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Reworking Cities and Economies

Contemporary cities and economies are in flux in the face of multiple environmental, technological, and socio-economic challenges. Transformations to modes of urban living, economy and work, and governance are emerging. These have both progressive and regressive potential.

Our work theorizes and empirically analyses the practices, materiality, and politics of these transformations. Our approaches embrace critical and generative perspectives. We combine influences from geographical political economy, post-structuralism, post-humanism, and feminism, with grounded empirical work at multiple scales.

We seek to unsettle axiomatic scripts of urban and economic transformation (‘creative’, ‘compact’, ‘smart’, ‘sustainable’ cities) to consider their negotiation, potentialities, lived experience, materialities, and related politics.

Research questions

  • How do technology, automation, and urban economic dynamics interact in reconfiguring work and the city?
  • What vernacular capacities and legacies of the city can become resources for sustainable urban futures?
  • What are the capacities of bodies, buildings, and materials to facilitate more just and sustainable cities?
  • How do post-human philosophies help reveal the ambivalent politics and potentials of urban dwelling?
  • What forms of, and approaches to, social and economic governance can support progressive urban transformations? 

Current projects include


Professor Gordon Waitt

Professor Stacy Carter

Dr Thomas BirtchnellDr Theresa Harada

Project partners

Assistive Technologies Suppliers Australia - Mr David Sinclair

Project website

Lets move together


Dr Chantel Carr

Project description

This project explores how cultures of thrift, care and making-do have flourished in the regional steelmaking city of Wollongong. The Port Kembla steelworks has operated in the Illawarra region continuously for almost 90 years. Maintenance and repair are central to the functioning of a large industrial plant, yet they are often rendered invisible within accounts of manufacturing. Through a close examination of the workers who keep the steelworks running, this project explores how methods, practices, skills and values spill out beyond the paid workplace, into the garage, shed and suburban backyard.


Indicative publications

Carr, C. (2017). Maintenance and repair beyond the perimeter of the plant: Linking industrial labour and the home. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 42(4): 642-654.

Carr, C. and Gibson, C. (2017). Animating geographies of making: Embodied slow scholarship for participant-researchers of maker cultures and material work. Geography Compass DOI: 10.1111/gec3.12317.

Carr, C. and Gibson, C. (2016). Geographies of making: rethinking materials and skills for volatile futures. Progress in Human Geography 40(3): 297-315.


Associate Professor Lyn Phillipson

Dr Chris Brennan-Horley

Professor Richard Fleming

Professor Helen Hasan

Professor Chris Cook 

Project description

The ‘Dementia Friendly Kiama’ project is an ongoing partnership between UOW Global Challenges Program, the Kiama Municipal Council, the Kiama community and Dementia Australia. The project utilises a Community-based Participatory Action Research framework to inform the development, implementation and evaluation of a dementia-friendly community intervention.

Initial research included:

  • Interviews and mapping exercises with people with dementia and their carers
  • Community and business surveys
  • Piloting a Dementia-friendly business toolkit
  • The development of an environmental assessment tool for use in the auditing of public buildings.


UOW Global Challenges Program (2014-15)


Indicative publications

Phillipson, L., Hall, D., Cridland, E., Fleming, R., Brennan-Horley, C., Guggisberg, N., Hasan, H. (2018). Involvement of people with dementia in raising awareness and changing attitudes in a dementia friendly community pilot project. Dementia. 

Cridland, E. K., Phillipson, L., Brennan-Horley, C., & Swaffer, K. (2016). Reflections and Recommendations for Conducting In-Depth Interviews With People With Dementia. Qualitative Health Research, 26(13), 1774–1786

Other outcomes

This research guided the Action Plan of a local Dementia Alliance and Dementia Advisory Group. Evaluative research activities monitored inputs, outputs, impacts and outcomes of the project.

