I am a geographer who studies the relationships between humans and our environments –including physical environments and more intangible environments, like digital spaces. My work on relationships between humans and digital spaces focuses on how we are bringing about social, cultural and environmental changes by doing things online. Digital spaces are commonplace and yet we still frequently describe them as not real – for example, thinking of face-to-face interactions as ‘IRL’ (in real life) and as distinct to the digital.

From research with different groups like the Climate Council and Destroy the Joint, I have been examining why people are participating in digital action. My research shows that we are able to use technology for constructive ends; digital spaces have enabled the creation of the Climate Council after Federal government funding was pulled from the Climate Commission, and this group continues to share information on climate change impacts and ways to mitigate these. My research with digital feminist activists shows that efforts to stop sexism and misogyny are coming together thanks to the digital: online feminism is networked and global but also place-based and material. Scientific, activist and advocacy groups are using technology in creative and disruptive ways to achieve social and environmental justice.

My work on water cultures similarly examines questions of social and environmental justice, including working with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to increase our understanding of the processes that may show different ways of engaging with water. I have collaborated with Indigenous people in Mudgee, central west New South Wales, including Aleshia Lonsdale, and academics from Macquarie University and the University of Wollongong (Laura Hammersley, Emily O’Gorman, Fiona Miller) on a research project that examines and records water cultures. Water cultures are assemblages of water values and the physical geography of catchments – ideas and material elements that combine to form a range of ‘water cultures’. Around Mudgee, Indigenous water cultures are marginalised and western water cultures, that enable mining and farming, dominate this space, but Indigenous people continue to heal Country, including sacred water sites, and defend lands and waters from further damage.

The concept of ‘shadow places’ has helped bring to the fore Indigenous water cultures in my research in different ways. With respect to research examining water relations in settler colonial Australia, shadow places resonated in how different water values and waterways were treated. During dialogues with Indigenous collaborators in Mudgee, we talked about the various ways that power intersects with cultural practices in water management. Val Plumwood’s framing of shadow places allowed us to discuss relationships between hidden places and certain processes that are deemed peripheral. In recently published research, we drew on the shadow places idea to explain power relations in water management. We discussed how shadow waters can be conceptualized vertically, with surface water receiving more policy and research attention than groundwater, and also horizontally, as some sub-catchments, uses and values have been ignored or undervalued in macro-catchment processes. There is also a temporal dimension to shadow waters as complex and contested histories of human-environment relations are often overlooked in favour of simple historical narratives that tend to reinforce dominant management structures and trajectories. Shadow waters are therefore historically created as particular power structures and narratives are reinforced and “normalised” over time.

My current research on digital technologies also draws on the shadow places idea as this concept assists when considering the ways that digital technologies work, and are produced, both discursively and materially. The people and places that are at the beginning of the commodity chains that make digital technologies are often marginalized and the costs that accompany the benefits of digital ecosystems are frequently hidden. Plumwood critiques the dematerialization of place as it enables us to become ‘more and more out of touch with the material conditions (including ecological conditions) that support or enable our lives.’ The digital is similarly prone to dematerialization.