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Community knowledge – key to tackling social violence

Community knowledge – key to tackling social violence

One of Australia’s leading researchers on cultural diversity and community engagement has joined the Alfred Deakin Institute

“We frequently misunderstand the causes of social violence. Cultural identity is so often blamed for social problems when the origin lies in other social dynamics,” claims Professor Michele Grossman, who has undertaken ground-breaking research on this field in Australia.

Professor Grossman recently joined the Alfred Deakin Institute as Research Chair in Diversity and Community Resilience, from Victoria University (VU), where she was Director, Centre for Cultural Diversity and Wellbeing.

“I have long been attracted to both the mission and the environment of ADI, specifically the Institute’s dynamic and robust research environment,” she said.

“It is particularly good to be among a critical mass of Humanities and Social Science researchers who do quality research that has translatable benefits and outcomes.”

Professor Grossman’s work focuses on projects relating to community cohesion and the prevention of violent extremism.

Before moving into this area of interest a decade ago, she developed an extensive track record of research and publication focussing on how contemporary forms of orality and literacy were valued and managed by Indigenous and non-Indigenous actors who collaborated on Indigenous cultural production.

However, after publishing her award-winning book “Entangled Subjects” on this topic in 2013, she realised she had exhausted everything she had to say on that topic. The book was awarded the biennial Walter McRae Russell Prize for outstanding scholarship in 2015 by the Association for the Study of Australian Literature.

“At the time, I was doing a lot of volunteer work with the Sudanese refugee community, tutoring in the Sudanese Australian Integrated Learning Program, and I became interested in the relationships the South Sudanese community had with the police,” she said.

With colleagues at VU, Professor Grossman led a project with Victoria Police looking at culturally diverse young people’s perception of community safety and their relationships with policing.

“Through that work I was approached to do a large national study looking at community perceptions of radicalisation and violent extremism in 2011,” she said.

“It was the first of its kind in Australia, but through that project I felt I had found my niche, and academic and social passion.”

While countering violent extremism (CVE) and the study of Indigenous orality and literacy may seem poles apart, Professor Grossman said they spoke to a wider theme in her work over decades of fascination with cultural diversity and intercultural exchange.

“I realised, as I started to get more involved in community cohesion, I hadn’t strayed too far from the core of what drives me intellectually,” she said.

“I had always been interested in cultural diversity issues, particularly in relation to what cultural diversity means, what we need to understand about the dynamics of intercultural and transcultural identities and exchanges, and how we can see these as assets, rather than liabilities or deficits.”

Professor Grossman is currently investigating a range of CVE issues through her research. These include thresholds for community reporting on violent extremist activity, the cultural dimensions of resilience to political violence for youth, community perspectives on children returning from foreign conflict zones, and the roles of women in both supporting and opposing violent extremism.

She is also working with Canadian researchers to develop a standardised measure for youth resilience to violent extremism in culturally diverse communities and with UK researchers on replicating her world-first study on community reporting thresholds for sharing concerns with authorities about someone close who may be involved in violent extremism.

“There is so much to try to know and learn in these areas and so many unanswered questions, especially around community-based perspectives and factors,” she said.

“We have an imperative to draw on and draw out community-based knowledge that can help rebalance our understanding of social phenomena like violent extremism.”


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