Professor Gay Hawkins


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Professor Gay Hawkins has played a key role in the development of Australian cultural studies as an interdisciplinary and philosophically informed practice of social reflection. Her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees were in sociology but she has worked in the field of cultural and media studies since the 1990s. More recently her work has focussed on science and technology studies. She is recognised for research in three distinct areas: the relations between culture and governance, environmental humanities, and economic sociology, markets and materiality. She brings to this research theoretical and empirical approaches that are concerned with the intersections between everyday cultural and material practices and political processes. In 1993 she published From Nimbin to Mardi Gras: constructing community arts, the first book to examine the emergence and impacts of 'community arts' as a field of governmental action. In 2008 she published a major collaborative study of the development of Australia’s unique Special Broadcasting Service with Professor Ien Ang and Lamia Daboussy. The SBS Story: the challenge of cultural diversity documented the complex processes whereby diversity was made a matter of public representation, interest and debate.

Professor Hawkins' work on environments, natures and cultures has been internationally recognised. In 2005 she published The Ethics of Waste, a book that examined the materiality of waste and the ways in which it makes ethical claims on us. This book has had a major influence on the development of 'Discard Studies' a vibrant and growing international research field. Between 2008 and 2013 Professor Hawkins worked on a major ARC project investigating the rapid growth of bottled water markets over the last thirty years. This research was published in Plastic Water: the social and material life of bottled water, co-authored with Emily Potter and Kane Race and published by MIT Press in 2015. Over the last ten years she has done a range of related projects investigating the cultural and political history of plastic and its complex remaking of environments, economies and everyday practices.

Prior to joining Western Sydney University in 2015 Professor Hawkins was a Professorial Research Fellow and Director of the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland, an innovative research centre based in the Arts Faculty. In 2001 she helped establish the School of Media and Communications in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of NSW and worked there until 2009. Prior to this she taught in the School of Sociology in the same faculty. In 2010 she was the Visiting Professor in Australian Studies in the Centre for Pacific and American Studies at Tokyo University.


  • PhD, 1991, Macquarie University 
  • BA Hons (First Class), 1976, University of New South Wales

Research Focus

  • Economic sociology with a particular focus on market assemblages, forms of consumer personhood, and the interactions between markets and publics.
  • Nature/culture relations and the environmental humanities with a particular emphasis on the biopolitics of waste and water.
  • Political matter: theoretical and empirical investigations of the relationships between political processes and material enactment.
  • Materiality, ethics and the micropolitics of everyday life.
  • Relations between culture and governance with a focus on the role of the media in shaping public framings of science and environments.

Selected Awards and Recognition

  • 2019: Invited Public Lecture for the PlastX Research Program at  Goethe University, Frankfurt
  • 2017: Invited Public Lecture on More than Human Ethics, Lapland University
  • 2016: Invited International Visiting Fellow, University of Gottenburg
  • 2015: Invited International Visiting Fellow University of Toulouse
  • 2015: Invited to present keynote address at 'The Morality of Waste' at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, EHESS (School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, Paris), a workshop reflecting on  The Ethics of Waste ten years since publication
  • 2013: Invited International Visiting Fellow at Institute of Humanities, University of Michigan
  • 2012: Elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities

Selected Publications

Hawkins, G 2019, ‘Mobile drinking: bottled water practices and ontological politics’, in C Maller & Y Strengers (eds), Social practices and dynamic non-humans: nature, materials and technologies (opens in a new window), Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp. 109-128.

Hawkins, G 2018, ‘Qualifying’, in C Lury, P Clough, R Fensham, M Michael, S Lammes, A Last & E Uprichard (eds), Routledge handbook of interdisciplinary research methods (opens in a new window), Routledge, London, pp. 339-342.

Hawkins, G (guest ed.) 2018, 'Special issue: The Time of Materials' (opens in a new window), Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, vol. 5, no. 1.

Hawkins, G 2018, ‘The skin of commerce: governing through plastic food packaging’ (opens in a new window), Journal of Cultural Economy, vol. 11, no. 5, pp. 386-403.

Hawkins, G 2018, 'The Time of Materials' (opens in a new window), Journal of Contemporary Archaeologyspecial issue on The Time of Materials (opens in a new window), vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 1-3.

Hawkins, G 2018, 'Plastic and presentism: the time of disposability' (opens in a new window), Journal of Contemporary Archaeologyspecial issue on The Time of Materials (opens in new window), vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 91-102.

Hawkins, G 2018, ‘The skin of commerce: governing through plastic food packaging’ (opens in a new window), Journal of Cultural Economy, vol. 11, no. 5.

Hawkins, G 2017, ‘Plastics’, in I Szeman, J Wenzel, & P Yaeger (eds), Fueling culture: 101 words for energy and environment, Fordham University Press, US, pp. 271–274.

Hawkins, G 2017, ‘Ethical blindness: plastics, disposability and the art of not caring’, in V Kinnunen & A Valtonen (eds), Living ethics in a more-than-human world, University of Lapland, Finland, pp. 15–28.

Hawkins, G 2017, ‘The Impacts of bottled water: an analysis of bottled water markets and their interactions with tap water provision’, Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water, vol. 4, no. 3, doi:10.1002/wat2.1203.

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Video Interview

Gay Hawkins speaks to Tony Bennett about her new book, Plastic Water (opens in a new window).