research

Turbulence, habit and desire:
life after two coal mine closures

2017-2020

This thesis investigates the experiences of workers and their families as they navigate disruptions to everyday life caused by job loss and workplace change. Situated in the boom and bust world of extractive industry, it draws on qualitative fieldwork at two recently closed underground coal mines in eastern Australia and central China to explore the twists and turns of life after workplace closure in restructuring contemporary economies.

Cutting across cultural and economic geographies of memory, labour and affect, I ask: how do people respond to the losses wrought by shocks and disturbances to their working lives? In the wake of such disruptions, how do circumstances of life after loss attain their capacities to alter and transform bodies? After the interruption of loss, how might people regain a sense of life as an ‘ordinary’ timespace, reorienting from the past to the future?

Picking up the threads of people’s lives several years after the closures, I use postphenomenological theories of bodily change to trace the shifts in concerns, anxieties, and orientations experienced by workers after loss. By focussing on how people come to live on after imposed events of loss, this thesis moves beyond the melancholic tendencies of existing literature on loss to foreground incipient processes of corporeal transformation. These processes are explored through three chapters on the transformative forces of turbulence, habit and desire. This thesis’ thrust is thus consolatory; it aims to recognise the gaps and tears that accompany ends, whilst refusing to forgo the vital and affirmative possibilities of life after loss.

This PhD project is funded by an Australian Government Research Training Place (RTP) Scholarship, The University of Melbourne’s Elizabeth & Vernon Puzey Scholarship and an Australian Government Endeavour Research Fellowship, with additional assistance from Australian Research Council Discovery grant DP160103771.

Related research outputs:

Zhang V (forthcoming), ‘Ethics for the unaffirmable: the hesitant love of a cultural translator’, in Bissell D, Rose M, and P. Harrison (Eds.), Negative Geographies: exploring the politics of limits, University of Nebraska Press.

Zhang V (2020), ‘NOISY FIELD EXPOSURES, or what comes before attunement’, cultural geographies, 27(4), 647–663. doi.org/10.1177/1474474020909494

Zhang V, Kelly D, Rodriguez Castro L, Iaquinto B L, Hughes A, Edensor T, McKay C, Lobo M, Kennedy M, Wolifson P, Ratnam C, Buckle C, Dorignon L, Adamczyk E, Barry K, & Bissell D (2019), ‘Experiential attunements in an illuminated city at night: a pedagogical writing experiment’, GeoHumanities, 5(2), 468-495. doi.org/10.1080/2373566X.2019.1624187

The space-times of return migration: migrant worker men and staying in the home village in China

2015

Despite the ubiquity of rural-urban migration in contemporary China, the mobile dynamics of the enormous population of migrant workers remain little understood. Although acknowledging the incredible diversity of this movement, existing research is often narrowly quantitative, aiming to take stock of broader trends but with a limited focus on how migrants are experiencing and navigating their complex mobilities.

As a different entry point on to these mobile lifeworlds, my Honours research examines the return migrations of working men in a single village in Shanxi province, a place I call Drum Village. I draw on mobilities thinking to sketch some of the gendered processes shaping men’s returns to and stays in Drum Village, focussing on social reproduction and the role of household and home in contemporary movements. Zooming in on the manifold and contradicting affective modes in which people inhabit such transitions, I explore how these often volatile, usually contradictory and always unfinished migratory junctures are experienced, navigated and rationalised by men and their families.

Related research outputs:

Zhang, V (2018), ‘Im/mobilising the migration decision’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 36(2), 199-216, doi.org/10.1177/0263775817743972.

Zhang, V (2018), ‘Waiting in Drum Village, China’, Photo essay at Society and Space Online, societyandspace.org/2018/02/13/waiting-in-drum-village-china.

‘Drum Village Primary School’ (2018). Short documentary film (14 mins). Premiered at the 8th Antenna Documentary Film Festival, Sydney, October 14th, 2018.

Please get in touch if you’d like a copy of any publications.