perception‐based analyses. Brian’s recent research has emphasised the ‘power‐holder’ or ‘decision‐maker’, leading to research findings that explore how flood management occurs and how the people making decisions rationalise what they do.

This type of research emphasises who benefits and who is negatively affected by flood management practices; ultimately, this informs critiques aimed at social justice and appreciation for the disproportionate impact of disasters on (often already) vulnerable individuals. As part of these projects, he has collaborated with NGOs in the developing and developed world. Alternately, he has experience with analyses at the local scale that explore how people experience, perceive and understand disasters.

Overall, his research tends to use controversies as entry points, allowing for analyses that prioritise the multiple, entwined understandings that fuel controversy, rather than attempts to ‘uncover a solution'. These methodologies can lead to policy‐relevant findings, and it is hoped that future projects will follow a similar path.

Brian hopes that that projects will have a purpose and will be student‐driven, and asks that students seeking supervision consider:

  • What interests you?
  • What skills do you wish to develop?
  • How does your project fit with your wider aspirations?

Potential topics might include:

  • Analyses of flood mitigation efforts by individuals, communities, groups, or local government in the context of the 2011 Victorian floods.
  • Controversy over the Victorian desalinisation plant (Wonthaggi Desalination Plant) and questions over technical intervention compared to individual behavioural changes.
  • Flood management in Bangladesh, India, or the wider Ganges‐ Brahmaputra Basin.
  • The role of scientific knowledge within flood management relative to ‘alternate’ knowledge such as local, indigenous, or perceptions of people who have experienced disasters.

For further information, please get in touch with Brian who is happy to discuss potential ideas.

Find an expert: Dr Brian Cook


A/Prof. Wolfram Dressler

Upcoming and potential projects

Wolfram is looking for students to participate in the following projects:

  • Indigenous memory, meaning and resistance in oil palm ruptured landscapes in southern Palawan island, the Philippines, and East Kalimantan, Indonesia.
  • The changing nature of charcoal production and property rights in mangrove ecosystems in northern Palawan Island, the Philippines. Awesome area – cool topic. (with Dr Paula Satizabal)
  • The social histories of edible birds’ nests harvesting in Taytay karst systems in northern Palawan Island, the Philippines. Awesome area – cool topic. (with Dr Paula Satizabal)
  • Wolfram Dressler, Tim Werner and Rebecca Runting are interested in working with an Honours or Masters student on mapping the expansion and impacts of nickel mining infrastructure on ancestral domains, forest cover and livelihood security on Palawan Island, the Philippines. The student should have sound technical skills in GIS mapping and an interest in environmental and social justice.

Find an expert: A/Prof. Wolfram Dressler


A/Prof. Jane Dyson

Upcoming and potential projects

Jane is a social geographer working broadly on social and political action, inequality and development. In particular, her research takes an ethnographic approach to understand young people (mostly) in India in relation to education, work, migration, health, cultural practice and politics. A separate strand of work has examined student food insecurity in Australian Universities, including the University of Melbourne. Jane has used film in her work and is interested in a range of non-written forms of research.

Jane would be interested in supervising projects in Australia and beyond on alternative political practice, experiences of social inequality and the intersections between livelihoods/work and social change.

Find an expert: A/Prof. Jane Dyson


Dr Ellen van Holstein

Upcoming and potential projects

Ellen is an urban geographer, interested in the participation and inclusion of communities in shaping urban spaces. In this Ellen focuses on the practices of citizens as they respond to top-down mechanisms such as government policy and looks at how these practices affect social and political inequalities. Ellen has researched these dynamics in the context of community gardens and citizen participation programs.

She is currently working on the project ‘The Disability Inclusive City’, looking at the participation of people with intellectual disability in the production of space in the city. Ellen is interested in working with students on projects focused on any of these three empirical topics.

Find an expert: Dr Ellen van Holstein


Dr Rachel Hughes

Upcoming and potential projects

Rachel is a human geographer with interests and expertise in the sub-disciplinary field of cultural geography, political geography and legal geography.

She welcomes supervision enquiries related to any of the following:

  • The relationship between place, space and law
  • Transitional justice and truth-telling processes in Southeast Asia and Australia
  • The geopolitics of conflict and redress
  • Diasporic cultures of memory
  • Heritage sites of southeast Asia
  • The cultural politics of museums and museum visitors
  • Geographies of creative practice.

Find an expert: Dr Rachel Hughes


Dr Vanessa Lamb

Upcoming and potential projects

Vanessa would look forward to supervising students interested in studying pressing environmental problems which are also of political and social significance. This includes research which examines, for instance, environmental governance (particularly related to water or transboundary issues), the human dimensions of environmental and climate change, social and environmental justice, politics of conservation, and/or the unintended consequences of development.

