Research

Dr Anderson’s interdisciplinary research takes a longitudinal, life-narrative approach to examining the ways ordinary people live with risk over time – and the ways the past shapes present understanding of home, disaster, loss, resilience and the imagined future.

The unique methodology at the heart of her work draws on the scholarly traditions of oral history and narrative analysis and the creative practice of cultural journalism. This work has enabled collaborative partnerships with industry, such as Museum Victoria, to conduct embedded research in a range of Australian communities — from the semiarid Victoria Mallee to Queensland’s Wet Tropics.

Her research interests canvass:

  • Lived experience of disaster, loss, resilience and renewal
  • Stories of extreme weather (drought, cyclone and bushfire)
  • Changing relationships between people, home and place
  • Public understanding of science, media and politics
  • Experience of life ‘extremes’, from IVF to the oldest old
  • Theories of oral history, narrative, community, engagement and ‘lifetime’

Deb is currently engaged in several research projects. Most recently, as a recipient of the Monash Arts Emerging Research Excellence Fellowship, she has been recording stories of crisis, loss and renewal in regional Australia – in Queensland communities affected by cyclones, and in Victorian communities recovering from bushfire. This research explores the lived experience of extreme weather in an era of highly politicised knowledge on climatic risk. So far, interviews have captured significant moments of reflection and self-reflexivity on the meaning of extreme weather, revealing contestation over expertise and experience as inherently partial forms of knowledge, and exposing the core interpretive problems of climate change.

For her doctoral project (2011), as a recipient of the Melbourne Research Scholarship, Deb undertook a world-first longitudinal study of the lived experience of drought in rural Australia. That project was developed in partnership with the University of Melbourne and Museum Victoria. Her PhD thesis was nominated for the University Chancellor’s Prize, while the collection of interviews at the heart of the project became the centerpiece of Museum Victoria’s Mallee Climate Oral History Collection.

That research became the basis of Deb’s first book, Endurance: Australian Stories of Drought (CSIRO Publishing, 2014), which was nominated for the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Australia Prize (2015).

Endurance has been described by eminent scholars in environmental and oral history as ‘an impressive achievement’ and evidence of a ‘rare … scholar who can leverage the insights of oral histories to engage issues of major contemporary significance’. It was reviewed in the Historical Records of Australian Science (2015: 94) as ‘a work of great significance that will inform not only historians of rural Australia, but also … policymakers and politicians whose decisions continue to shape Australian stories of endurance, drought and climate change’. The book received widespread publicity on ABC Radio National, in Fairfax Media and on the Australian Environmental Humanities Hub.

As a former Age journalist, Deb regularly presents public seminars on her research in Australia (including at Museum Victoria, State Library of Victoria, The Wheeler Centre and Oral History Victoria) and overseas (including at conferences of the International Oral History Association and International Association for Media and Communication Research). She is a member of the Australian Historical Association, Australian and New Zealand Communication Association, and Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia.