2017 Profiles




Emily is a member of the Religion and Society Research Cluster, at Western Sydney University, and researches in the area of gender, reproduction, and medicalisation. She is particularly interested in counter-cultural birth practices and attitudes.

Emily’s work has focused on the practices of home birthing women in Australia, in particular the spiritual discourse and practice developed by some home birthing women. Emily has published research on rituals involving the placenta, and is the only Australian scholar to publish research on the Blessingway ceremony, a home-birth version of the more traditional baby shower. Emily has also written about the implications for research and knowledge production when Anthropologists are denied access to their chosen field-site.


ANSA speaks to… Dr. Emily Burns

1. What moment did you experience as the hardest, the most adventurous, and/or the most instructive during your research/fieldwork, and why? (you can pick one, or describe them all!) On one of my first visits to a field-site, for my doctoral research in a semi-rural town in NSW, I took all of my ethics-committee approved information sheets with me, which my host read as we sat in a dining room, sipping tea. After reading, she looked up and asked what a PhD was. This was a legitimate question, but one I was completely unprepared for, having spent so much time and energy legitimising my research for the university context. I had over-intellectualised this meeting, and the information sheets, and had not considered the ordinary, every-day questions people outside the university might ask of me and my proposed work. I nervously gave her an answer and mumbled and fumbled my way through a series of questions that, ordinarily, would have been easy to talk through with a friend outside the academy, but at the time, and in that context, were challenging. It taught me a very valuable lesson though, and I haven’t made the same mistake again.

2.  How would you describe Anthropology to someone you met at a party, and/or how do you use anthropology at a party or social event (think: meeting the in-laws for Christmas, a hose warming, a festival, etc.)

I try not to induce any glazed-over-eyes at parties when asked about my work, so to the question ‘what is Anthropology?’ I’d say something quick, like ‘the study of humans in their environment/s’. I’d probably also spend the trip home from that party agonising over this response, and questioning whether I should text the person asking with a more thoughtful one!

3. What book are you currently reading (academic or otherwise)?

I’m currently reading ‘The Sellout’ by Paul Beaty, winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize, and so far it’s living up to its hype!

4. Who is your favourite/most inspiring Anthropologist, and why?

My favourite/most inspiring Anthropologist would have to be Robbie Davis-Floyd, who was the first Anthropologist I read on the topic of reproduction, and the first time I had thought critical about reproduction at all. Her work was the start of my own critical inquiry into birth, and I’ve felt moved, challenged, provoked and humbled by her work over the years.

5. What’s your favourite thing to do outside of uni/academia?

At the moment my favourite this to do outside of academic is carpentry. I’ve been learning to use various tools over the years, and have been building projects on my own for a year or two now. My latest project is a set of built-in book shelves, and they look great!


Tim is a second year PhD student in anthropology at the University of New South Wales. Before starting his PhD, Tim completed honours in anthropology at the University of New South Wales and also worked as a research assistant at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra.

Tim’s PhD research concerns contemporary Icelandic identity politics following on from the collapse of the Icelandic banking sector and government administration in 2008-09. This year Tim intends to work with a number of citizen-led movements that have gained prominence since 2008. These include new leftist political parties, formal protest movements, and the developers of alternative economic initiatives. Through ethnography in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, Tim hopes to better understand how these movements are enabling Icelanders to challenge the power of the financial and political decision-making class whose actions precipitated the collapse of Iceland’s commercial banking sector.

ANSA speaks to… Tim Heffernan

1. What first attracted you to anthropology?Like many people, I think I fell into anthropology by pursuing my curiosity in understanding why people do what they do. I’ve always appreciated photography and exhibitions dedicated to capturing people living out their lives, and I guess anthropology offered something similar. So, pursuing anthropology was a natural progression for satisfying my curiosities about other people. I can still vividly remember the first anthropology lecture that I attended in first year, and am currently supervised by that same lecturer now. Over the last several years, my interest in anthropology has definitely strengthened through reading ethnography and meeting other anthropologists

