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2017 Wheelwright Lecture – Katherine Gibson – Manufacturing the Future: Cultures of Production for the Anthropocene

by Gareth Bryant on July 4, 2017

2017 10th Anniversary E.L. ‘Ted’ Wheelwright Lecture

Manufacturing the Future: Cultures of Production for the Anthropocene

Speaker: Professor Katherine Gibson, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

Date and time: Thursday October 26th, 5.15-7.30pm (Lecture begins at 6pm)

Venue: Eastern Avenue Auditorium, The University of Sydney



Debates about the future of manufacturing in Australia return to prominence every few years, prompted by the latest downturn in employment or closure of a plant. The overarching narrative of change is one of decline. Since the heyday of protectionism when 30% of the workforce was employed in manufacturing, today only 8% are employed in the sector and union membership has sunk to an all-time low of just over 12%. In the mid- 1970s and during the 1980s when Ted Wheelwright’s Transnational Corporations Research Project was in full swing the critical debate centred on foreign ownership and the changing face of manufacturing under the impact of a new international division of labour. Today, the prognosis of decline has intensified with recent plant closures in the foreign owned automotive industry and the shedding of 200,000 jobs (or 20 per cent of the manufacturing workforce) between 2008 and 2015. A frightening vision looms of a hollowed out Australian economy with an almost absent manufacturing sector. Yet, there is strong popular support for maintaining and strengthening a manufacturing base in this country and, according to the promos for the 2017 National Manufacturing Summit, there are signs that manufacturing  industry in Australia may be ‘turning a corner’. Clearly manufacturing is far from dead, but the apparent invisibility of a buoyant manufacturing culture is worrisome. In this lecture I approach the issue of a manufacturing future for Australia by asking: What kinds of manufacturing cultures might be up to the challenges of the Anthropocene?  I present initial findings from qualitative research I am conducting with colleagues at Western Sydney University and the University of Newcastle on a range of innovative manufacturing enterprises. This project is exploring whether there are businesses in Australia that genuinely sustain equitable communities and healthy ecologies while remaining financially viable. The research is framed by the diverse economies research agenda which opens analysis to the diversity of ways of producing and distributing new wealth and seeks to displace the primacy of an abstracted and capitalocentric model of enterprise behaviour.

About the speaker

Professor Katherine Gibson is internationally known for her research on rethinking economies as sites of ethical action. She trained as a human geographer with expertise in political economy and, with her collaborator for over 30 years, the late Professor Julie Graham, developed a distinctive approach to economic geography drawing on feminism, post-structuralism and action research. The diverse economies research program they initiated has become a vibrant sub-field of study within the social sciences. In the late 1990s the collective authorial voice of J.K. Gibson-Graham led the critique of capitalocentric thinking that was blocking the emergence of economic possibility. The end of capitalism (as we knew it): a feminist critique of political economy published in 1996, was republished in 2006 with a new Introduction and named a Classic in Human Geography by the leading journal Progress in Human Geography in 2011. Gibson-Graham’s work on a post-capitalist economic politics has had a widespread readership among those interested in economic alternatives and has been translated into Chinese, South Korean, Turkish, Spanish and French.

Prior to joining Western Sydney University in 2009 Professor Gibson held positions as Professor and Head of the Department of Human Geography in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University (1999-2008) and Director of Women’s Studies at Monash University (1992-1995). She has directed action research projects with communities interested in alternative economic development pathways in Australia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and the Philippines. These experiences have contributed to elaboration of a distinctive ‘Community Partnering Approach to Local DevelopmentOpens in a new window. In 2008 she made a 50 minute film on social enterprise development as a local development strategy in the Philippines. Her most recent book, co-edited with Gerda Roelvink and Kevin St. Martin, is entitled Making other worlds possible: performing diverse economies (University of Minnesota Press, 2015). In 2013 she published Take back the economy: an ethical guide for transforming communities, co-authored with Jenny Cameron and Stephen Healy (University of Minnesota Press).

The Community Economies Collective Opens in a new window, which Gibson-Graham established, is an ongoing collaboration between academic and community researchers and activists in Australia, North America, Europe and South East Asia. The goal of the Collective is to theorise, discuss, represent and ultimately enact new visions of economy. By making multiple forms of economic life viable options for action, the Collective aims to open the economy to ethical debate around concerns such as: the survival needs of humans and earth others; the distribution of surplus that supports wellbeing now and in the future; encountering others via just transactions; enlarging and sharing our commons; and investing in futures that sustain us all.

Katherine Gibson’s current research interests include:

  • Diverse economies: documenting diverse economies in place and reformulating economic theory, including theories of capitalist development, industrial restructuring, regional development, globalisation, the enterprise, class and subjectivity, household labour and noncapitalist economic activities, social enterprises and cooperatives.
  • Rethinking urbanism in the light of feminist, postcolonial and queer theory; experimenting with postmodern planning practices.
  • Alternative community and regional economic development, regional governmentality and sustainability; developing new development pathways that care for non-human and human habitats now and into the future.

Presented by

  • Department of Political Economy, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney
  • Political Economy Society – ECOPSOC
  • Journal of Australian Political Economy – JAPE
Gareth Bryant
Gareth Bryant is a Lecturer in the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney.

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