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


The 21st century is tied up with grand narratives of social and economic change, through innovation, automation, disruption and dematerialisation. Central to these transformations, however, are countervailing scenes of redundancy, destruction and loss. Against this backdrop, my PhD thesis takes a post-phenomenological approach to the lives of workers interrupted by workplace closures, focussing on two resource-exhausted underground coal mines in regional Australia and central China. Using experimental methods to track the everyday experiences of laid-off workers, families and communities in mining regions, I explore the circumstances, capacities, aesthetics and ambivalences of loss. Thinking with habit, melancholy and desire, I trace the strangely resonating, and sometimes queerly catalysing, forces of these dis- and re-orienting events. Doing so, I pose methodological questions spanning the relational, non-relational and translational – and wonder how it is that we sense the experiences of others at all.

For this project, I undertook fieldwork throughout 2018 in Kandos/Rylstone, NSW, Australia (where I was on residency with the local contemporary arts organisation Cementa), and in Pingdingshan, Henan province in central China. I was also hosted on visits to the College of Humanities and Development Studies, China Agricultural University and the Department of Geography, Durham University. 

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.

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.

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


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,

Zhang, V (2018), ‘Waiting in Drum Village, China’, Photo essay at Society and Space Online,

‘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.