2. What book are you currently reading (academic or otherwise)?

Over the last year or so I’ve been trying to read as much ethnography as possible. I’ve been choosing books that are well outside my own research interests in order to better understand how ethnography is conducted. I’ve got a real interest in older ethnographies and think younger anthropologists can learn something by reading them. The most recent ethnography I read was Scheper-Hughes’ Saints, scholars and schizophrenics: mental illness in rural Ireland. And before that, I read The Igbo of southeast Nigeria by Uchendu. For pleasure, I’m currently reading Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

3. Who is your favourite/most inspiring Anthropologist, and why?

Jean and John Comaroff are definitely my favourite anthropologists. I had the pleasure of attending a lecture they gave in 2012 at Sydney University, and I think that is when my interest in their work began. I particularly like their research approach of drawing on their ethnographic and life experiences in South Africa and then challenging hegemonic thought in the social sciences. In saying this, though, I do find their work to be dense and difficult to understand. But I also find this to be an interesting challenge, and have found myself going right back through their many books and journal articles to better understand their ideas.

4. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about doing anthropology and/or ethnography?

I think it’s really common to think that fieldwork will smooth and easy, and that just isn’t the case. Fieldwork is hard – intellectually, in terms of understanding what’s happening around you, but also socially and psychologically – and that’s not really talked about by senior anthropologists. So, I think the best piece of advice that I’ve received is to just sit with your own insecurities and worries when in the field and not to freak out. There will always be social or cultural elements that you don’t understand and, inevitably, you’ll commit a thousand social faux pas. Despite dying on the inside when these things happen, I’ve found them to also be the biggest learning experiences.

5. What resource, writing, or fieldwork tips do you have for those new to anthropology?
The internet is definitely an anthropologist’s best friend as there are so many excellent resources that are now offered by universities (e.g. the LSE Impact Blog), thought provoking podcasts (e.g. This anthropological life or New books in anthropology), and tips for writing theses (e.g. The thesis whisperer). I think the internet can be really useful in the field, too. For instance, I’m conducting research in an urban environment and have found Facebook and Twitter to be really useful tools for understanding how Icelanders in Reykjavík have been reacting to accusations of corruption within the financial and political decision-making class. Social media has also been great for seeing when public demonstrations are going to be held, or gauging public opinion on particular matters.



Esther Anderson is a third year PhD student and tutor at the University of Southern Queensland. She completed her Honours thesis on how the selfie gives meaning to online space before seeking out a more physically tangible research site and finding herself in the agricultural heartland of regional Queensland. Contact her via email (esther.anderson@usq.edu.au) or Twitter (@EstherR_And).

Esther’s research is situated in a rural town in southeast Queensland where the agricultural industry is reliant on a transient population of working holidaymakers. Her study explores how working holidaymakers negotiate their own temporariness to make sense of place and community.


ANSA speaks to… Esther Anderson

1. How did you first get involved with Anthropology?I first stumbled on anthropology completely by accident. After finishing high school, I was accepted into a Bachelor of Social Science degree and one of the requirements was an introductory anthropology course. I was immediately drawn in by the broad scope of the discipline – for someone who was young and somewhat sheltered, it felt like my whole world suddenly expanded. As time went on, I found myself more and more attracted to the pursuit of uncommon knowledge and have never lost that initial energy and enthusiasm.

2.  What moment did you experience as the hardest, the most adventurous, and/or the most instructive during your research/fieldwork, and why? (you can pick one, or describe them all!)

The first experiences that come to mind are actually the most physically demanding. I spent some time at the beginning of my fieldwork picking and packing fruit. Getting up at four o’clock each morning in winter was quite a rude awakening! There were a lot of days where I fell asleep in the middle of writing my fieldnotes because I was so tired, or I couldn’t write because my arm muscles were so sore. While this was exhausting work, I gained some quick insights into working holidaymakers’ everyday lives, and I also learned the importance of being flexible as a researcher.

3. What’s your favourite saying, phrase, or quote?

I have this quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson on a whiteboard next to my desk. It’s a little cheesy, but it’s a nice reminder when writing:
“Whether or not you can never become great at something, you can always become better at it. Don’t ever forget that! And don’t say ‘I’ll never be good’. You can become better! and one day you’ll wake up and you’ll find out how good you actually became.”

4. What book are you currently reading (academic or otherwise?)

I’m currently reading Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies by Seth M. Holmes.

