Professor Christine Helliwell

MA Hons (Auckland); PhD (ANU)
Professor of Anthropology
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences

Areas of expertise

  • Social And Cultural Anthropology 160104
  • Culture, Gender, Sexuality 200205
  • Social Theory 160806
  • Cultural Theory 200204
  • Studies Of Asian Society 169903

Research interests

Social and cultural theory, especially the theorisation of 'society' and 'culture'; cross-cultural constitution of gender/sex; constitution of subjectivity or 'personhood' and how this relates to different forms of sociality, identity and government; Dayak peoples of Borneo.

Researcher's projects

1) Borneo Dayak forms of sociality and subjectivity (or 'personhood'), focusing particularly on the community of Gerai in Southwest Kalimantan, Indonesia. This project (ongoing since 1985) explores the utility of the core concepts used within social, and especially anthropological, theory ("nature", "society", "social structure", "autonomy", "equality", "public/private" and so on) for describing and analysing Borneo societies and, by extension, non-Western societies more broadly. In particular, my concern is with the embeddedness of such concepts in Western forms of subjectivity and sociality, and with their consequent inapplicability to Borneo (and other) contexts.

2) Experiences and representations of World War II among Borneo Dayak peoples. This pan-Borneo project, begun in 2014, is being carried out in partnership with the Australian War Memorial (AWM).  It is particularly concerned with Dayak memories and contemporary representations of both Australian and Japanese soldiers and prisoners of war. It is funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant and will culminate in an exhibition at the AWM in 2017/2018.

3) The concepts and theorisation of "society" and "culture" as these are used in a range of social science and humanities disciplines. This project is particularly interested in the relationship between these concepts and Western forms of subjectivity and government (including self-government). My most recent work in this area, conducted in collaboration with Professor Barry Hindess, has explored the history of the concept of 'society' within the social sciences, focusing particularly on its role in the colonial government of - and attempts to impose new forms of subjectivity on - subject peoples. Funded by two Australian Research Council Large Research Grants, 1997-9 and 2001-04.

4) The cultural constitution of gender/sex. This project (ongoing since the early 1990s) focuses on the ways in which gender is constituted in different societies, and how this relates to the forms of subjectivity and sociality found there. As part of this project I have examined the cross-cultural utility of notions such as "domesticity", "public/private" and so on, as well as exploring more strictly feminist debates concerning the concepts of "male" and "female" themselves.

4) Marriage, relationship and the concept of 'love' among Westerners. This project stems from M.A. fieldwork carried out among Pakeha New Zealanders in 1979-81, and conducted sporadically among Anglo-Australians and New Zealanders since. It focuses especially on how Western conceptions of relationship - including love and marriage - relate to specific forms of subjectivity and government.

Current student projects

  • Isabella Burgher (PhD Anthropology, ANU). Thesis Title: Sexual Practices among Youth in Myanmar.
  • Mohit Chaturvedi (PhD Anthropology, ANU). Thesis Title: The Changing Face of Meat Consumption in India.
  • Elisabeth Gordon (PhD Gender Studies, ANU). Thesis Title: Women’s Throat-Singing in Tuva.
  • Karen Hansen (PhD Anthropology, ANU). Thesis Title: Tourist–Local Relations in a Philippines Surfing Community.
  • Benjamin Hegarty (PhD Anthropology, ANU). Thesis Title: The Practice of Everyday Life Among Jogjakarta Waria.
  • Shamim Homayun (PhD Anthropology, ANU). Thesis Title: Sites of Memory in Afghanistan.
  • Fina Itriyati (PhD Anthropology, ANU). Disabled Women in Central Java.
  • Russell Kerr (PhD Cross-Cultural Research, ANU). Hobbes’ Political Philosophy and Kant’s Response to it.
  • Robert Laird (PhD Anthropology, ANU). Thesis Title: An Ethnographic Study of the Lun Bawang.
  • Maria Ortega (PhD Anthropology, ANU). Thesis Title: Masculinity in Rural Japan.
  • Sophie Pezzutto (PhD Anthropology, ANU). Thesis Title: An Ethnography of the Transgender Adult Entertainment Industry in Los Angeles
  • Callan Schultz (PhD Anthropology, ANU). Thesis Title: Memories of WWII Along the Sandakan-Ranau Track.
  • Heather Skousgaard (PhD Anthropology, ANU). Thesis Title: Ecumenical Spirituality among Contemporary Catholics in Australia.
  • Trixie Tangit (PhD Anthropology, ANU). Thesis Title: Kadazandusun: The Creation of a Borneo Identity.



Past student projects


PhDs Awarded Last 5 Years

  • Rachel Morgain (PhD Anthropology, ANU; awarded 2011). Thesis Title: Beyond ‘Individualism’: Personhood and Transformation in the Reclaiming Pagan Community of San Francisco.
  • Anika Koenig (PhD Anthropology, ANU; awarded 2013). Thesis Title: The Cultural Face of Conflict: Dayak-Madurese Violence in West Kalimantan, Indonesia.
  • Gabrielle Desilets (PhD Anthropology, ANU; awarded 2014). Thesis Title: Cosmopolitanism and Third Culture Kids.
  • Grace, Anna (PhD Anthropology, ANU; awarded 2016). Thesis Title: 'It's not about Luck': The Production of Australian Elite Athletes. 



Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  14 July 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers