Research Themes

Much of my work is currently organised through the Rural Education and Communities research group that I lead.  This page allows greater freedom to outline the various avenues of research, past and present, that link with and go beyond those noted on the research group page.  In order to assist placing this work in a traditional academic structure I would position myself as belonging to Curriculum Inquiry and Rural Education, and increasingly Rural Studies (Rural Geography and Rural Sociology). Rurality & Knowledge is the central focus of my work – they are combined as the ways in which they come together, or otherwise, is what I am driven to explore in my work.  Much of this is explored through the ARC DECRA fellowship I was awarded for 2020-2022.

Here I outline the persistent themes of my work, past, present and intended future directions.  These may be also seen as ‘projects’ of indefinite time and scope, delineated by the span of my career and represented at this point in that journey.  Perhaps they are broad scope ongoing projects…  It is not always appropriate to think in terms of distinct projects in the traditional institutional sense – a defined time frame, start and end, usually delineated by funding, collaborations and reports.  Where appropriate specific ‘projects’ are noted, though I would mention that they tend to work across themes in most instances so placement may be problematic.

An attempt at a diagrammatic representation appears below. Contextually this work draws from Australia, but is increasingly informed by international travel and experience. Though I necessarily interpret much through my Australian history.  I have a particular interest in rural China – the experiences of a context with a very different culture and history helps, I believe, understand rurality in a more generative manner.  Recent study trips to the Eastern USA, North Western China, rural UK and Northern Norway also help position my thinking internationally.

Social Justice.
This is informed by explorations of ‘Spatial Justice’ (Soja, 2010) and ‘Southern Theory’ (Connell, 2007) & ‘Epistemologies of the South’ (Santos, 2014).  It provides the theoretical positions on justice that orientate the other work.

Project: Re-centering outback education: Policy & Practice.

Past Project: Place, Rural Education and Social Justice: A Study of Rural Teaching and Curriculum Politics.

Rural Knowledges.
Drawing from social justice this theme is an epistemological orientation towards knowledge in/of/for the rural and how it is, and is not, engaged with in contemporary educational (broadly defined) and cultural systems.
Project: Exploring Rural Knowledges
Project: ARC DECRA Project 2020-22 Engaging Rural Knowledges for Sustainable Futures: Spatial Justice and Rural Schooling
Project: Rural students @ University.

Past project: Enhancing aspirations for STEM careers in rural, regional and remote communities

Rural Studies.
Comprising Rural Geography and Rural Sociology (and oddly not all that well developed in Australia) this theme works to link Rural Education and Curriculum Inquiry with this well developed international field. It provides avenues of new insights and approaches for each field, and consequently works to improve the research in all.
Project: Reframing Rural Education Research.

The focus here is a more traditional Curriculum Inquiry approach that sees ‘curriculum’ as an object of study as an issue of knowledge and representation. I look at these issues from a rural standpoint. Specifically here I explore issues of a curriculum hierarchy, linked to the dominance of metropolitan knowledges and the marginalisation of rural knowledges, and how metro-centric understandings of curriculum produce inequity.
Project: Access, achievement and the spatial distribution of curriculum in NSW Senior Secondary Schooling.
Past Project: Place, Rural Education and Social Justice: A Study of Rural Teaching and Curriculum Politics’.

Curriculum Access & Achievement.
In this theme I explore the spatial dimension of access and achievement, as linked to issues of knowledge and community contexts.
Project: Access, achievement and the spatial distribution of curriculum in NSW Senior Secondary Schooling.
Past Project: Place, Rural Education and Social Justice: A Study of Rural Teaching and Curriculum Politics’.

Attracting and retaining professionals to rural, regional and remote contexts.
This is where I began my advocacy, and first major research project (Roberts, 2005).  I have since broadened the school staffing focus to look more explicitly at leaders, and in particular, other professionals in rural regions – such as Health Professionals.
Project: Connecting Rural Professions.

Sustainability of Rural Places.
The various themes come together to inform a broader sociological concern for the sustainability of rural places.  Here I bring together the various elements to look at how rural places are represented and how they can determine their own futures.

Project/s: Partner in two ‘Widening participation’ research projects:  ‘Re-Framing the Gap Year‘ and ‘Higher education careers advice for low SES and rural, regional and remote students’.

Past Project: Towards Place-Based Education in the Murray Darling Basin  

The Academy.
I have an increasing interest in what it means to be an academic, to be a university, and the role of universities and the academy in these times.  These are emerging themes across the epistemological aspects of my research, and in my blog writing. Indeed the corollary of these – what counts as research in these times -is increasingly central to thinking differently about rurality, the global south and justice.   Consequently, this website is part of this theme.