5. What’s your favourite thing to do outside of uni/academia?

I’ve played roller derby since 2012. I’ve found that roller derby perfectly complements academia, although in a much more physical way; it is strategic, challenging, and requires a constant commitment to learning. It has also unleashed a competitive streak I never knew I had!


Naomi is in the final stages of her Master of Philosophy (Engineering) in the Computing and Information Systems department at the University of Melbourne, before moving on to her PhD. Her research uses ethnographic methods to explore livestreaming and video games with a focus on the online platform, Twitch.tv, a website designed exclusively for real-time video game content. Paying particular attention to concepts including publics and performance through understanding interactions, presentation of self, and identity, Naomi will bring discussions of social media, mental health, leisure and play, and the shift from a hobby to a profession, to the forefront. She completed Honours in Anthropology at the University of Melbourne in 2015, and a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Psychological Science at the University of Adelaide in 2013 and 2014.
You can contact Naomi at: naomir@student.unimelb.edu.au
Visit her website: https://naomieirobinson.wordpress.com/
Or follow her on Twitter: @naomieir

ANSA speaks to… Naomi Robinson

1. What first attracted you to anthropology?

Anthropology was something I naturally fell into. It’s something I always speak to colleagues about; that to be an anthropologist, you have to be a certain type of person, someone who knows there’s more than one side to every story, they like to observe the situations that they are in but also things going on in the periphery, and they have a love for learning about people and their lives – those are things I have always known about myself, and after I moved to anthropology from biomedical science, everything fell into place for me.

2. What resource, writing, or fieldwork tips do you have for those new to anthropology?

Attend as many seminars and symposiums as you can, no matter the size and even when it doesn’t seem like it would relate to your work. It’s a good way to become a familiar face, to make connections, but you can be inspired by one word that someone says.
My tip for writing is simple, it’s never too early to start writing and everything is worth writing down. You might end up with a lot to cut down in the end, but sometimes (most of the time) your research interests will probably shift during and/or after fieldwork.
In terms of fieldwork, don’t freak out about the fact you feel like you’re making it up as you go. The truth is, all researchers are always learning and no two fieldwork experiences will be the same, so don’t beat yourself up. Every mistake is a teachable moment, and when you’re doing online research where the manuals are still being written and are readily changing, that is no truer than it is here.

3. What book are you currently reading (academic or otherwise)?

After buying this book in April, I am finally sitting down and reading, Internet Spaceships Are Serious Business: An EVE Online Reader, edited by Marcus Carter, Kelly Bergstrom and Darryl Woodford. I know some of the authors featured in the book (supervisor included), but even if I didn’t, I always end up reading anything academic related to video games, and this book is really engaging.

4. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about doing anthropology and/or ethnography?
While doing postgraduate research, it’s yours and it’ll be your name on that thesis or dissertation. Trust your supervisors, but also trust yourself…and like anything in life, make sure you have the fire inside you to study what you’ve chosen.
Also, other students, staff, research fellows, and anyone else interested in ethnography are allies not enemies. No matter what you think, other people are going through or have been through similar situations while studying or researching, so it’s good to have people around you to share the highs and lows. Have you ever read an article or noticed a researcher at another institution that was related to your research? Well, you’d be surprised at where a quick email or knock on a door can get you. The opportunities in front of me wouldn’t have been possible or even known to me had a name not been given to me, and if I had not sent two spur of the moment emails.

5. What’s your favourite saying, phrase, or quote?

“She slept with wolves without fear, for they knew a lion slept among them” – R. M. Drake


Emma is currently writing up on her fieldwork as part of PhD in Anthropology at the University

of Newcastle. Her research is focused on witchcraft and on the shifting construc

tions of religion and young Australians. She is also involved in an ongoing researc

h project in the school of education at the University of Newcastle as a senior researcher. This project aims to contribute to the capacity of educators to reason morally, to demonstrate phronetic judgement and moral imagination about day to day dilemmas they experience, especially those concerned with questions of pedagogical practice and professional action about what it means to be socially just.



