Opinion

Knowledge Equity, Not Extraction: Reflections on Contemporary Injustice

HDR students Anna Sturman, Blanche Verlie, Omar Elkharouf, Gemma Viney and Catherine Donnelley reflect on November’s masterclass workshop with visiting Professor Kari Marie Norgaard, Dimensions of Contemporary Injustice.

On November 20, the Sydney Environment Institute hosted a masterclass, Dimensions of Contemporary Injustice, with Professor Kari Marie Norgaard. A collaboration between the Sites of Violence and the Multispecies Justice projects, the workshop was an opportunity to learn from the incredible depth of knowledge Kari has on social and environmental injustices, as well as how she has conducted her research with constant reflexivity, making justice the centre point of her practice.

Collaboration

Kari opened the workshop with an overview of her more recent work with the Karuk First Nations people in the US, their climate change adaptation planning and other issues of Indigenous environmental justice. This provided a really open space for those in the room to share with us their projects, the challenges they are and have faced in doing their work, and we were then able to discuss overlaps between the various concerns and issues.

It was in those spaces of delicate negotiation and exploration of resonances between our research that some truly great moments emerged. Kari’s approach to her own research and the people she works with set a reflective tone for our group that was deeply refreshing. Hearing how a senior academic navigates the complex social and cultural spaces that she is both a part of and researching will stay with me for a long time.

Kari speaks through collaboration in every element of her work. With her partner Ron Reed, who despite not being in the room was tangibly present in every conversation; with the Karuk tribe, as she made clear at every turn that her research was the product of their partnership; and with us, turning a masterclass into a conversation that allowed everyone present to speak and be heard on the myriad of topics covered in the three hour session.

Justice

The dimensions of contemporary justice were explored in this warm and inclusive space of varied perspectives and inquiring minds. What is it to allow things to be that never ceased? What are we continually causing to cease? What can Uluru Statement from the Heart teach us? What do we need to hear?

The range and depth of conversation touched on many different forms of injustice, and what we as scholars can do to dismantle the structures that reinforce them. These included speaking with, not for or over our collaborators and basing research on knowledge equity rather than extraction. Kari also spoke to justice within the structures of the academy, whether that be through taking space ourselves for the decolonisation of knowledge, or building a network of resources that explicitly elevates the voices of scholarship that are so often left out in the curation of references.

The interdisciplinary nature of the group allowed the opportunity for each student-scholar to share an important nuanced insight of what justice (and injustice) is about. It allowed to me to self-reflect on my own work, and more importantly, a refreshing reminder on why I chose to pursue my academic studies.

Community

This workshop with Kari was a fascinating entry point into a myriad of discussions, loosely framed around each person’s research but each seeming to mingle and sprawl as the afternoon went on. PhD’s tend to be a lonely affair, and it was refreshing to have conversations with likeminded HDR students pursuing community-led in-situ research projects that are aiming to address contemporary environmental and social inequality issues through different perspectives and theoretical lenses.

This authentic space invited open, visceral discussions from uncannily aligned transdisciplinary, transcontextual perspectives. All of us working towards contributions in awareness of self, other and whole ecological systems. I was really astounded by the range of projects Sydney Uni PhD students are working on, and the courage and creativity with which they are tackling them – given the heavy nature of many of the issues.

Alongside her obvious skill as a researcher and the value of the work she creates, observing Kari’s way of moving through academic spaces as a person was a lesson in itself.


Anna Sturman is a PhD candidate in the Political Economy Department. Her research centres on Aotearoa New Zealand’s climate change policy and uses a range of neo-Marxian theory to explore the state, agricultural capital and the valuation of non-human nature. Anna holds a First Class Honours degree in Political Science from the University of Canterbury and is a qualified Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand. At present she is an Editorial Assistant and Publicity Officer for the Economic and Labour Relations Review, a journal of the Industrial Relations Research Centre based at UNSW and a Sessional Lecturer for the University of Sydney.

Blanche Verlie has a PhD in climate change education from Monash University, which she completed in 2019. She has worked at RMIT University in the Sustainability and Urban Planning discipline as a lecturer, and before that, as a tutor. She is also the book review editor of the Australian Journal of Environmental Education.

Gemma Viney is a Research Assistant on the FASS 2018 Strategic Research Program Project developing the field of Multi Species Justice and is currently completing a PhD in the Department of Government and International relations. Gemma was an Honours Research Fellow with the Sydney Environment Institute in 2017. She has a Bachelors degree in International and Global Studies from the University of Sydney, and a First-class Honours Degree in the Department of Government and International Relations.

Omar Elkharouf is a PhD student with the Department of Government and International Relations and a Research Assistant for FoodLab Sydney. Omar holds a Bachelor degree in Arts /Sciences and an Honours degree in Human Geography at the University of Sydney. Omar has a passion for social/environmental justice, urban geographies, sustainable food systems and intersectionality. His PhD seeks to build on this passion by assessing the ways that local government actors can promote food security through policy and programs, including food incubators, through the lens of intersectional discourse.

Catherine Donnelley is a PhD candidate in the School of Architecture, Design and Planning. She has a strong commitment to understanding how the physical, social and built environment can be a catalyst for peaceful social change, equity and awareness. Catherine runs a collaborative public art and design studio, Ngaliya, with Indigenous fine artist Delvene Cockatoo-Collins, focused on Indigenous ontologies, respectful relations, informed being and embedded state of the art, sustainable outcomes.