Prof. Tess Lea

Department of Gender and Cultural Studies

Professor Tess Lea is an anthropologist who specialises in the anthropology of policy. Her fundamental interest is with issues of (dys)function: how it occurs and to what, whom and how it is ascribed. Looking at extraction industries, everyday militarisation, houses, infrastructure (eg plumbing and roads), schools, and efforts to create culturally congruent forms of employment and enterprise from multiple perspectives, her work asks why the path to realising seemingly straightforward ambitions is so densely obstacled. As part of this she is also exploring ways in which Aboriginal families might tell their stories and commandeer policy openings and closings for their own ends. For this pursuit she is working closely with Professor Elizabeth Povinelli from Columbia University and the Karrabing Film Collective (see

Lea also has a strong history of applied work, having inaugurated the School for Social and Policy Research at Charles Darwin University; and worked as a policy and ministerial advisor at senior levels of government. She has been awarded a number of Australian Research Council grants; fellowships (e.g. Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship; Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship;, Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Cambridge Visiting Fellowship); and was the inaugural University Medallist for Women’s Studies at the ANU. Her publications span interests in housing, health and education in regional and remote Australia.