Social structures, inequalities and social justice
The way social relations are organised on the large scale, the making of social inequalities, and the pursuit of social justice, are among the most important concerns of social science - and of society as a whole. Research in these areas ranges from close-focus fieldwork to large-scale theoretical studies. It can involve research with international partners or cooperation with local communities or schools. Research in these areas is relevant to the teaching of Education and Social Work, because social inequalities produce many of the problems that social workers deal with, and shape the work of teachers and educational systems.
Gender relations and gender identity
The social positions of women and men, the distinctions between femininity and masculinity, the different ways gender patterns are enacted, and the consequences in terms of economic and social inequality, are important themes of contemporary social science and humanities. Researchers investigate how gender relations affect growing up, personal relationships, and large-scale institutions, and how they are represented in culture. The Faculty has made significant research efforts in this area. Projects range from life-history interviewing and examinations of gendered labour markets to studies of global gender patterns. A particular focus has been the place of men and boys in gender relations and the social construction of masculinities.
In post-colonial societies, such as Australia, research into Indigenous issues is primarily concerned with advancing the position and knowledge base of Indigenous people. It also has the potential to contribute to a deeper understanding of past conflict, current problems and future directions within society more broadly. The Faculty contributes to both these dimensions of research in its research higher degree program, and in research conducted in collaboration with Indigenous researchers and communities. Improving the educational and social outcomes of Indigenous people are key aims of this work.
Sexuality and sexual identity
Human sexuality is a topic of great interest in society, but has been difficult to develop as a research field, outside a narrow biological or medical context. In recent decades, however, sexuality has developed as an important field of research in the social and cultural sciences. Its topics include the social structures shaping sexual practice; the variations between cultures – and within cultures – in practices around intercourse, childbirth and sexual health; sexual violence and exploitation; representations of sexuality in mass media; and the role of sexuality in human development. The practical importance of social research on sexuality, for purposes such as addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic, are now recognised.
Societies change over time, so the experiences and relationships of groups and individuals change too. These changes can be studied by the techniques of documentary history or statistical analysis, and by contemporary research methods such as life-history interviewing. In the study of social change in education, how institutions such as schools are created and transformed is a particular focus of research. In the study of change in social work and policy studies fields, how social policies, interventions and movements deliberately and inadvertently affect the distribution of power and resources and the social position of different kinds of people are central, as is understanding the role of individual and collective action to promote or resist change.
Sociology of knowledge
The relationship between social structures and knowledge systems is a background issue in much of the social and cultural sciences. It affects the way we think about school curriculum, about the scientific basis of practice in social work and teaching, and about research itself. Recently the question of the social bases of knowledge on a world scale has come into focus, in discussions of post-colonial studies, southern theory, and indigenous knowledge. Research on these questions can range from studies of particular curriculum fields, to studies of the production of social theory in the global periphery.