Geographical focus is open, but research is focused mainly in Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand) or Chinese investment in Southeast Asia.

Vanessa will be working on two specific projects for 2022:

  • Role of young environmental activists and online networks in mainland Southeast Asia
    This project will focus on the multifaceted roles of young people in environmental activism in Southeast Asia, particularly in relation to their significant and innovative responses to uneven development, rapid urbanisation, and shift in development funding in the region. The idea emerges out of a long-standing collaboration with activists but was developed specifically for the potential of “online only” research in 2021 (but could include fieldwork if international travel becomes possible). Interested students should send a brief description of their research interests and relevant background experiences. This project comes with potential funding.
  • Building Cities: Rivers, coasts and the impacts of sand mining
    Sand mining is a global US$70-billion industry. This project will focus on the issue of sand mining and its social and environmental impacts. These cross-border flows, and their local impacts, are very much understudied, but presently, sand is being extracted at large volumes in mainland Southeast Asia’s rivers and beaches for export to Singapore and other cities across the region and in Australia. Interested students should send a brief description of their research interests and relevant background experiences. This project comes with potential funding.

Find an expert: Dr Vanessa Lamb


Dr Celia McMichael

Upcoming and potential projects

Celia works on interdisciplinary research with a focus on:

  • International health and development and forced migration
    She has experience working in the areas of environmental disaster and population health (Sri Lanka), childhood infectious disease (Peru, Angola), water/sanitation/hygiene (WaSH) in low income countries (Nepal, Philippines), refugee resettlement and wellbeing (Australia), and climate change and managed retreat/relocation (Fiji).
  • Qualitative, quantitative and ethnographic research methods
    Some recent Honours/Masters students she has supervised have focused on topics including: acute rheumatic fever in Indigenous communities; modelling the relationship between Ross River Virus outbreaks and weather/environmental parameters; CVOID-19 vaccine hesitancy in young people; strategies to promote water, sanitaiton and hygiene in low-income settings.

Celia is interested in supervising topics related to health geography and (forced) human migration.

Find an expert: Dr Celia McMichael


A/Prof. Lisa Palmer

Upcoming and potential projects

Lisa is a human geographer who teaches and researches on human-environment relations and indigenous approaches to environmental and social governance. Her research takes a critical ecological approach and is focused on south-east Asia (particularly Timor Leste) and indigenous Australia.

She is currently working on an ARC project on Sprit Ecologies and Customary Governance in Timor Leste.

She is interested in supervising students in the area of post-conflict development and difference and conservation and cultural environments.

Find an expert: A/Proff Lisa Palmer


Dr Catherine Phillips

Upcoming and potential projects

Catherine is a human geographer whose research focuses on human-environment relations in terms of everyday practices and environmental governance processes. Her work combines more-than-human geographies, feminist social theory, and science and technology studies, with field experience in Canada, South Africa, and Australia. She is interested in supervising students exploring topics related to alternative agriculture and food initiatives, discard/waste studies, and urban natures (especially plants, soil, and pollinators). Catherine is happy to discuss with students the research options along these themes.

In addition, there are specific project possibilities for 2022:

  • Projects on food, waste, knowledge and/or policy in relation with Cultivating Communities. Exact focus to be discussed. Includes potential for funding.
  • Analysis of national survey responses about pandemic food gardening in Australia. Focus to be discussed in collaboration with Sustain.
  • Projects relating to contestation and urban trees in Australia. Exact focus to be discussed. Includes potential for funding.

Find an expert: Dr Catherine Phillips


Dr Rebecca Runting

Land swaps for biodiversity and ecosystem services in Indonesian Borneo

Image of slog

Indonesian Borneo is a major evolutionary hotspot, contains high species richness and endemism, and includes charismatic species such as the Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus). In this region, much of the landscape is controlled by the national-level Ministry of Environment and Forestry (known as the ‘forest estate’), and is primarily used for protection or production forests. Local authorities manage the remaining land, where a greater variety of land-uses are permitted.

There may be opportunities to swap land between these jurisdictions, particularly where forest exists outside of the designated ‘forest estate’.

This project will determine the effectiveness of these ‘land swap’ strategies when assessed for biodiversity, ecosystem services, and economic outcomes using spatial optimisation methods. A consideration of the social and political feasibility of such swaps will also be included. The project will involve working in GIS/R and you will learn about emerging ideas in spatial planning and the application of optimisation methods to conservation issues.