ANSA speaks to… Emma Quilty

1. What first attracted you to anthropology?Henna. Back in high school for my year twelve Society and Culture final project I researched the cultural practice of henna. Historically, henna was found to be used in the Arabian Peninsula, South Asia, India and parts of North Africa. Henna has been used to adorn young women’s bodies as part of social and holiday celebrations since the late Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean – originally to celebrate and honour the myth cycle of Baal and Anath.
I turned to my teacher and lamented about how I wished I could ‘do this as a job’. ‘This’ referring to the study pf cultural and religious practices – delving deep into them and discovering the rich history and complex layers of meaning. She turned to me said yes you can – google Anthropology.I turned to my teacher and lamented about how I wished I could ‘do this as a job’. ‘This’ referring to the study pf cultural and religious practices – delving deep into them and discovering the rich history and complex layers of meaning. She turned to me said yes you can – google Anthropology.2. In a few sentences outline your research. My PhD focuses on the experiences and perspectives of young Australian women involved in witchcraft. My PhD is based on fieldwork (January 2015-January 2016) exploring identity, belonging and ritual in witchcraft. Looking at these experiences through an anthropological lens, I examine how young witches use ritual as a socially constituted practice, and the implications for their sense of identity and belonging.

3. How would you describe Anthropology to someone you met at a party, and/or how do you use anthropology at a party or social event (think: meeting the in-laws for Christmas, a house warming, a festival, etc.)

This is a common question I am asked when I tell people I am an anthropologist. The simplest response I give is:
“Have you seen the TV show called Bones? Well Bones – the anthropologist starring in the show – studies forensic anthropology. So she studies humanity through their skeletal remains. A cultural anthropologist studies humanity through their social, cultural and religious practices and traditions.

4. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about doing anthropology and/or ethnography?

Keep in mind that uncertainty will haunt you during the whole process of writing. Even after numerous revisions, you will likely fail to live up to the ideal of what you hoped to be able to write. When you finish, admit to yourself it’s flawed, but feel blessed that you told a story that was yours alone to tell.

McGranahan, C. 2015 Read More, Write Less, accessed 4/1/17 <http://savageminds.org/2015/02/02/read-more-write-less/>

5. What’s your favourite saying, phrase, or quote?

I want to say: we come from difference, Jonas,
you have been taught to grow out,
I have been taught to grow in.
You learned from our father how to emit, how to produce, to roll each thought off your tongue with confidence, you used to lose your voice every other week from shouting so much.
I learned to absorb.

I asked five questions in genetics class today and all of them started with the word “sorry.”
Shrinking Women – Lily Myers
6. What book are you currently reading (academic or otherwise)?

The Empty Seashell by Nils Bubandt
The Autobiography of Malcolm X – As told to Alex Haley

PROFILE OF THE MONTH: Alana Brekelmans

Alana is a PhD student at The University of Queensland. She has spent her academic career somewhere in the murky space between fine arts and social science, jumping between studies dedicated to arts administration, social-geography, photography, anthropology, and writing. Alana completed her honours in creative writing using practice-led research techniques of embodiment and memory, before turning to a PhD in anthropology on embodiment and memory that employs creative writing techniques.

Alana’s research examines how rural Australians in North-West Queensland interpret and respond to weather and climatic events. Alana is particularly interested in how, through narrative storytelling and bodily practice, people might make present major weather events after they have passed

ANSA speaks to… Alana Brekelmans

1. What first attracted you to anthropology?I’ve always been interested in cultures. As soon as I mustered the money I bought a ticket to Asia, with the quixotic notion that I’d spend the rest of my days travelling and learning from the world’s cultures. I quickly discovered I didn’t even know how to ask the questions I needed to start learning. That’s when I decided to study anthropology.

2.  How would you describe Anthropology to someone you met at a party, and/or how do you use anthropology at a party or social event (think: meeting the in-laws for Christmas, a house warming, a festival, etc.)

“The ultimate gonzo journalism”

3. What’s your favourite saying, phrase, or quote?

“We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery”—Annie Dillard

4. On what topic and on what location would your ideal future fieldwork be, and why?

Collecting future research topics is my favourite hobby at the moment. My next project after my PhD will likely explore the phenomenology and politics of yoga in the West.

5. What resource, writing, or fieldwork tips do you have for those new to anthropology?

Make wonderful new mistakes every day.