An Example Anthropology Phd Research Proposal

This article is an example of a Phd research proposal in the discipline of Anthropology.

E1 Project Title

Toxic culture? Embedded cultural assumptions in Sydney concerning greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

E1.1 Project Summery

Is the reality of how Sydney obtains its energy needs a true reflection of wider social and cultural processes? This project will uncover embedded cultural and social assumptions in Sydney concerning greenhouse gas emissions, global warming and renewable energy sources. In the context of presenting debates concerning the reality of global warming, a comprehensive social and cultural study as this is necessary. Policy makers, energy companies, the general population, environmental anthropology as a discipline and the Australia of tomorrow will benefit from this project.

E2 Aims & Background

Many reputable organisations, such as the Australian Greenhouse Office, the CSIRO, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agree that global warming as a result of greenhouse gas emissions is a genuine and pressing threat to the environment of Australia, and indeed the world. As popular science writers like Tim Flannery note, to overcome the problem of global warming it is widely acknowledged that it will be necessary to utilise `clean´ technology that produces little or no greenhouse gas emissions, such as wind and solar power. There is an important role for anthropological research in this process. In anthropology, the embedded assumptions, ideals and values behind individuals and society’s actions and thoughts are aspects of culture. To make significant changes in our choices of energy sources, we will need to comprehensively understand processes occurring at the cultural level concerning global warming and renewable energy. The aims of this study are as follows:

  • To gather both qualitative and quantitative data that will be used to construct holistic social and cultural schemas of residents’ attitudes to global warming and renewable energy.
  • To comprehensively understand and outline embedded cultural assumptions in the Sydney community concerning global warming.
  • To establish the level of demands for renewable energy sources and other methods of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the Sydney community.
  • To raise awareness of the dangers inherent in global warming and the variety of solutions available as perceived by scientists.
  • To make the research projects findings freely available to the academic community, policy makers, energy companies and the general public.
  • To establish a precedent in Australian anthropology to focus on the complex relationship between culture, global warming and energy sources in post-industrial urban contexts.
  • To constructively contribute to the growing discussion, both academic and in wider community, concerning global warming and the perceived solutions to this urgent environmental crisis.

The importance of social and cultural research in energy studies has been argued for since 1904, and Rosa, Machlis and Keating reaffirm this perspective strongly in 1988. However, energy studies and climate change in anthropology and sociology are decidedly small fields, and little research has been undertaken concerning cultural and social perceptions of global warming and renewable energy in post-industrial contexts. Some work has been conducted in Sweden, with Henning demonstrating the positive role of anthropology in helping tackle the problem of global warming. This project’s conceptual foundations are those of anthropologists Magistro and Roncoli, in “culture is a key dimension that mediates the interaction between humans and climate”. In coming to grips with `culture`, this project will discover how Sydney residents’ perceive global warming and renewable energy, and in turn aid those seeking solutions to this problem. The data gathered will be invaluable in aiding governmental organisations, policy makers, energy companies and all concerned parties in tackling climate change.

E3 Significance & Innovation

The most comprehensive data currently complied concerning perceptions of climate change and energy use in Sidney is purely quantitative, and found in ABS report Environmental Issues: People’s Views and Practices. While the raw data is useful, this ABS report does not delve into why people choose particular practices, or indeed how they see their relationship with the environment; it does not deal with the qualitative paradigm including embedded cultural assumptions. This project will build on the foundations of the ABS report, constructing a more comprehensive model of peoples’ perceptions of climate change. Henning, when conducting anthropological work in Sweden concerning climate change and energy use, outlines the importance of obtaining data gathered from the perspective of the individual, when forging a solution to the problems of energy management and climate change. This project will utilise Henning’s approach, looking at how people personally see their relationship to the problem of global warming, as well as establishing general cultural models. However Henning’s work was on a smaller scale than that proposed here; this project will be the first of its kind. Apart from Henning’s research, most anthropological work concerning the complex relationship between cultural processes, energy sources and climate change has been conducted in less developed regions of the world, such as West and East Africa. This project is a first for Australian anthropology in bringing cultural study with this focus into a post-industrial urban context.

E4 Approach

Project Design & Methodology

A range of methods will be used in the project including a literature review, surveys, informal interviews and possibly short ethnography. In this way both qualitative and quantitative data will be available for the final analysis; this will result in a holistic, multifaceted response to the question at hand.

The first step of this project will be to conduct a review of appropriate literature. This will involve reading both anthropological and sociological texts, as well as reviewing sources relating to global warming and renewable energy more generally. The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2005 report Environmental Issues: People’s Views and Practices will provide the foundations for a portion of the statistical component of the project.

