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Tom is a cultural geographer based in the School of Science at UNSW Canberra. He joined UNSW Canberra as a Research Associate in 2017 and was promoted to Lecturer in July 2020. Tom read geography as an undergraduate at the University of Oxford, before completing an MSc and PhD at the University of Bristol. Tom has held previous posts as a Research Assistant and Senior Tutor at the University of Melbourne.
Tom's research develops new ways of thinking about the human that are more sensitive to the novel forms of material agency emerging in our increasingly technologically-mediated environments. His work contributes to a number of cutting-edge conceptual debates in cultural geography, including:
- More-than-human geography (e.g., post-humanism, new materialism)
- Relational frameworks in contemporary social science (e.g., assemblage theory, process philosophy)
- Non-anthropocentric theories of subjectivity (e.g., post-phenomenology, affect theory)
- Non-representational research methodologies (e.g., material ethnographies, experimental writing practices)
Tom's work is currently focused on three interrelated research agendas:
1. Questioning the human
Social science research is often based on unacknowledged assumptions about what it means to be human, many of which are outdated, rigid and philosophically suspect. The first aspect of Tom's research contributes to cultural geography's rich tradition of thinking critically about 'the human'. One of the most problematic assumptions that Tom's research seeks to move away from is that of 'human exceptionalism' - namely, the idea that human beings are metaphysically different from the rest of the material universe. This notion that reality can be split into the two mutually exclusive camps of 'human' and 'nonhuman' provides an impoverished account of the contemporary world, where processes and events increasingly undermine this distinction in different ways. Tom's research engages with a tradition of naturalist philosophers as a means of developing approaches to social science that are no longer based on human exceptionalism. This agenda includes work on Spinoza's Ethics, published in the interdisciplinary journal GeoHumanities, as well as engagements with the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, published in Progress in Human Geography and Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.
2. Conceptualizing material agency
The second aspect of Tom's research investigates the nonhuman dimensions of social and cultural life through a focus on material agency. It is commonly assumed that society and culture are the products of human activities and that these activities take place against a background of passive materials. However, this assumption is largely a product of the linguistic structures used by human beings to simplify a world that is full of agency in different forms. Drawing on cultural geography's recent engagements with new materialist theory and science and technology studies, Tom's research develops vocabularies that seek to amplify forms of material agency that are often overlooked in contemporary accounts of social and cultural processes. Tom's work in this area includes an experimental ethnographic engagement with the vibrant matter of an IKEA superstore, published in Environment and Planning A; a philosophically-speculative analysis of smart materials and their application in architectural design contexts, published in Environment and Planning D: Society & Space; and a conceptual analysis of assemblage thinking, published in Area.
3. Understanding the social and cultural implications of technological change
Technological change is an area of particular interest in Tom's research. Technology raises significant questions about what it means to be human, in part because the process of technological change involves an uncertain experimentation with new forms of material agency. This is particularly so with the rise of digital technologies, which have radically altered the landscape of material agency that human beings navigate in their everyday lives. This is an evolving area of interest in Tom's research. He has undertaken research on the cultural implications of 3D-printing technologies, published in cultural geographies. Tom is also the originator and course convenor of a masters course entitled Understanding Socio-technical Systems: Ideas, Spaces & Cultures, and is currently involved in an interdisciplinary research project investigating how trust is negotiated by everyday users of AI technologies.