Society and culture in focus at UWS

The world today is facing change at a scale never seen before in human history. The balance of geopolitical power is shifting to Asia, population expansion and urbanisation is damaging our natural environment, and digital technology continues to dramatically redraw our social boundaries.

To better understand the direction and ramifications of rapid global change, the University of Western Sydney has created the Institute for Culture and Society, drawing on researchers from many disciplines to develop a ‘big picture’ research program.

The Foundation Director of the Institute of Culture of Society, Professor Ien Ang, says the new Institute is ideally placed to help guide policy makers through these challenges. 

“The work of the ICS will be a unique combination of internationally cutting-edge academic scholarship and grounded, engaged research in partnership with a broad range of communities and organisations,” says Professor Ang.

Greater Western Sydney is an extraordinary example of social and cultural change, and as UWS sits in the heart of Sydney it is perfectly positioned to provide a deep understanding of these globally induced changes. Sydney is a city where multiple generations of people with different histories, identities and belief systems from across the globe live and interact, a place where existing public institutions need to adapt to very different ‘clients’ and their needs. 

Professor Ien Ang

“In this increasingly complex and fast-changing world, where there is already too much information around, we aim to contribute to culturally intelligent public knowledge that is not only evidence-based, but ideas-rich,” says Professor Ang.

An important element of the Institute’s mission is the ‘Australian Cultural Fields’ research, which will investigate key transformations in the social organisation of cultural activities in contemporary Australia in the light of its changing place in global processes and relations.

Professor Tony Bennett refers to the research as a Program Hinge “because it will play a key role in connecting the work of our research themes”. 

Professor Tony Bennett

“The Program will focus on the organisation of the national cultural field from the 1970s through to the present - a period that has witnessed a significant increase in the number of national cultural agencies and institutions, for example the Australia Council and the National Museum of Australia,” says Professor Bennett.

Research will include examining the shaping of Australian culture by the increasing cultural presence of Indigenous Australians, and the challenges they have presented to Australia’s dominant national narratives (the Bicentenary; the History Wars), as well as by the increasing diversity of Australia’s population as a result of successive waves of post-war migration from southern Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. 

 Other research at the new Institute for Culture and Society includes:
  • The role of online and networked media for supporting all young people's mental health and wellbeing, led by Dr Philippa Collin from the ICS with the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre.
  • Investigating how technology can be leveraged to reach, connect and engage young people who are vulnerable to the development of mental health difficulties, led by Dr Amanda Third from the ICS with the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre.
  • The ‘Cool living heritage in Southeast Asia: sustainable alternatives to air-conditioned cities’ research, led by Dr Tim Winter, looks at the significant and complex challenges of reducing the carbon emissions of buildings. In response, this project focuses on electronic air-conditioning and considers the degree to which traditional, less energy intensive alternatives to thermal comfort can be maintained and reinstated.

 Institute for Culture and Society building 

Institute for Culture and Society on the UWS Parramatta campus

Official Launch

The Institute for Culture and Society was officially launched by UWS Chancellor Professor Peter Shergold and UWS Vice-Chancellor Professor Janice Reid on 13 April 2012.

Keynote speaker at the event, Professor Yudhishthir Raj Isar, UWS Eminent Research Visitor and Professor of Cultural Policy Studies with The American University of Paris, says he has been impressed by the “uniquely collegial spirit that reigns” at the ICS and by the range of fields and topics explored by the Institute’s members.

“As an institution deemed to be ‘well above world class’, the Institute for Culture and Society should be confident of its capacity to do just that, of its authority to think globally,” says Professor Isar in his keynote address.

Professor Isar is an independent writer, public speaker and advisor on cultural policy issues.  He holds and has had positions with many of the world’s leading institutions including UNESCO, the World Commission on Culture and Development, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the World Bank.

He is co-founder and co-editor of The Cultures and Globalization Series published by SAGE, of which five volumes have appeared

He is currently an Eminent Research Visitor at the University of Western Sydney’s Institute for Culture and Society.


13 April 2012

Contact: Mark Smith, Media Officer