Dr Sarah Holcombe

PhD Social Anthropology - University Newcastle (NSW). BA (HONS) Anthropology University of Sydney
Visiting Fellow, CAEPR
T: 02-61253076

Areas of expertise

  • Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Policy 160501
  • Studies Of Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Society 169902
  • Social And Cultural Anthropology 160104
  • Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies 200201

Research interests

Indigenous Australia, the practice of Indigenous human rights, legal anthropology, the anthropology of development, gender violence, Integrity systems and ethics in research.


Sarah has a disciplinary background in social anthropology, undertaking her PhD research in remote central Australia. Half of her 20 years experience working with Indigenous Australians has been as an applied anthropologist in the Northern Territory. More recently this work has involved developing resources, such as protocols and guidelines, for government agencies and research bodies to systematise an ethical and collaborative approach to working with Indigenous knowledge holders in research.

She has for the last nine years been involved in a diverse range of projects at the ANU, principally through the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR), including as Social Science Coordinator for the Desert Knowledge Coperative Research Centre. This cross-disciplinary and collaborative research has ranged from working in the Pilbara region of WA on the socio-economic sustainability of mining for Indigenous communities and native title holders, to research in central Australia in relation to Indigenous community governance and 'development'. Sarah's anthropological method fundamentally unsettles the ground between anthropologist as advocate and change agent, and anthropologist as practising a discursive science.  

Sarah is a Director on the Executive of the Australian Anthropological Society (AAS); 2010-2013, the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AATSIS) Ethics Committee; 2011-2015 and the inaugural research committee for the Desert Knowledge Foundation established by Desert Knowledge Australia 2013.

Researcher's projects

Sarah was awarded an ARC Future Fellowship in 2011. This 4 year research project will be taken up in early 2012. The research topic is "Global Indigenous Rights and Local Effect in central Australia: tracing relations of power and locating Potentialities". 

This project takes an ethnographic approach to the question of Indigenous rights. Its point of departure is the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, recently endorsed by the Australian government. Centred around community case-studies in arid-zone Australia, this project asks how rights are understood, negotiated and practiced at local, national and global levels: in the Indigenous communities themselves; in government policies and approaches; and in the work of NGOs. This work will write Australia’s Indigenous peoples into the international debate on globalizing rights. Thus, revealing potentialities for shifting systemic disadvantage and locating new pathways for change. 

Available student projects

Sarah convened the 12 week / 6 unit course "Indigenous Human Rights: Australian and International Perspectives" in second semester 2013. 


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:  03 December 2020 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers