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Children making choices as ethical consumers: research to be awarded PhD at graduation


Sharlene King
22 September 2016
The ways children come to understand and experience ethical consumption is the focus of a PhD research thesis being awarded at the Southern Cross University graduation ceremonies on Saturday (September 24).

Kate Neale investigated the ways children learn about ethical consumption and what opportunities within the family context they have to practise ethical consumption.

Ethical consumption refers to purchasing or avoiding a product in line with an ethical issue.

“Ethical consumption offers the children a means by which they can – and do – participate in broader societal issues such as environmental, social and economic impacts of consumption,” said the researcher from the University’s Centre for Children and Young People, who will be known as Dr Neale after graduation.

“This is an exciting contribution to understanding the ways children can - and do - participate as members in society, who otherwise do not have the power to vote or necessarily participate in political activism.”

Ms Neale interviewed children (aged 8 to 12) and their parents in Brisbane, Sydney, Port Macquarie and the Northern Rivers of NSW.

The research showed children learned about ethical consumption either through direct conversations or experiences around ethical consumption (school and home) or through a process of osmosis, where children ‘soaked’ up the information around them (whether directly or indirectly intended).

“Children saw the benefits of moderating their consumption to avoid landfill and spoke about the importance of saving up for quality items that wouldn’t break,” Ms Neale said.

“Children also freely discussed concerns surrounding the impact of poor labour conditions on workers in the manufacturing of their garments and technology, as well as concerns for the welfare of animals in egg and meat production.”

Ms Neale said she found parents were happy to discuss ethical consumption with their children mostly around organic food and moderating consumption.

“They tended not to want to discuss poor labour conditions or factory-farming because the content was seen as inappropriate or ‘shocking’ and therefore age inappropriate. The research showed however, children were aware of these things anyway.”

Ms Neale, who already holds a Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Laws from Southern Cross University, will be awarded a Doctor of Philosophy for ‘Children and ethical consumption’ at the 11am ceremony.

Gregory Smith took an in-depth look at the experiences of more than 20 ‘Forgotten Australians’ – of whom he is one – for his PhD thesis, ‘Nobody's Children: An exploration into a sense of belonging of adults who experienced institutional out of home care as children’.

Mr Smith’s story of surviving institutional care and then living for a decade as a hermit in the bush has resonated widely after an interview on the ABC’s Conversations with Richard Fidler program.

He has been offered a book contract with Penguin for rights to his memoirs and a movie deal is being negotiated. The BBC World Service, with a global audience of 50 million, has also expressed interest in an interview.

“My story has had quite an impact on the broader community. I can only articulate my experiences because of my education. It shows with good understanding and appropriate support, people can actually make something of their life,” said Mr Smith.

“For many people that’s the trap. Living inside them is this idea that they could be better but they don’t have a way out. I was very fortunate, I gave myself something that people don’t often have and that is separation between myself and the confusion of society. I was able to sit and think and make sense of my experience.”

Ms Neale and Mr Smith are among five candidates being awarded a Doctor of Philosophy at the graduation ceremonies. The others are:
• Marie Chantale Pelletier for ‘Assessing the energy requirement of local food systems: Insights from Australia’
• Tran Van Son for ‘Towards successful implementation of Vietnamese National Government climate change policy at the provincial and local farmer level’
• Farai Manwa for ‘An Investigation of the Impact of Trade Liberalisation on Economic Growth in the SACU region’

Saturday’s ceremonies will be preceded by the Lismore street procession at 9.45am, with graduands and academic staff resplendent in gowns and mortarboards. Leading the procession is the Lismore City Pipe Band.

Professor Peter Lee FTSE, who is retiring after seven years as Vice Chancellor, will deliver the Occasional Address to graduates at the 11am ceremony in the Whitebrook theatre.

His successor as Vice Chancellor is Professor Adam Shoemaker who will become the University’s fifth Vice Chancellor at the 2pm ceremony.

Street procession

At 9.45 am from the Browns Creek/Clyde Campbell Car Park, Molesworth Street, Lismore. The procession will proceed along Woodlark and Keen Streets and will conclude on the corner of Magellan and Keen Streets.

Two ceremonies will be held in the Whitebrook Theatre at the Lismore campus:

11am ceremony
School of Arts and Social Sciences; School of Education; School of Environment, Science and Engineering; Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples; SCU College; Southern Cross GeoScience; Southern Cross Plant Science
Occasional address: Southern Cross University Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Lee FTSE

2pm ceremony
School of Business and Tourism; School of Health and Human Sciences; School of Law and Justice
Occasional address: Mr John Lord AM, chairman of Huawei Technologies Australia

Photo: Kate Neale's (left) research explored children as ethical consumers.