Anthropology, Permaculture and Earthship Ironbank

This presentation will explore the contributions that anthropology can make to the scholarship of permaculture through discussion of anthropological fieldwork that is currently being undertaken by Dr. Keri Chiveralls at the Earthship Ironbank workshops in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia. Earthship Ironbank is the first council approved building of its type in Australia, a natural building project that utilises ‘waste’ materials (primarily car tyres), ‘natural’ materials (primarily earth and straw), and other conventional materials, to create a simple one-bedroom Earthship that would function as a living laboratory and bed and breakfast on Dr. Martin Freney’s property in Ironbank in the Adelaide Hills. Approximately 60 people, including Keri Chiveralls (as ethnographer and participant observer), participated in the workshop components of this project during the Easter and Summer workshops of 2014, mainly from a period of between 1 to 5 weeks, many of them camping on site, learning new skills, meeting new people and sharing ideas. The presentation reflects on the cultural significance of the workshops along with how interactions at Earthship Ironbank contributed to the broader development of permaculture practices beyond the workshops. The paper concludes with some reflections on the relationship between the disciplines of anthropology and permaculture.


Keri is currently working as Discipline Leader on the Permaculture Design and Sustainability Program at CQUniversity Australia. She is a cultural anthropologist with an interest in environmental anthropology, social movement studies and theories of social change. 

After returning from participation in the Dialogue Days for the drafting of the Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012, Keri began fieldwork in the natural building and permaculture movements in Australia, and became a passionate advocate for transitions towards sustainability.

She is relishing the challenge of applying her background in cultural anthropology and sustainability to the task of co-ordinating one of the world's first tertiary level permaculture programs. Keri is also an Adjunct Research Fellow at the University of South Australia where she is engaged on a number of different projects looking at cultural and social influences on approaches to 'sustainability' and 'development'. She is also engaged in various teaching related academic tasks including guest lectures and student supervision.

Prior to joining CQUniversity Keri worked at the University of South Australia, as a Research Fellow on an ARC Linkage Project entitled 'Reconsidering Sustainable Building and Design: A Cultural Change Approach'. She also lectured in 'Social and Community Planning' and 'Sustainable Development: A Global Perspective'. Prior to this she was based at the Australian Institute for Social Research, where she worked on a wide variety of contract research projects. She received her doctorate in Anthropology/Social Inquiry at the University of Adelaide in 2008. Since then she has published numerous research outputs including books, book chapters, journal articles and presentations at national and international conferences.

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