Tess Lea

(She, Her, Hers)


Currently on leave
Phone: 250.807.8330
Email: tess.lea@ubc.ca

Research Summary

I have instigated and managed national and international research collaborations to pursue translational research across health, education, housing, infrastructure, militarism, and extractive relations—these being different coordinates for mapping social inequality under continuing settler occupation in troubled times and considering the policy ecology informing such issues.


I was born in Darwin, Australia’s northernmost capital city, a place that is famous for cyclones, crocodiles and vivid sunsets, and have a public school background.

After becoming a full-time academic (from a policy career) and before joining the University of Sydney in mid-2011, I established an applied research centre at Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory of Australia. The School for Social and Policy Research (now the Indigenous-led Northern Institute) reflects my dedication to sponsoring opportunities for junior academics and working on pressing issues while creating space for creativity and independent research, through traditional and engaged forms of scholarship and application. I have continued these emphases in subsequent locations.




PhD, University of Sydney

Research Interests & Projects

I will be establishing a Policy Ecology Collaboratory at UBC-O, focussing on ways to navigate convoluted policy and practice issues relating to infrastructures of sustainability under the climate emergency. I introduced the idea of policy ecology in my most recent monograph, Wild Policy: Indigeneity and the Unruly Logics of Intervention (2020: Stanford University Press) to help show why policy cannot be compartmentalized from environmental and land justice issues, as if it is a separate sphere. A policy ecology model approaches ‘policy’ as a saturating force that accumulates through human and non-human matter over time and space.

I hope to join others to work through the pragmatics of sustainability by: (1) refining “policy ecology” as a theoretical and methodological framework for probing and deploying social policy interventions when imagining and working toward different futures; (2) testing policy ecology framings further, expanding my existing work on sustainability in Australian domains and exploring new internationally comparative cases via ethnographic case studies; and (3) assembling artists, educators, policy makers, professionals, students, and interested community members in research workshops and events to both broaden policy ecology’s public and academic applications; and to challenge and rework policy ecology concepts to ensure their ongoing dynamism and relevance.

Stay tuned!

Selected Publications & Presentations


2020, Wild Policy: Indigeneity and the Unruly Logics of Intervention Stanford: Stanford University Press

2014, 2020, Darwin Sydney: NewSouth Books

2008, Bureaucrats and Bleeding Hearts: Indigenous Health in Northern Australia Sydney: UNSW Press


2021, ‘Weathering Paperfare in Contemporary Wars of Attrition’, in J Hamilton, S Reid, P van Gelder and A Neimanis (eds.), Feminist, Queer, Anticolonial Propositions for Hacking the Anthropocene (London: Open Humanities Press).

2020, ‘Indigenous social policy, settler colonial dependencies and toxic lingerings: Living through mining and militarism in the Anthropocene’, in A Dundon and R Vokes (eds.) Shifting States: New Perspectives on Security, Infrastructure and Political Affect (ASA Monographs: Bloomsbury).


2022, Grealy, L., Lea, T., Moskos, M., Benedict, R., Habibis, D. & King, S. ‘Sustaining housing through planned maintenance in remote central Australia’ Housing Studies

2022, Lea, T., Buchanan, I, Fuller, G. & Waitt, G. ‘New problems for assemblage theory: materiality, governance and cycling in Sydney’ Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning

2021, Grealy, L and Lea T. ‘Sensing the state in hot houses’ Roadsides Collection 6, November 2021 DOI: 10.26034/roadsides-202100606

2021, ‘Desiring Bureaucracy’ Annual Review of Anthropology Vol 50: 59-74

2021, Waitt G, Buchanan I, Lea T & Fuller G ‘Embodied spatial mobility (in)justice: cycling refrains and pedalling geographies of men, masculinities and love’ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

2021, Waitt G, Buchanan I, Lea T & Fuller G ‘Critical Antagonisms: Cycling and Territory’ Mobilities

2020, ‘Decolonizing trauma theory by way of housing disrepair: the case of Santa Teresa, Australia’ Social Research: An International Quarterly, 87(3): 735-762.

2020, McConnell, A, Grealy, L & Lea, T ‘Policy success for whom? A framework for analysis’ Policy Sciences https://doi.org/10.1007/s11077-020-09406-y

Professional Services/Affiliations/Committees

Editorial Board Member, Organisational Ethnography Book Series, Bristol University Press (2020-ongoing)

Editorial Board Member, Science, Technology and Human Values (2022-ongoing)

Editorial Board Member, Anthropology in Action (2007-ongoing)

Editorial Member, Organisational Ethnography (2019-ongoing)

Member, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies

Research Advisor, Healthabitat


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