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Centre for Research on Social Inclusion

Dr Rochelle Spencer

BSocSci (Hons) Newcastle, PhD Macquarie

ARC Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Phone: +61 (0)2 9850 9678
Fax: +61 (0)2 9850 4432
Office: C5C Research Hub West, Room 381

Research Interests

My research is located within the anthropology of development - the analysis of the technologies of development discourse and practice, the relationships of power constructed by expert knowledge, the ethnographic analysis and critique of modernist constructs, with the intention of contributing to social change for the disenfranchised. My work involves a critical analysis of development paradigms and their implications for social change in both the global and local realms.

Much of my research focuses on expressions of solidarity and moralisation that increasingly emerge in response to neoliberal globalisation and draw on a nostalgic yearning for face-to-face community. This increase in moral discourse and practice articulates the benefits of civil society and the virtues of civic engagement at the local and global levels. My research critically questions concepts of civil society, participation, active citizenship, and capacity building, contributing to scholarly literature on the taken-for granted assumptions about community, development, rights, and moral responsibility by exploring their importance for social change in an era of globalisation.

Specifically, in order to engage with these themes and areas of interest, my work has involved ethnographic fieldwork and analysis in Cuba and Australia.

My Latin American work in Cuba deals with questions around solidarity, development and tourism which pose critical questions around active global citizenship, 'doing' rights-based development, and the moralisation of tourism in the Global South. Increasingly we see processes aimed at transforming people into 'active citizens', such as Cuba's revolutionary goal of transforming Cubans into enlightened, mobilized and empowered people through education but also through participation in mass community organisations (Spencer 2010). Similarly, these processes are occurring in the global north. In Australia for example, there has been an increase in 'service-learning'. I'm interested in how NGOs utilise 'service-learning' as a process to shape young active global citizens. Then there are the experience-based strategies of NGOs (Spencer 2010), where NGOs offer tours to developing countries to visit aid projects in an effort to mobilise and transform people into 'active citizens' and 'agents of social change'. Here I'm concerned with people's moral conception of, and commitment to, social justice and rights and the ways these are mobilised.

I analyse these research themes through the lens of capacity building. In the aid and development lexicon, capacity building discursively emphasises collective action for developing sustainable partnerships to address community needs. In my research, capacity building implicitly endorses rights and justice and this is of critical concern to my research because its emphasis on participation reinforces the value of participatory democracy and active citizenship.

In an applied anthropological sense, I'm interested in how building capacity of marginalised groups can be a 'means to an end' or an 'end' in itself. My research with parenting youth who participate in a strengths-based community development model, focused on exploring the experiences, attitudes and perceptions of young disenfranchised mothers as they partook in parenting classes, and (re)engaged in education and/or vocational training as a means to successful parenting.

Likewise I'm interested in how building capacity can be an 'end' in itself. For example, my ARC research with Red Cross explores models of active citizenship, participation, and community as they are achieved through capacity building. This research is concerned with the ways in which Red Cross harnesses capacity (organisational and community) to address economic and social transformations that have led to an increasingly divided society with entrenched locational disadvantage. Central to this research are critical questions around transformation in human consciousness and in social values. 

Current Research Projects

Building Bridges back into Community: Capacity Building for a Socially Inclusive Society
Working closely with Australian Red Cross this research addresses the issue of long term community capacity building, bringing together new theoretical insights with practice. This project centres around three main themes including community capacity building, organisational capacity building and volunteerism. The ways in which Red Cross programs facilitate connectedness to community are explored and in what ways such programs empower people to engage with their communities through 'active citizenship'.

Place-Sharing in Macquarie Park: understanding then building community participation and social inclusion
This multidisciplinary project focuses on Macquarie Park, an area where disadvantage and global capital sit side by side. In bringing together Macquarie Park residents, members of local government, non-government and corporate organisations, the project will draw on community capacity building methods to, firstly, analyse and distil the multiple held notions and experiences of 'social inclusion', 'place sharing' and 'belonging' and, secondly, to harness the shared values and available capacities and resources of the various stakeholders to enable the development of agreed, socio-economically inclusive processes which build community wellbeing. This project will explore and understand diverse social and cultural meanings of participation and social exclusion. It will provide the practical and theoretical tools to integrate the diverse interests of residents, global corporations and international students for successful and sustainable outcomes towards social inclusion.

Turning Points: Evaluation of Red Cross Young Parents Program
This one year ethnographic study evaluated the Young Parents Program in building the capacities of young marginalised parents to successfully parent their children independently. The Program is a three staged transition program that provides a holistic, strengths-based perspective towards early intervention with a focus on family restoration and preservation. The research provides insights into what being involved in an early intervention program means to young parents and reveals the impact they perceive their involvement in the program has had on their lives. Vignettes of strengths-based practice throughout the report illustrate such elements in practice and the subsequent outcomes.

Grants Awarded

ARC Linkage Grant (2008-2011):'Building Bridges back into Community: Capacity Building for a Socially Inclusive Society'; with A/Prof MD Fine; Prof RH Fagan; A/Prof K McCracken; Dr R Dowling; A/Prof RL Howitt; A/Prof KH Millard ($690,275)

Macquarie University External Collaborative Grant Scheme (2009): 'The Red Cross Young Parents Program Research Project' ($67,000)


Books (single-authored)

Spencer, R. (2010) Development Tourism: Lessons from Cuba, Ashgate: UK

Book Chapters

Spencer, R. (2010) Rights-Based Tourism - tourist engagement in social change, globalised social movements, and endogenous development in Cuba, in R. Sharpley (ed) Tourist Experiences: Meanings, Motivations and Behaviours. Routledge: UK (forthcoming)

Broad, S. and Spencer, R. (2008) 'Shifting Paradigms: the convergence of tourism, conservation and development', in S. Babu, B. J. Parida, and S. Mishra (Eds.) Tourism Development Revisited: concepts, issues and paradigms. Sage Publishers: India

Spencer, R. (2008) 'Lessons from Cuba: A Volunteer Army of Ambassadors', in S. Wearing and K. Lyons (Eds.) Journeys of Discovery in Volunteer Tourism: International Case Study Perspectives. CABI Publishers


2010 (with Gillian Vogl) 'Turning Points: Evaluation of Red Cross Young Parents Program', Report to the Australian Red Cross, Centre for Research on Social Inclusion, Macquarie Unviersity.

2008 (with Michael Fine) 'Development of an Assessment Tool for HACC Services', Report to the Department of Ageing, Disability, and Home Care, Centre for Research on Social Inclusion, Macquarie University.