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Department of Environment and Geography

Katharine McKinnon

Department of Environment and Geography

Profile Photo
Email katharine.-mckinnonmq.-edu.-au
Position Senior Lecturer
Room No. E7A 605
Fax +61-2-9850-6052


I am a social geographer and my work moves across the fields of cultural, political, economic and development geographies. My research interests coalesce around themes of subjectivity and social transformation and is informed by theories of diverse economies and the work of J.K. Gibson-Graham in particular. I am interested in how dominant social and political discourses come in to being and how they are enacted, challenged and altered through the everyday actions of ordinary people. I have examined deliberate efforts for transformation in the form of community development practice and the indigenous rights movement in Southeast Asia, and am also engaged in an action research project around indicators for gender equality in the Pacific. Most recently I have moved my research closer to home with an exploration the transformative moment of birth.


My work on development is best represented by my recently published book Development Professionals in Northern Thailand: Hope, Politics and Practice (2011). The book focuses on the efforts of development professionals to transform the communities in which they work. Drawing on ethnographic research with academic researchers, foreign aid workers and local indigenous NGOs I examine the contested history of aid in the highlands of northern Thailand. Drawing on theories of governmentality and hegemony, the book explores the potential of post-development to guide new kinds of development practice and reshape professional identities.


More recently my interests have moved to the transformative moment of birth. I am exploring how debates around where and how women should give birth are shaping the spaces of birth. How do these debates shape women’s experiences of birth and the decisions they are able to make over what happens to their bodies and their babies? Taking an ethnographic approach this research intends to map the networks of human and non-human actors that shape the space of birth and compete to govern the birthing body. It will identify the networks of different actors and accompanying social, political and economic interests that converge in birth spaces of the home and hospital. Focusing on the woman’s experience of birth, I hope to unravel how these networks shape this pivotal moment in every mother’s life.


My current projects include:

  •  “Measuring gender equality outcomes of economic growth in the Pacific: working with communities to develop indicators to monitor change” – funded by Australian Development Research Awards. Further details, progress reports and the published Indicators Manual available on the project website:
  • “Mapping birth spaces: investigating the social, political and economic dynamics that shape birth experiences in Australia and New Zealand” – funded by Macquarie University Return from Parental Leave Grant



My teaching builds on a foundation of research that is theoretically engaged and empirically grounded in extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Southeast Asia, the Pacific and, more recently, the Sydney region. My teaching approach focuses on challenging students to consider new ideas and perspectives while grounding abstract concepts in real-life case studies and experience.


ENVG111 - Geographies of Global Change

ENVG215 - Geographies of Development

ENVG330 - Asia-Pacific Development

HGEO806 - Thinking Geographically

HGEO809 - Globalisation and Sustainable Development


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McKinnon, K. (2011) Development Professionals in Northern Thailand: Hope, Politics and Power, ASAA Southeast Asia Publications Series, published by Singapore University Press in conjunction with University of Hawaii and NIAS.

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Chapters in books

Dowling, R. and McKinnon, K. (in progress) ‘Identity’, for Lee, R., Castree, N., Kitchin, R., Lawson, V., Paasi, A., Radcliffe, S., Withers, C.W.J., (eds) Sage Handbook of Human Geography, Sage Books

 McKinnon, K. (2012) “Indigeneity as political strategy in northern Thailand”, in Venkateswar, S. (ed) The Politics of Indigeneity: Dialogues and reflections on indigenous activism, Zed Books: 145-171

McKinnon, K. (2011) “Identification”, in Del Casino, V., Thomas, M., Panelli, R. A Companion to Social Geography, Blackwell Publishing: 37-54

McKinnon, K. (2010) “Mapping absence, generating the present”, in Fuller, D., Jonas A.E.G., and Lee, R. (eds) Alternative spaces of economy, society and politics: Interrogating alterity, Ashgate Press: 259-272

McKinnon, J. and McKinnon, K. (2000) “Mapping Ethnicity in Wellington”, in McConchie, J., Winchester, D.,  and Willis, R. (eds) Dynamic Wellington, Institute of Geography, Victoria University of Wellington; Wellington:  287-310

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Journal articles

Ireland, P. and McKinnon, K. (2013) "Strategic localism for an uncertain world: A postdevelopment approach to climate change adaptation" Geoforum (in press)

McKinnon, K. (2008) “Taking post-development theory to the field: issues in development research, Northern Thailand”, Asia-Pacific Viewpoint, 49 (3): 281-293

McKinnon, K, Gibson, K., and Malam, L. (2008) “Introduction: Critical and hopeful area studies – emerging work in Asia and the Pacific”, Asia-Pacific Viewpoint, 49 (3): 273-280

McKinnon, K. (2007) “Post-development, professionalism and the political”, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 97 (4): 772-785.

McKinnon, K. (2006) “An orthodoxy of ‘the local’: post-colonialism, participation and professionalism in northern Thailand”, The Geographical Journal, 172 (1): 22-34

McKinnon, K. (2005) “Politics and professionalism in community development:  examining intervention in the highlands of northern Thailand” Centre for Indigenous Governance and Development Working Paper Series, December.

McKinnon, K. (2005) “(Im)Mobilisation and Hegemony: ‘Hill Tribe’ Subjects and the ‘Thai’ State”, The Journal of Social and Cultural Geography, 6 (1): 31-46

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