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The Australian National University

Dr Christine Helliwell


Position: Reader in Anthropology


Phone: + 61 2 6125 8226 or + 61 2 6125 4307

Research interests

1) I have worked extensively with Borneo Dayak peoples, focusing particularly on the community of Gerai in Southwest Kalimantan, Indonesia (1985– ). In endeavouring to come to terms with Dayak forms of sociality and subjectivity (or ‘personhood’) this research has explored 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 here has been with the embeddedness of such concepts in Western forms of subjectivity and sociality, and with their consequent inapplicability to Borneo (and other) contexts.

2) The cultural constitution of gender/sex. My research in this area has focused 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.

3) The concepts and theorisation of "society" and "culture" as these are used in a range of social science and humanities disciplines. I am 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) Marriage, relationship and the concept of ‘love’ among Westerners. This research stems from M.A. fieldwork carried out among Pakeha New Zealanders 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.

Recent and main publications

1995. "Autonomy as natural equality: inequality in 'egalitarian' societies". Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (formerly Man) 1(2):359-75.

1996. "Space and sociality in a Dayak longhouse". In Michael Jackson (ed) Things As They Are: New Directions in Phenomenological Anthropology, pp 128-48. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

1999. “Power”. In Steve Taylor (ed) Sociology: Issues and Debates, pp 73-95. Basingstoke: Macmillan (co-authored with Barry Hindess).

1999. “’Culture’, ‘society’ and the figure of man”. History of the Human Sciences 12(4): 1-20 (co-authored with Barry Hindess).

2000. "'It's only a penis': rape, feminism and difference". Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 25(3): 789-816.

2000. “Restoring the balance: ‘marriage exchange’ in a Borneo community”. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 1(1):37-53.

2001. 'Never Stand Alone': A Study of Borneo Sociality. Phillips, Maine: Borneo Research Council.

2002. “The ‘empire of uniformity’ and the government of subject peoples”. Cultural Values: Journal for Cultural Research 6(1-2):139-152 (co-authored with Barry Hindess).

2005. “The temporalising of difference”. Ethnicities 5(3):414-418 (co-authored with Barry Hindess.)

2006. “Political theory and social theory”. In John Dryzek, Bonnie Honig and Anne Phillips (eds) Oxford Handbook of Political Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press (co-authored with Barry Hindess.)

Courses currently taught

PhD Theory Course
ANTH2025/ANTH6025 Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective

Updated: 16 November 2010/ Responsible Officer:  Head of School / Page Contact:  Web Publisher