Reconfiguring the Enterprise: Shifting Manufacturing Culture in Australia


Katherine Gibson
Stephen Healy
Jenny Cameron
Joanne McNeill

Project Location


This research project is funded by the Australian Research Council (DP160101674, 2016 to 2018), and the Chief Investigators are Professor Katherine Gibson and Dr Stephen Healy from Western Sydney University, and Associate Professor Jenny Cameron from University of Newcastle (Australia), with Dr Joanne McNeill contributing as Research Fellow and Project Manager.

The case study research is investigating manufacturing firms in Australia that are going beyond the challenge of “simply” maintaining firm viability to also address social and/or environmental concerns by, for example, employing so-called difficult-to-employ groups (such as refugees; ex-prisoners; early school leavers; long-term unemployed); staying in-place in regional centres in order to contribute to regional viability; thinking of the longer-term by valuing the current workforce and creating a future workforce (and membership, in the case of co-operatives); innovating to maximise recycling or reuse of product parts or entire products; and innovating to minimise waste and harmful environmental by-products of the manufacturing process.

The participating manufacturers are diverse and include cooperatives, family firms, social enterprises, private businesses, and publicly listed companies. They range in scale from small to large firms, and include those that are globally-connected.

At its core, the research is concerned with the question of “What is manufacturing for?” and the related question of “What is an economy for?” The manufacturers in this study are demonstrating how an economy is for meeting material needs while also providing for social and environmental wellbeing. These manufacturers may be the harbingers of a new business model that is “fit for the 21st century”, that is, a business model that can meet the dual challenges of climate change, and growing social and economic inequality.

Some of the project outputs include:

  • Hands at Work video. This video uses images from the case study enterprises to bring to life some of the diversity that exists within manufacturing enterprises.
  • Public Declaration. This Public Declaration on just and sustainable manufacturing is signed by the participating manufacturers and it outlines the forms of manufacturing that are needed to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
  • Roepke Lecture. The 2018 Roepke Lecture at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers was delivered by Katherine Gibson and was subsequently published in the journal, Economic Geography (along with a Rejoinder to Vicky Lawson's Commentary on the Lecture).
  • The final project report, Beyond Business as Usual: A 21st Century Culture of Manufacturing in Australia, was launched on 23 January 2020 by Senator for NSW, Dr Mehreen Faruqi (The Australian Greens Industry spokesperson) followed by a discussion with Senator for SA, Rex Patrick (Centre Alliance), Federal Member for Parramatta, Ms Julie Owens MP (Australian Labor Party), and NSW Member for Coffs Harbour, Mr Gurmesh Singh MP (The Nationals), and panel discussions with representatives of the manufacturing enterprises involved in the study.