Gender and feminist approaches in public administration

One of the really great things about the Australian Journal of Public Administration is the fantastic back catalogue of pieces that it has.  Issues date back to 1936 and all are available online.  The publishers of the journal have been very supportive towards the idea of virtual issues and the wonderful Gemma Carey (ANU, Power to Persuade) and I hit upon the idea of curating a special issue of the AJPA from its historical content that focused on gender and public administration.

So we found ourselves trawling the back issues of the AJPA  to explore the ways in which gender has (or more accurately has not) been spoken about.  We found a worryingly small number of papers that dealt with issues of gender.  To some extent this might be more understandable and acceptable through the 1940s and 1950s, but we also found a significant gap even in more recent years.  Given the numbers of women employed within the Australian Public Service this omission is even more stark.

In the editorial we go on to outline the sorts of things that we believe discussion of gender and feminist perspectives might add.  We argue, for example, that such a lens could add significant amounts to discussions concerning boundary work, change and workforce capacity.  If you are interested in reading the special issue you can find it here.

As a last addition to this post, at the recent National Institute of Public Administration Australia conference the winner of the Sam Richardson Award was announced.  This award is presented annually to the author of the most influential article published in the AJPA.  This year’s winner was rather presciently Leadership in Local Government: ‘No Girls Allowed’ by Jacquie Hutchinson, Elizabeth Walker and Fiona Haslam McKenzie.  I can highly recommend it as a good read!

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Superdiversity in Melbourne

Over the (southern hemisphere) winter I had the great pleasure of hosting two former colleagues from the University of Birmingham here in Melbourne.  Catherine Needham (who I co-convene the 21st century public servant work with) joined us for about five weeks in total and we undertook some research comparing Australia’s National Disability Scheme with the English experience of personalisation and individual budgets and there will be a post coming on this work soon.

My other guest was Professor Jenny Phillimore who is the Director of the University’s of Birmingham’s Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS).  IRiS is the first institute in the UK to focus on superdiversity and one of the first internationally too.  It brings together academics from various different disciplinary backgrounds to answer the globally, nationally and locally important questions that emerge at the nexus of migration, faith, language, ethnicity and culture.

Superdiversity is a bit of a new term in Australia and has been used more widely in Europe to date.  The concept of superdiversity is used to describe more than just a trend where people arrive from more places, but is used to describe the diversification of diversity.  This is the idea that even within ethnic groups people are different and ethnicity or culture may not be the defining feature of individual’s identities, experiences or needs.  Other factors that are important in shaping an individual’s needs, rights and entitlements, ability to access effective public services and social mobility include legal status, and associated rights and entitlements, gender, age, reason for migration, class, socio-economic status and faith.

Migration and diversity are not topics that have featured centrally in my work to date but I am keen to explore these issues in more detail and they fit well with my interests in governance and collaboration.  Just as Birmingham is an ideal base for IRiS and to explore issues of migration and diversity, so too is Melbourne.  Melbourne is among one of the world’s most superdiverse cities and in 2011 more than 1.4 million people (26% of the population) was born overseas.

During her visit Jenny and I met with a number of people from government and community organisations to collect evidence relating to superdiversity in Melbourne.  Some of these examples will appear in future publications from us collectively and Jenny individually.  Once exercise we undertook before she even arrived in the country was to analyse census data relating to issues pertaining to a variety of different measures of superdiversity.  We worked with a great team from the McCaughey VicHealth Community Wellbeing Unit here at the University of Melbourne to do this.  You can find a report which describes both the idea of superdiversity and its application to the Melbourne context through the use of Geographical Information Systems (think databases in maps) from the MSoG website.

Jenny also found time to do a podcast for Up Close – the University of Melbourne’s own audio talk show.  You can listen to her speak about superdiversity and migration in more detail here.