Subsequently surveys will be conducted on a cross section of the population of Sydney and the sample surveyed will be a true representation of the entire society of Sydney. This will be achieved by dropping surveys in randomly selected residents’ letter boxes, across all of the Sydney Metropolitan area. In accordance with the AAS code of ethics a letter will be included outlining the purposes of the project. Surveys will contain thirty questions such as: how concerned are you about global warming? Do you want more of Sydney’s energy needs coming from renewable energy sources? Do you believe that global warming is a hoax? The format will consist of 5 levels of concern for the participant to choose from when answering each question. Below each question will be space for optional extra comments. Surveys will be anonymous; however the participant may give their age on the form. The surveys will be useful in obtaining raw data to construct statistical analyses of Sydney inhabitants’ level of concern regarding global warming.

Those who participate will return the survey in a self-addressed envelope that will be included in the survey materials sent to their letter box. There will be a section on the survey form to fill out if the wish to attend an informal interview. Interviews will be informal, relaxed affairs, with light refreshments provided. They will be approximately fifteen minutes in length. There will be no set questions asked, but there are specific aims to the interview. Essentially the interview will cover similar information to the survey but in a more open form; the interviewee’s personal stance and experiences will be welcome. Participants will be free to divulge any information they feel is relevant to the project. Ultimately, the interviews will provide me with subjective data that will be useful on constructing cultural and social models of how Sidney residents’ perceive global warming and renewable energy sources.

Please note that this methods section is not completely rigid. Invitations to interview associates of participants, and to conduct participant observation with environmental groups, workers in the energy industries and other relevant activities, will be accepted at the discretion of the project co-ordinator.


3 Months: complete literature review 9 Months: complete surveys 18 Months: complete interviews 36 Months: complete synthesis and anthropological analysis of data

Ethical Issues

There are a number of potential ethical problems that may arise during the course of the project; at all times the Australian Anthropological Society code of ethics will be adhered to. One concern participants may have is that of their privacy; in accordance with the code of ethics their privacy will be respected at all stages of the project. Another possible problem is if an individual decides that after filling out the survey they no longer want to participate. All the survey forms will have an identifying number, so if this is the case they just have to contact the project co-ordinator and their survey will be removed from the sample. If participant decides they no longer wish to participate at any stage in the project their wishes will be respected. Anonymity will be preserved for all participants unless legal requirements force the project co-ordinator to divulge information of a personal matter.

E5 National Benefit

It is undoubtedly in line with priorities of the Australian Research Council to fund this research. While the mainstream media often presents global warming as a controversial issue, in the scientific paradigm a consensus has been reached; global warming is real and its effects are already being felt. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that devastating natural disasters such as hurricane Katrina and cyclone Larry were the direct result of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. As a consequence of global warming rainfall has been dropping considerably in the south-west for some time, and this is responsible for the drought which is affecting agricultural industries and Sydney’s water supply. As global warming is arguably the major environmental problem facing Australia, it is vital to come to an understanding of cultural assumptions concerning the scale of this threat. Surprisingly there is as yet no social and cultural research that has been conducted on this scale concerning global warming and renewable energy in Sydney. Considering the scope of the challenges implicated in climate change, research such as this is vital and necessary. Anthropology and sociology are best positioned as disciplines to discover how people perceive the problem of global warming, and therefore to aid in constructing solutions to the problem. The data obtained will be invaluable in aiding policy makers, government organisations, environmental groups, individuals and businesses in tackling the environmental crisis of global warming.

E6 Communications of Result

The results of the project are of the utmost importance. The findings will be communicated to all interested parties including the general public, policy makers, the academic community and the participants of the study. Firstly, all participants will be able to access a website which will include the statistical findings of the project, and an explanation of the cultural findings. The participants will also be made aware of the threats global warming poses on the website; in this way awareness can be raised concerning global warming after obtaining the data for the project. Participants will also be invited to view a copy of an academic journal article online if they wish. This academic article will be submitted to the Australian Journal of Anthropology, and various academic publications world-wide. The findings will be made available to the general public through more accessible forms of media such as newspapers and current affair programs on television. A report will be issued to policy-makers such as the Australian government detailing the core finding of the project, such as how concerned Australian residents are about global warming. The project co-ordinator anticipates widespread interest in the findings of the report and will make the findings widely available to all interested parties. A book may be published detailing the project and its conclusions in detail, especially as this is an exciting and vital new field in environmental anthropology in Australia.

E7 Description of Personnel

I am an eminent anthropologist and sociologist, having focussed on the complex relationship between climate change, energy sources and cultural processes in my PhD theses. I also published over 10 academic articles on the topic. I have aided colleagues in environmental anthropological research concerning energy systems overseas in both Papua New Guinea and Egypt. This research project is a natural next step in the trajectory of my research interest. I have a firm belief in the importance of this project, and the theoretical and anthropological experience to ensure its success.

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