Published 13 December 2018
The Sydney Environment Institute welcomes Liberty Lawson to the team! Liberty, an experienced editor and inter-disciplinary researcher, will take over the knowledge translation role from Anastasia Mortimer, who has recently left the Institute. Find out more about Liberty below.
What made you interested in working at the Sydney Environment Institute?
I’ve been attending SEI events and conferences over the past few years, and I’ve always been so impressed by the diversity of the researchers and speakers – philosophers, artists, historians — not just scientists or conservationists. There is so much talk about how interdisciplinary collaboration is the way of the future, and this is absolutely true, but it’s often used more as a buzzword than in praxis. It is actually quite rare to find organisations that follow through and actively encourage and hold space for these conversations to happen. I am so inspired by the breadth of work being done at SEI, and so it’s really a dream to join such an incredible team.
You’re currently completing your PhD at the University of Sydney. What is the focus of your research?
For the past few years I have been researching methods of restoration on coral reefs, focussing on projects that we might consider ‘fringe’ conservation – artists, biodesigners, and NGOs creating artificial reefs or instigating local conservation programs with flexibility and creativity, rather than through traditional conservation policy and ‘holding at arm’s length’ methods. This kind of hyperbolic thinking is what we need to encourage as we move into an unpredictable world, and in particular, I am looking through the lens of post-humanist philosophers like Karen Barad and Donna Haraway, and using their ontological frameworks to inform a more coherent description of Anthropocene ecologies on a global scale, and ultimately, to influence conservation policy to be more efficient and capable of dealing with such large-scale, complex, and unruly systems.
I also was recently awarded an ACU Blue Charter fellowship, for which I will be exploring the effects of marine plastic and conservation rhetoric on mental health and the psychosocial benefits of collective action and socially-engaged environmental initiatives across the Indo-Pacific.
How did you find yourself engaged in such cross-disciplinary research?
I have always been very curious about the world, and initially I started my undergraduate degree in physics. I always found it hard to pick just one thing to focus on… I also have a deep love of ecology, philosophy, sociology and languages. I took some units in the History and Philosophy of Science, and that made me realise that I don’t have to be a marine biologist to study biology, I don’t have to be a physicist to study physics. As a philosopher and social scientist, I could look at science as a practice, I could interweave concepts from history and art and the environment and medicine and all of the things I love, and more than that, I could actually translate and share some of these amazing ideas and help to engage a wider audience. I ended up majoring in HPS, which evolved into an honours thesis and the start of my PhD, which was also partly inspired by a lifelong fascination with the submarine and coral ecosystems.
Throughout all this, I was freelancing as a writer and editor, and I started writing more and more about environmental issues. I deferred my studies for two years to work with NGO’s, in India and Indonesia, in marine conservation and coral reef restoration. When I came back to Sydney, I started a Masters of Publishing. Change only happens through education, and so making ideas accessible and inspiring has become an integral part of my own creative and critical process. Now that I am returning to post-graduate research, no matter how esoteric it might seem, I always try to ground my work in the practicalities of the real-world.
Outside of your academic work, what are your passions and interests?
Naturally I love being in and under the ocean, scuba diving, freediving, surfing. There is always something new and wonderful to discover. I have also been a yoga student since I was young, and I am so grateful to all my wonderful teachers. The knowledge they have shared with me from the Vedic texts and the Yoga Sutras has deeply informed my own philosophical worldview. Yoga comes from the root word ‘yug’, meaning unity, both as a coming together to transcend differences, as well as a more fundamental realisation that those differences were actually illusions all along. This resonates on a few levels with my work, which both resides between, and continues the attempt to dissolve, arbitrary boundaries, but ultimately, it inevitably encourages a deep compassion for all beings, regardless of geography, species, consciousness or timescale.