Scale and Space

Today, an update on my recent research, as well as my work on racial and gender justice for Aboriginal women in Women’s Policy Action Tank, an interview with me on space colonisation in Axios Space, and more.

Time after time

I’m going to stop marvelling at how much time has passed since the last time I posted updates about my professional life, as it’s clearly been unforgivably way-too-long! A gentle reminder that my research blog, The Other Sociologist, has more regular posts about my research outside my paid work. My updates here are more about my public sociology.  Nevertheless, I’m eternally sorry that I update here far less frequently than I hope to.

Since we last caught up in February, I wrote about my time living and working in the Central Coast, I talked about why White people shouldn’t tag people of colour in their social media posts about race, how to use intersectionality in collective responses to sexual harassment in higher education, I showed international examples of how White people compare racism ineffectively across societies, and much more. I’ve also reflected on a large project that’s occupied my free time, which was to consolidate my various social media and microblogging into one spot, my research blog. I discussed that blogging carries a huge emotional tax, via public harassment, and why I persevere in spite of this abuse

One of our team’s studies was published, on increasing course attendance for apprentices and trainees using SMS communications between teachers and employers. It’s work that I’m deeply passionate about. Around half of all apprentices and trainees quit in their first year, largely due to inadequate support at work (including unfair working conditions), as well as a disconnect between what they learn during their formal vocational education, versus how they’re expected to learn on-the-job. Electronic prompts from teachers to employers significantly increase the number of classes learners attend, though, curiously, some of the content about what learners are studying can be confusing to employers. Once messages stop, the positive effects quickly wane. Check out our report to see the practical implications of our research on policy.


The year so far has been dominated by multiple work projects, which are in the demanding phase of scale-up. Scaling is where we take a study or pilot program and roll it out to a broader population. With this comes greater complexity, as resourcing requirements increase. Our team tests behavioural interventions, such as making evidence-based changes to programs and customer service delivery for social services. We use randomised control trials and other methods to help policy-makers and programs improve decision-making. Our studies happen ‘in the real world’: we collaborate with agencies to co-design and analyse changes to systems, services and policy. But we are in charge of testing and evaluating outcomes. At the point of scale-up, we are taking these lessons to a broader public.

As we shift implementation to our partner agencies,  we go from our research team leading the work, to front-line staff delivering changed services in new locations and contexts. In short, the realities of bringing behavioural change to a larger population introduces new challenges, from the capability of staff, to different pressures they may be under, to resourcing the work so it can be successfully adopted in new places. The scale-up literature consistently shows that it’s often tough to make this transition, and that the benefits of behavioural studies may be less effective if certain conditions are not met.

One of my projects has been focused on scaling-up behaviourally-informed messages to increase vocational learners’ self-help actions. Specifically, we’ve been encouraging learners to use existing resources or to reach out for support from dedicated professionals. Another project I’m leading is scaling-up our work to attract university student teachers to take up professional placements in rural and remote regions. I hope to be able to tell you more about these in future. What I can say now is the work is intellectually rewarding, but it is labour intensive. I’m grateful for dedicated colleagues and our project partners.

Now onto media stuff.

Sexual racism

In April, The Spectrum featured my research on sexual racism:

According to sociologist Zuleyka Zevallos, people assume that racism has to be overt, such as refusing service because of someone’s skin color or shouting a racial slur at someone.

Zevallos believes that we have been conditioned to favor some ethnicities and races over others. She said comments such as “you’re pretty for a Black girl” show that many people think you need some semblance of European features in order to be attractive.

Zevallos said this White-centric beauty standard is due to certain countries being colonised by White people. If we weren’t socially influenced on our racial dating preferences, there wouldn’t be any studies on this because there would be no pattern to look at. If there is no pattern, then it would show that we are all open-minded.


Aboriginal flag drawn over a fence
Source: Green Gourmet Giraffe via Women’s Policy Action Think Tank

Last week, in July, Women’s Policy Action Tank republished my research on racial and gender justice for Aboriginal women. I wrote about the over-incarceration of Aboriginal people, and how this affects Aboriginal women in particular, especially as their children are often taken away from them during incarceration. These women are denied services and support for the issues affecting their lives at the time of arrest: poverty, domestic and family violence, and alcohol and other drug use.


In early July, Axios Space featured an interview with me on space colonisation:

“Colonise is a problematic word, but, more to the point, we need to grapple with colonisation in space (and on Earth) now, rather than later, because the mindset, values and beliefs behind this word shape corporate behaviours,” Swinburne University (Australia) sociologist Zuleyka Zevallos said via email…

“If companies believe they have a right to accumulate massive wealth at the expense of Indigenous communities, Black people and poorer nations, that is a colonial mindset,” Zevallos said. “If we allow this belief to continue to shape our environment on Earth, the same problems will be transplanted into other worlds.”

Last week, The Bureau of Linguistical Reality featured my work on their post about the term marsify. This word describes: ‘When you fail to deal with a dire problem on Earth, the only planet on which humans can currently live, in exchange for a problem on Mars.’ They write:

Examples: Elon Musk: ‘The government on Mars will be a direct democracy. Everyone votes on every issue.’

A critique of Marsification by Zuleyka Zevallos on ‘Making New Worlds’: ‘There is something profoundly unethical about the idea that we just discard our planet after we’ve done so much damage. Then we go without having learnt anything & think that we’re going to overcome the problems we weren’t willing to do on our own planet. [Full post below]

What’s coming up?

My colleagues and I are speaking at the Institute of Public Administration Australia on Tuesday 6 August. Unfortunately the event is sold out, but I will share some pics on my Instagram or LinkedIn. 

Speak to you next time. Hopefully in less than five months’ time. (Eeep!)