Today’s featured member profile comes from the fantastic Michelle Peterie, take it away Michelle!
Member: Michelle Peterie
What are you researching?
My thesis compares the experiences of volunteers who support asylum seekers in Australian immigration detention facilities with those of volunteers who support asylum seekers in the community. In doing so, it foregrounds the impact of carceral technologies not only on detained asylum seekers, but also on the volunteers who support them.
Australia’s detention regime has received considerable academic attention in recent years, but few scholars have examined the experiences of volunteers. We know that immigration detention causes profound harm to those who are detained. My study builds on this research, highlighting the Kafkaesque mechanisms through which detention centres harm asylum seekers, and showing how these technologies extend to negatively impact volunteers.
What drew you to this topic?
I work in the sociology of emotion, and I came to my thesis topic via the idea of ‘compassion’. I’d previously done research concerning the Australian government’s asylum seeker discourses, and had become interested in the model of compassion that these discourses employed. It seemed to me that while conservative appeals to compassion (“saving lives at sea” etc) had been critiqued by scholars, progressive appeals were also problematic because they constructed asylum seekers as helpless victims while Australia was cast as saviour. I decided to study asylum seeker support programs because I wanted to see if and how this dynamic played out in (or was contested by) the personal relationships that these programs involved. When I began the fieldwork for my project, it soon became clear that the detention centre environment distorted and to some extent collapsed the whole notion of empowered care ‘givers’ and disempowered care ‘receivers’, as both asylum seekers and volunteers were subject to psychological violence. My fieldwork thus led me to consider larger questions regarding state power, institutional affect and institutional design. It’s these questions that are now the focus of my study.
What have been the highlights of your PhD journey?
Early in my candidature, someone told me that a PhD was an apprenticeship to become a researcher. It was great advice. Since then, I’ve worked a few days each week as a research assistant and have project managed an ARC Linkage Project; I’ve been involved in organising and running an international emotions conference, plus a couple of smaller events and workshops; I’ve done some research consultancy work for a third-sector organisation; I’m in the process of co-editing a Routledge book with some colleagues; and I currently co-convene TASA’s Emotions and Affect thematic group. It’s been busy to say the least, but my candidature has been so much richer because of these extra activities and because of the generous people who have mentored me through them.
What do you wish you had known before you started?
One of the most importance lessons that I’ve learnt during my candidature concerns the value of academic community. Prior to commencing my PhD, I didn’t appreciate what an important role my friends and colleagues would play in helping me to develop as a scholar, and in making the whole research process sustainable.
What advice would you give to others who are either just beginning, or contemplating starting post graduate study?
To pass on the advice that was given to me, doctoral study isn’t just about writing a thesis, it’s also about becoming a well-rounded researcher. I would encourage new candidates to find mentors, and to seek out opportunities to do all of those things that academics do: write articles, present at conferences, organise events, give public lectures, liaise with industry, apply for grants, do admin, teach. The wonderful thing about this approach is that it embeds you in and allows you to learn from a community of researchers. It also provides valuable perspective regarding your own work, and regarding what it means to be a professional researcher.
In addition, I would encourage new candidates to choose a thesis topic that they find compelling and meaningful. Regardless of how much you do and how skilled you become, there are no guarantees in the academic job market. As such, I think it’s important to research something that – irrespective of the career outcomes – will have been worth three-and-a-half years of your life.
What do you do when you aren’t working on your research?
My idea of a riotous good time is a yoga/dance class, a SUP lesson, a picnic at the beach, or an evening in discussing life and politics. My procrasti-baking game is also strong.