Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Arts and Humanities

First Advisor

Dr Danielle Brady

Second Advisor

Dr George Karpathakis

Field of Research Code

2002

Abstract

Based on an ethnographic study of the everyday practices of diasporic Chinese residents of Perth, this project focuses on the relationship between the ecologic environment and diasporic Chinese cultures in contemporary Western Australia.

With the acceleration of globalization, studies in diaspora have increasingly absorbed geographic ideas. Research on the relationship between ecology and humankind has thrown new light on discussions of diaspora. However, there are few in-depth studies addressing the construction of diasporic place and space with an engagement of the material world. Considering the relative absence of the natural world as a serious subject in contemporary diaspora studies, the starting point of this project is to explore the interactive relationships between place, space, and diasporic people via their everyday experiences. What is the meaning of nature to Chinese people living in Australia? How do they communicate with the natural world in their daily life and what is the dynamic relationship between the people and the environment?

In order to find the answers to these research questions, I adopt sensory ethnography, multispecies ethnography and sensory studies of food as the major approaches. As an insider ethnographer, I have examined diasporic multisensoriality through the ethnographic practices of interviews, observation, filed documentation (notes, photos, sound recordings), film documentation (video documentation of abalone harvesting in chapter 8) and self-reflective composition within a dynamic assemblage of human and nonhuman agentic beings. Sensory studies of food provide a way to understand the dynamic relations between the materials in diets and Chinese people on individual, ethnic and diasporic scales. Along with the theoretical themes of place, space, food, perception, memory and imagination, this research traverses diverse ethnographic disciplines as an academic practice.

In this research, I present several typical cases of everyday spatial practices, abalone recreational harvesting, and Chinese vegetable gardening. As an ethnographic study, the project has involved more than twenty specific participants. In the last two years, I have interviewed groups, individuals and families, and joined them in wine tasting, cultural celebrations, abalone harvesting and vegetable gardening. In addition, due to my previous background in documentary filmmaking, I have made an illustrative film on the topic of abalone harvesting.

Through the research on the cases, I found that there is an intimate, dialogical and reciprocal connection between the Chinese diaspora in Perth and the local physical environment. With the embodied engagement of the natural surroundings in their daily experiences, Chinese people living in Perth have gradually converted their perceptions of nature, which are also under the influence of traditional cultures. Acting as a space and an agent, the ecological environment has become familiar and domestic in the people’s diasporic experiences. Additionally, daily practices in the material surroundings have also transformed the people’s self-perceptions through their senses, reflections and attitudes toward the natural world. At the same time, the natural environment is impacted upon in myriad ways by the activities of diasporic Chinese.

Available for download on Tuesday, March 26, 2019

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