Anxious futures

This cluster explores anxieties and related emotions (anger, fear, hope, etc) connected with the anticipated and immediate erosion of rights with a specific interest in the future.

While terms like Dystopia/Utopia conjure ideas of a worst/best case scenario, the theme considers the dystopian and utopian elements of the present and their connection to perceptions of possible futures. This includes anxieties over climate change and ecological disaster; anger, ressentiment (but also hope) in contemporary political cycles; fears over surveillance technology in governance, welfare and the punitive state; concerns over post-productive futures, AI, and extractive technologies; stresses associated with urban futures and inequalities; emotional labour, resilience and meaningful work futures; and social isolation and loneliness in late modernity during and after COVID-19.

The research in this cluster will contribute to UOW research relating to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)’s 13 ‘Climate action’, 8 ‘Decent work’, 3 ‘Health and Well-Being’, and 11 ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’.

Specific Projects

The emergency footing of the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed vulnerability in frontline workers (i.e., teachers and nurses) capacity to adjust (cognitively, behaviourally & emotionally) to meet work demands when exposed to both new crises and ongoing everyday vicissitudes. The transition to COVID recovery – ‘normality’ further complicates these adjustments and capacities. 

This project aims to explore factors supporting teachers and nurses’ resilience and adaptability as they recover from COVID-disrupted contexts by gathering information on their resilience, adaptability, and other variables in practice sites (e.g., schools and hospitals). The project includes a multidimensional instrument distributed to nurses and teachers both in Australia and in other international contexts (i.e., Philippines, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and New Zealand). Findings will enhance understanding of how to better support frontline workers. The COVID–19 pandemic has impacted the mental health of frontline workers and brings new urgency to prior calls for policy discussions on enhancing resilience workers. A recovery pandemic landscape will leave many frontline workers with residual trauma—immediate, short, medium, and long term— impacting health, and requiring stronger engagement in policy response within workplaces including, professional learning, and support for residual trauma in transitioning to COVID recovery conditions.

As nations reel from the effects of poverty, inequality, climate change and now the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, it feels as though the world is struggling through a period characterised by pessimism, cynicism, and anxiety.

This project seeks to challenges individualised understandings of emotion, revealing how they relate to cultural, economic and political realities in difficult times. Combining numerous empirical studies, and theoretical developments from around the world, the diverse contributors explore how dystopian visions of the future influence, and are influenced by, the emotions of an anxious and precarious present. 

This is an original investigation into the changing landscape of emotion in dark and uncertain times

This project aims to investigate the experience and impact of loneliness amongst Australians during and after COVID-19. Loneliness is associated with poorer health and wellbeing. About one quarter of Australians regularly experience loneliness, and this rate is significantly higher amongst vulnerable people, including older, younger, and single people, and those with disability, or who lack employment or adequate social network connections. Loneliness notably increased during the COVID-19 lockdowns all over the world. The project empirically investigates the extent, experience, and stigma around loneliness. It also theoretically critiques singular understandings of the concept of loneliness, and looks at it as a multi-type concept (e.g. examining social, emotional, collective, and existential loneliness).

The project employs a mixed methods multi-site approach to generate new knowledge on the impact of loneliness, and identify effective strategies for prevention, intervention and management amongst diverse groups of people. Findings will strengthen support services provided by state and national organisations and provide critical knowledge to support lonely Australians.

The DASS-21 (or DASS) is a self-report questionnaire, measuring depression, anxiety and stress across three 7-point scales. The respondent is asked to assess the extent to which 21 statements applied to them in the previous week, on a 4-point Likert scale from 0 (‘Did not apply to me at all’) to 3 (‘Applied to me very much or most of the time’). The first statement is ‘I found it hard to wind down’. The last is ‘I felt that life was meaningless’. The form includes the instruction: ‘Do not spend too much time on any statement’, as though assuring access to interior emotional states. 

Where major depression is expected to become the most disabling disease by 2030 (Salleh 2018; Saxena and Davidson 2019), the use of instruments like the DASS is likely to increase in care encounters. The DASS, however, also sits on a border, between paper-based and digital data capture and processing, a precursor technology at the dawn of mental health predictive analytics (Aggarwal and Goyal 2022; Richter et al. 2021). It predates and is distinct from contemporary forms of commercial algorithmic psychometrics, and the commodified data of ‘behavioural surplus’ (Zuboff 2019). As such, it illuminates a singular transition in the quantification and commensuration of subjective states. Arising from a specific logic of evaluation, the DASS casts light back on the aspirations and values of public health administration, and forward on the prospects of privatised mental health surveillance.

This ongoing project arises from a 2022 Edinburgh University IASH-SSPS Fellowship.

How parents manage climate anxiety: coping and hoping for the whole family (Roger Patulny, Jordan McKenzie, Rebecca Olson, Fiona Charlson, Mary Holmes, Andreas Hernandez) ARC Discovery Project

This project studies how Australian parents manage climate anxiety for themselves and their families. Using mixed-methods/mixed-media approaches, it examines whether an increase in climate disasters is accelerating the spread of collective anxiety amongst families, how parents manage this anxiety for their children and partners, and if there are associated mental health burdens and gendered inequities in this management. It also looks at climate anxiety management across generations and climate histories, drawing out pessimistic/optimistic narratives about the future to enable action, resilience, and hope. It will produce an evidence base and photo- voice/documentary resources to help parents and support organisations combat climate anxiety.