Research Stream


Tom Bristow
James Cook University and UWA

Decolonized Pastoral: A Comparative Study of Emotional Variants in Australian Literature (1925-2015)

This literary project undertakes a region-based approach to Australian literature, rich with emotional complexity of particular significance for the history of settler societies. It is informed by postcolonial and ecocritical methods, in addition to affect theory.

Decolonized Pastoral: A Comparative Study of Emotional Variants in Australian Literature (1925-2015)

Image: Fishing activities of Aboriginal people and settlers near Ulladulla, New South Wales. By Mickey of Ulladulla, c. 1885. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

This project will focus on emotional signifiers within pastoral modes of four regions: the broad ‘bioregions’ of the western parts of the continent and Tasmania, the dispersed and imagined community of the ‘North’ or Northern territory, and metropolitan Australia, particularly Melbourne. Bristow seeks to clarify how theories of the emotions can assist sensitive cultural studies of local communities; by decolonizing affect theory to support an analysis of the emotional qualities of a changing sense of territory, he will analyse sensitivity to environmental issues and the impact of colonization on the land. Pastoral discloses the spatial dynamics of power and property; it indicates themes of exclusion and inclusion in its own discourse of settlement; the pastoral mode thus signifies how individuals occupy certain subject positions over time. This study will focus on three attributes of pastoral – the literal and metaphoric theme of land ‘closure’, the motif of the ‘house’, and the motif of ‘desecrated land.’ By focusing on local modalities of power within the wider context of the regional, this study addresses one of the fundamental research questions addressed by the CHE: the way we understand the roles of nature and culture in the formation of emotions, and how this formation process is important to a sense of place, and for the writing subject (and for whom they write). This motivating research question enables this study to move across nations in the longer term, to offer analysis of what is true for Australian, British and North American senses of place while remaining strictly focused on the emotional contours of a reconfiguration of generic codes within the literary mode.

Additionally, Tom Bristow is conducting a related project titled "Empathy and the More-than-human World." This outreach project is designed to inquire into the empathic modes of children, particularly with respect to developing capacities to sense the complex relations that are fundamental to planetary life. Working with CHE education and outreach officers, the Melbourne Graduate School of Education (University of Melbourne), and the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy (University of British Columbia), Tom will produce an illustrated book and teaching notes that elicit empathic relations with non-human others and planetary systems. The text will be aligned to the Australian Curriculum for mid-primary school, and is set for publication by Penguin as ‘Our Planet + You’ in 2017.