Professor Gay Hawkins

Profile photo of Professor Gay HawkinsProfessor 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. She is recognised for research in three distinct areas: the relations between culture and governance, cultural engagements with the environment, 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 the 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. In June 2015 it was the focus of a workshop on the 'Morality of Waste' at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, EHESS (School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, Paris). 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 is published in the book  Plastic water: the social and material life of bottled water, co-authored with Emily Potter and Kane Race and published by The MIT Press in 2015. Since 2013 she has been working on an ARC project called 'The Skin of Commerce' which is exploring the history and politics of the relationships between plastic and food post WWII. The other project she is currently undertaking is an ARC Linkage in partnership with the ABC called 'Making Animals Public: the role of public broadcasting in building public interest and value in wildlife documentary'.

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.

Gay Hawkins' current research interests include: 

  • 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.


PhD, 1991, Macquarie University 

BA Hons (First Class), 1976, University of New South Wales 

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Honours and Awards

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.

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Selected Publications


Hawkins, G, Potter, E & Race, K 2015, Plastic water: the social and material life of bottled water (opens in a new window), T he MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Hawkins, G, Gabrys, J & Michael, M (eds) 2013, Accumulation: the material politics of plastic, Routledge, London.

Hawkins, G, Ang, I & Dabboussy, L 2008, The SBS story: the challenge of cultural diversity, UNSW Press, Sydney. 

Hawkins, G 2006, The ethics of waste, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland.

Hawkins, G & Muecke, S (eds) 2002, Culture and waste: the creation and destruction of value, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland. 

Hawkins, G 1993, From Nimbin to Mardi Gras: constructing community arts, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Edited Special Issue Journals

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

Book Chapters

Hawkins, G 2018, ‘Mobile drinking: bottled water practices and ontological politics’, in C Maller & Y Strengers (eds), Social practices and dynamic non-humans (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.

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, Gabrys, J & Michael, M 2013, 'Introduction: from materiality to plasticity', in J Gabrys, G Hawkins & M Michael (eds), Accumulation: the material politics of plastic , Routledge, London, pp. 1-14.

Hawkins, G 2013, 'Made to be wasted: PET and topologies of disposability', in J Gabrys, G Hawkins & M Michael (eds), Accumulation: the material politics of plastic, Routledge, London, pp. 49-67.

Hawkins, G 2013, 'The performativity of food packaging: market devices, waste crisis and recycling', in D Evans, H Campbell & A Murcott (eds), Waste matters: new perspectives of food and society, The Sociological Review Monograph Series, Wiley-Blackwell, London.

Hawkins, G & Race, K 2011, 'Bottled water practices: reconfiguring drinking in Bangkok households', in R Lane & A Gorman Murray (eds), Material geographies of the household, Ashgate, London, pp. 113-124.

Hawkins, G 2011, 'Interrogating the household as a field of sustainability', in R Lane & A Gorman Murray (eds), Material geographies of household sustainability, Ashgate, London, pp. 69-72.

Hawkins, G 2011, 'The politics of bottled water: assembling bottled water as brand, waste and oil', in T Bennett & C Healy (eds), Assembling culture, Routledge, London, pp. 177-189 (Reprinted from Journal of Cultural Economy).

Hawkins, G 2010, 'Plastic materialities', in S Whatmore & B Braun (eds), Political matterUniversity of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, pp. 119-138.

Hawkins, G 2009, 'Public service media in Australia: governing cultural diversity', in P Iosifidis (ed.), Reinventing public service communication: European broadcasters and beyond, Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp. 287-297.

Hawkins, G 2009, 'History in things – Sebald and Benjamin on transience and detritus', in G Fischer (ed.), W.G. Sebald and Expatriate Writing, Rodopi, Amsterdam, pp. 161-176

Hawkins, G 2007, 'Sad chairs', in J Knetchel (ed.), Trash, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, pp. 50-60

Hawkins, G 2005, 'Taste', in T Bennett, L Grossberg, M Morris (eds), New keywords, Blackwell Publishing, London, pp. 340-341.  

Hawkins, G 2004, 'The ethics of television', in J Sinclair (ed.), Contemporary world television, BFI Publishing, London, pp. 14-14

Hawkins, G 2001, 'The ABC and rhetorics of choice', in T Bennett & D Carter (eds), Culture in Australia: policies, publics, programs, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 176-192.

