Professor Francesca Merlan

Professor Francesca Merlan

Position: Professor of Anthropology
School and/or Centres: Anthropology


Phone: 612 58228

Location: Room 251, Upper Floor, Banks Building (#44), Linnaeus Way

Researcher profile:

Landedness and its transformation; culture and personhood; Indigeneity; comparative political culture (liberalism and illiberalism); language and culture; social theory and development.

I have done research over many years in Northern Australia, where I have been interested in changes in the lives of Aboriginal people who have moved into regional towns (Merlan 1998). A major emphasis in my work with people of Northern Australia has been their changing relations to what they consider their countries, or home territories, and to towns. Over this time I have been involved in the processes (land and native title claims) by which the state has sought to regulate and restore indigenous associations with land. It has been one of the bases of my theoretical interest in socio-cultural transformation and our attempts to model and understand it (Merlan 2005a).

My research in Northern Australia is also part of what informs my interest in the political culture of liberalism (e.g., the engagements of the Australian state with indigenous people). This has been the germ of wider comparative interest in different modes of landedness, and changes in association with land, in the context of differing political cultures.

I am currently (February 2014) completing a book focusing on encounters between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Australia, extending from early contact to the scenes and times of my own research. Through this book I am seeking to extend our understanding of culture, power, history and transformation.

I have done research in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea (Merlan and Rumsey 1991), where the lives of people have clearly changed under outside influence, but where relations to land largely remain outside the sphere of state regulation and the land itself under indigenous tenure.

Recent fieldwork in the Nebilyer Valley (2013-2014) has focused on investigating recent intensive warfare in the valley, and especially women's role in it, something on which there has been very little written.

My most recent field research has been in southern Germany in a region of Bavaria where farming remains very important, ideologically and as livelihood, and where many see themselves as having deep-rooted relations of indigeneity to specific local areas and villages; nevertheless, the long-term process of exit from agrarian occupation has continued apace. I have attempted to describe how people see and deal with this, and to theorise in terms of the notion of an `illiberal' political culture the ways in which people here attempt to limit the effects of change (Merlan 2004 and current project). This of course has required engagement with an historically and culturally complex set of issues in relation to the wider German and European setting.

Going on from this most recent project, I intend to continue and widen my research into the (widespread, differentiated) phenomenon of disengagement from landed and agrarian livelihoods and the consequences of this for our contemporary world.


  • Children's language learning and the development of intersubjectivity (Secondary Investigator)
  • Inside Alice Springs: a new view of difference, division and diversity (Primary Investigator)
  • Cross-Cultural Institution-Building and Development Interventions: Linked Applied and Critical Approaches (Primary Investigator)

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