The potential for Payments for Ecosystem Services to enhance pollination in Costa Rica

Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes aim to incentivise private landholders to provide ecosystem services that are of benefit to people in the broader landscape. Costa Rica is a world leader in the implementation of PES, which has resulted in the restoration of large swaths of land. However, it is currently unclear the extent to which pollination services are incentivised via these schemes, as pollination is typically maximised by many small patches throughout an agricultural landscape (rather than fewer, larger patches).

This project will build on previous spatial optimisation work to determine the potential of PES to deliver pollination services in a coffee production landscape. This project will involve working in GIS/R, and analysing Costa Rican policy documents.

Upcoming and potential projects

Dr Rebecca Runting has an interest in supervising projects spanning spatial landscape planning, ecosystem services, climate change adaptation and ecological economics.

Find an expert: Dr Rebecca Runting


Dr Kate Shaw

Upcoming and potential projects

Kate’s research looks at cultures of cities – at how and where people live, work and play. Questions of access and affordability are crucial to these choices. She’s especially interested in places where land is not put to its ‘highest and best’ (economic) use – places that are valued more for their use than their potential exchange. If they are not maximising economic return, they are likely available for relatively low rent, and this enables all sorts of activities to flourish. These places encourage use for production, not just consumption, and can be the most interesting and engaging places in a city.

Her current project focuses on urban renewal in the 21st century, exploring ways of improving on the renewal projects of the last 50 years. It is looking at the jurisdictional capacities for building social equity and cultural diversity: the legislative, regulatory, financial, political and cultural barriers to and facilitators of socially equitable urban development. Where do policy and planning interventions succeed in making a city more interesting, equitable and diverse, how and why?

Her background is in alternative cultures, with a particular interest in Melbourne’s live music and indie arts scenes. She advises governments and campaigns on local planning and policies to maintain them. At the moment she is Deputy Chair of the City of Melbourne’s Creative Spaces working group, a member of the Victorian State government’s live music roundtable, and advisor to the City of Sydney’s live music task force.

Kate is interested in supervising theses that engage with questions around urban renewal, gentrification, housing markets, social equity, cultural diversity and urban policy.

Find an expert: Dr Kate Shaw


Prof. Mark Wang

Upcoming and potential projects

Mark is interested in supervising topics relating to urban / development / environmental issues in East Asia and China.

The following list provides some of the potential projects:

  • Chinese Overseas Investment: How do the state-owned firms 'go out' differently from private firms? (This project could be partially supported by our Ford Foundation funded proejct about Chinese investment projects in Indonesia)
  • Environmental or disaster-related resettlement or poverty alleviation resettlement in rural China
  • Urban demolition or land acquisition in China
  • Urban restructuring in China
  • The new generation of migrant workers: Social/spatial mobility and skill accumulation
  • Urban transition and new urban spaces: globalisation and its impact on cities
  • Other development and environmental issues
  • We have many local contacts and good access to the field sites and informants. Plus, many other possibilities.

Find an expert: Prof. Mark Wang


Dr Ilan Wiesel

Upcoming and potential projects

Ilan is an urban geographer, specialising in the processes that produce spatial advantage or disadvantage for people living in cities, and the agency of different people and ‘social groups’ from diverse social, economic and cultural backgrounds - from the very-low-income to the super-rich – in these processes. Ilan is interested in both theoretical and applied research that aims to inform housing policy, social policy and urban planning that will reduce social inequality in cities.

Ilan is interested in supervising research in the fields of social and urban geography, especially around the following topics:

  • Housing and social inequality
  • The drivers and outcomes of spatial segregation in cities and beyond
  • The geographies of social disadvantage
  • The geographies of people with disability
  • The geographies of elites
  • Applied research housing policy, social policy and urban planning that will reduce social inequality in cities.
  • Justice and care-ethics in the city

Find an expert: Dr Illan Wiesel


Dr Ariane Utomo

Marriage, family, and transition to adulthood in Indonesia

Ariane is a social demographer, working in the field of marriage and family in Indonesia. Her overarching research interest is to examine the relationship between the family and four dimensions of social change in contemporary Indonesia: globalisation, economic development, demographic transition, and democratisation following the political reforms of 1998. Her research and teaching activities are centred on how social change are reflected in attitudes to gender roles, school to work transition, women’s employment, changing marriage and fertility patterns, and the nature of social stratification in Indonesia.

She is interested in supervising students working on topics related to population, development, and social change in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. In particular, she is keen to supervise projects looking into marriage and family, and on the intersections between gender, labour market, and the future of work in the region.

Find an expert: Dr Arianne Utomo

Next steps

Once you've found a researcher you'd like to work with, we encourage you to get in touch with them and talk about potential projects. Then, download and fill out the Geography Supervisor and Research Project Form (PDF 148.8 KB) and include it in your application.

Apply for Bachelor of Science (Honours) Apply for Master of Geography