Hawkins, G, Sinclair, J, Yue, A, Pookong, K & Fox, J 2000, 'Chinese cosmopolitanism and media use', in S Cunningham & J Sinclair (eds), Floating lives: the media and Asian diasporas, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, pp. 35-90

Hawkins, G 2000, 'SBS: choice, value and Chineseness', in I Ang, S Chalmers, L Law & M Thomas (eds), Alter/Asians, Pluto Press, Sydney, pp. 232-243.

Hawkins, G 1999, 'Public service broadcasting in Australia: value and difference', in A Calabrese & J Burgelman (eds), Communication, citizenship and social policy: re-thinking the limits of the welfare state, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland. 

Journal Articles

Hawkins, G 2018, 'The Time of Materials' (opens in a new window), Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, special 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 Archaeology, special issue on The Time of Materials (opens in a 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, ‘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.

Hawkins, G 2014, 'Resilience: the resurgence of public things', Resilience, vol. 1, no. 1.

Hawkins G 2013 'The logistics of mobile drinking: bottles and water fountains', Kulturella Perspektiv, special issue on 'Carryology: consumer logistics', vol. 22, no. 3-4, pp. 33-41. 

Hawkins, G 2013, 'Enacting public value on the ABC's Q & A: from normative to performative approaches', Media International Australia, no. 146, pp. 82-92.

Hawkins, G & Burns, M 2013, 'Investigating public service media as hybrid arrangements', Media International Australia, no. 146, pp. 79-81 .

Hawkins, G 2012, 'The performativity of food packaging: market devices, waste crisis and recycling', Sociological Review, vol. 60, Issue Supplement S2 on 'Waste matters: new perspectives of food and society', pp. 66-83. 

Hawkins, G 2011, 'Packaging water: plastic bottles as market and public devices', Economy and Society, vol. 40, no. 4, pp. 534-552.

Hawkins, G 2011, 'Making water into a political material: the case of PET bottles', Environment and Planning A, vol. 43, no. 9, pp. 2001-2006.  

Hawkins, G 2011, 'The role of media in multicultural Australia: pluralizing national identity', Journal of Australian Studies, vol. 24, pp. 1-12.

Hawkins, G 2010, 'Multiculturalism on screen – subtitling and the translation of cultural differences', The Otemon Journal of Australian Studies, vol. 36, pp. 97-109.

Hawkins, G 2009, 'More-than-human politics: the case of plastic bags', Australian Humanities Review, no. 46, pp. 43-55.

Hawkins, G 2009, 'The politics of bottled water', Journal of Cultural Economy, vol. 2, no. 1, pp.183-195.

Hawkins, G 2007, 'Waste in Sydney – unwelcome returns', Proceedings of the Modern Languages Association (PMLA), vol. 122, no. 1, pp. 348-351.

Hawkins, G & Ang, I 2007, 'Inventing SBS: televising the foreign', Australian Cultural History, no. 26, pp. 1-14

Hawkins, G & Potter, E 2006, 'Waste matter: potatoes, thing-power and biosociality', Cultural Studies Review, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 104-115.

Hawkins, G 2004, 'The thing about things', Cultural Studies Review, vol. 10, no. 2. 

Hawkins, G 2004, 'Shit in public' (opens in a new window), Australian Humanities Review, no. 31-32.

Hawkins, G 2003 'Throw it Away', Mesh, no. 15.

Hawkins, G 2002, 'Documentary affect: filming rubbish' (opens in a new window), Australian Humanities Review, no.27.

Hawkins, G 2001, 'Down the drain: shit and the politics of disturbance', UTS Review, special issue on 'Waste', vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 32-42.

Hawkins, G 2001, 'The ethics of television', International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 412-426.

Hawkins, G 2001, 'Plastic bags: living with rubbish', International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 5-23.

Hawkins, G & Yue, A 2000, 'Going south', New Formations, special issue on 'Culture/China', no. 40, pp. 49-63. 

Hawkins, G 1998, 'TV Rules', UTS Review, vol. 4, no. 1.


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Video Interview

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