Q&A With 2020 Honours Fellow Stella Maynard

Get to know one of the Institute’s new Honours Research Fellows, Stella Maynard, from the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies.

Image by Utsman Media, via Unsplash.

What are you researching for Honours?

I’m researching the relationship between the weather and the carceral system in Australia; more particularly, how the government weaponises forces (like heat, the cold, air and humidity) to debilitate the people it encloses, and through this, fortify settler-colonial power. Prisons across this continent – including the broader carceral network, in Manus and Nauru – are the sites of unevenly-distributed infrastructural and environmental violence that are only intensifying in the context of climate change.

But in the shadow of, and in excess of, all of this State-sanctioned harm, all of these sites are also places where people are fighting and caring, and concretely living in anticipation of a better world. Rather than solely focusing on scenes of suffering, what I really want to do is follow these abolitionist undercurrents, and listen for what the threads of these lived desires mean for our future social, political, environmental and economic organisation of life.

What was the inspiration behind your Honours research?

The long-histories and active-presents (tender and fierce) of anti-colonial struggles and abolitionist organising across the continent, and abroad – our history is full of instances of people coming together and making beautiful lives (and communities) under terrible circumstances. These act as constant proof that building other worlds/relations are possible if you’re willing to act outside of the realm of conventional politics.

What do you hope this research will contribute to society and its future?

The question of what academic work can achieve is one that I am still grappling with. Avery Gordon says, “we need to know where we live in order to imagine living elsewhere”, and I think that’s what I’m modestly trying to achieve: to come-to-grips with some of the logics that structure and produce cruddy, organised, mundane, deathly and invisible forms of violence across this continent. To this end, I hope that my research can contribute, in some small way, to the ongoing work that is building solidarity across different places, lives and struggles. It’s heartening that tens of thousands of people are consistently showing up at climate justice rallies – but still, there is such a disjuncture between that collective mass, and those who are consistently fighting alongside struggles for prison abolition or Indigenous sovereignty. While the connections between Indigenous dispossession, resource-extraction, carceral systems and environmental injustices are often discursively acknowledged, I think there is still a long way to go in galvanising that into action in mainstream (predominantly-white) environmentalism.

Apart from research, what are your passions and interests?

I like this thing that Mariame Kaba once said: “everything worthwhile is done with other people” – that a life lived in relation is what’s most important. For me that translates into reading, organising, cooking, writing and editing with friends, dancing, caring, crushing, swimming, planning, hiking – all things that bring me into relation with others. I also really love reality TV. Because I’ve found the experience of writing an Honours paper pretty isolating, I’m trying not to let it become the driving interest in my life.

What about Sydney Environment Institute made you interested in completing Honours Fellowship with us?

This is probably related to the last question – being an Honours Fellow at SEI, you get a desk space. Materially, that’s obviously really helpful, but more than that, having a place to go every day also necessarily means becoming connected to a room full of people who are researching different-but-related interesting topics across questions of human and other-than-human justice.  I think that’s what has most drawn me here and what I’m most looking forward to in the months to come.


Stella Maynard is a writer that lives and works on unceded Gadigal land. They are currently researching the intersection of the carceral system and the weather through an abolitionist framework for an honours thesis in Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. Their writing has been published by Society & Space, The Lifted Brow, The Saturday Paper, Running Dog, among other publications.