My research interests are multiple and varied - but central to all my work is a focus upon the phenomenon of meso-level community. In particular I am interested in ‘community-based organisations’ (CBOs), that are both formalised into legal entities or remain as informal but still recognisable structured entities. Research indicates that while community in itself, theorised as networks of people, is significant for a whole range of reasons (see for example, the social capital literature), it is at the level of meso-level community that people band together to move private concerns into shared public agendas for change. It is this clear developmental agenda which also distinguishes CBOs from NGOs.
I am particularly interested in the interplay between personal agency and larger social structures that occurs in this space and that contribute to the overall health of CBOs. My research explores both the resistant and creative elements of this agenda. For example I examine the current threats to the lifeworld of CBOS, such as the audit culture, professionalisation, and other rational technical manifestations of the present truth regime. At the same time I seek to understand how we might respond creatively to these agendas; for example, by exploring the values and ethics of practitioners that safeguard good work; and by examining the kinds of organisational contexts and structures that support compassionate, community-based, development work.
Current research projects:
Housing for adults with severe and persistent mental health challenges
The University of Queensland has been asked to undertake research on the new Mantle Apartments accommodation for (14) adults with severe and persistent mental health challenges. Mantle Apartments has been designed as an innovative-best practice model of accommodating adults with these kinds of mental health issues, based on a recovery-oriented framework which places the needs and input of people with mental health issues and their families at the heart of service delivery. The research will examine the effectiveness of this model through a qualitative study involving interviews with prospective Mantle Apartments tenants, their families, and relevant professional staff. The research involves a pre-and post- transition methodology whereby tenants and their families are interviewed before the move to Mantle Apartments and once they are settled in, some eight months later.
Researchers: Assoc. Prof. Lynda Cheshire, Dr Lynda Shevellar, & Dr Laura Cox (UQ, School of Social Science) Dr Kelly Greenop, (UQ, School of Architecture).
Reimagining and radicalising community development through popular education
Popular education is a key tradition in community development (CD). It is best defined as education that is: rooted in the real interests and struggles of ordinary people; overtly political, critical of the status quo; and committed to progressive social and political change. While popular education has been highly successful in creating social change historically, the literature indicates that in countries like Australia, popular education has been on the decline. The consequence is that instead of being a powerful and radical vehicle for change, CD has been fashioned as a domesticating citizenship project which leaves communities to take care of themselves, under the guise of empowerment, yet with scant resources. Our experience as CD educators, trainers and mentors of CD practitioners provides evidence of the history and theory that popular education is largely invisible within SE QLD. Accordingly, this project aims to research what the popular education tradition can bring to the field of CD within SE QLD and to explore opportunities for revitalisation.
2017 Researchers: Dr Tina Lathouras, Assoc. Prof Peter Westoby & Dr Lynda Shevellar
Participation in community-based organisations
My research focus is on the ways in which a new generation of people are being engaged in political issues and social activism. Current research suggests people are tweeting instead of meeting, responding with cheques instead of time and signing up for e-petitions not committee positions. However, critics argue that this does not replicate the face-to-face engagement of community. Taking CBOs as a site of practice, this research examines changes to community participation. It asks what shifts in participation CBOs are witnessing, how they are understanding and experiencing these shifts (both challenges and benefits), how they are responding to these changes, and what the long-term consequences of shifts in participation may be. Utilising qualitative research it examines community organisations across a range of practice fields, including those working in social, cultural, political, economic and environmental development issues. This work is being supported by a UQ Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty Fellowship.
2016-2017 Researchers: Dr Lynda Shevellar & Mr Neil Barringham
This is a two –year action research project being run by two UQ researchers in partnership with a local community cooperative. The project will explore and document NCEC’s key practices and processes, and through this process, influence discussion around social and labour policy relevant to the long-term unemployed, particularly amongst those identified in policy and practice discourse as ‘people with intellectual disabilities and mental health issues’. Some of the outcomes and benefits of the project will include: - Making explicit key issues that are of interest or/and concern of the membership of NCEC and its partners; - An opportunity to share the wisdom of a successful cooperative which will be relevant for other community owned enterprises and cooperatives (helping in their developmental work); - Through publication, contribute to global discussions on community development, cooperatives, and approaches to employment for marginalised groups.
Researchers: Dr Peter Westoby & Dr Lynda Shevellar
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