Public recognition has included

Excellence in Community Partnerships Award at the National Disability Awards (2016)

World Health Organisation recognition at the 7th Global Conference for the Alliance of Healthy Cities (2016)

National Award for Local Government in the Disability Access and Inclusion category (2016)


Dr Nicole Cook

Dr Shanaka Herath

Dr Cole Hendrigan

Sophie-May Kerr

Project description

Drawing on residents’ engagement and experiences of intensification this project aims to chart citizens’ lived experience of denser urban worlds, foreshadowing both new roles and opportunities for local government. The project examines intensification through a topological approach, where the everyday experiences, sensations and perceptions of urban dwellers are brought into focus (McFarlane, 2016). The research will examine how resident engagements with intensification are charting new spaces of citizen and government responsibility, providing insights into the future of local governance in post-suburban worlds.


University of Wollongong Global Challenges Seed Grant (2018-2019).


Dr Thomas Birtchnell

Professor Anthony Elliott

Project description

From the automated checkout in the supermarket to the 3D printer in the library, robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are in our lives more than ever. Newspapers regularly feature articles on driverless cars, rovers on Mars or supercomputers competing with humans in chess or Go. While much anecdotal information is now widely available there is a pressing need for research on how these technologies will alter our lifestyles, social practices and habits in the future. The research problematizes the notion that the Creative Industries are immune to the impacts of AI and automation.


Australian Research Council Discovery Project (2016-2020)


Indicative publications

Elliott, A. (2019). The Culture of AI: Everyday Life and the Digital Revolution London: Routledge

Birtchnell, T. (2018). Listening without ears: Artificial intelligence in audio mastering. Big Data & Society 

Birtchnell, T. and Ellliott, A. (2018) Automating the black art: Creative places for artificial intelligence in audio mastering Geoforum 


Professor Robyn Dowling, Professor Pauline McGuirk, Dr Charles Gillon 


Australian Research Council Discovery Project (DP170103384) 

Project Description

Globally, urban innovation is cohering around the idea of the ‘smart city’. This project provides the first analysis to delineate what is involved in making cities smart in Australia. Engaging with diverse smart city proponents, the project is collecting evidence on smart cities’ scope and implementation. Through a combination of extensive and intensive case study research, the project will reveal the structure, dynamics and consequences of smart city strategies. The project’s evidence base, critical insights on the limits and potentials of ‘smart’ for urban management, and stakeholder engagement will inform policy and governance interventions. The project’s theoretical contribution will build understandings of how ‘smart’ will change our cities, their geographies and their governance. 


Indicative Publications

Santala I, McGuirk PM, Sharing cities: creating space and practice for new urban capacities, agency and subjectivities, Community Development

Dowling R, McGuirk PM, Maalsen S, (2018) Realising smart cities: partnerships and economic development in the emergence and practices of smart in Newcastle, Australia, in Karvonen A, Curgurullo F, Caprotti F (Eds) Inside Smart Cities: Place, Politics and Urban Innovation, Routledge, London, 15-30


Dr Andrew Warren

Project description

In late 2017 Australia’s century-old auto manufacturing industry underwent total closure as the last Ford and GM-Holden vehicles rolled-off assembly lines in respective Melbourne and Adelaide factories. Joining the re-organisation of upstream vehicle production is the downstream transformation of auto repair and maintenance. Using a comprehensive survey and ethnographic methods inside auto shops this project is investigating the structural changes unfurling in the auto ‘after-market’, documenting experiences of transition among local workshops and workforces. Theoretically informed by geographical political economy, the research aims to improve understandings of the technical and competitive dynamics of auto repair and maintenance along with the changing labour process and training needs of auto technicians. 

Expected outcomes

The project will develop an evidence base and analytical framework to offer new insights on Australia's auto industry amid its unprecedented restructuring. Such knowledge is crucial to protect jobs in repair and maintenance – the largest source of auto industry employment globally. The study will map industry-level changes, examine firm/shop actions to stay viable, and offer grounded insights on worker’s experiences. Results, assembled in a final report for after-market industry groups, will seek to inform policy by building new knowledge on industry transition across geographical sites and scales. 


Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA)


Warren, A. (2019) Labour Geographies of Workplace Restructuring: An Intra-Labour analysis. Antipode 51(2):681-706