Dr Elspeth Oppermann

Ph.D (Geography), M.A. (Security and War), B.A. (History and Politics)

University fellow

Elspeth is a human geographer specialising in adaptation to extreme weather and climate change. As an Early Career Researcher, she leads a number of projects on managing labour-intensive work in hot and humid environments, specifically Australia’s tropical monsoon zone. Elspeth collaborates with several academic and industry partners, recently establishing the Heat Stress Research Partnership MOU to explore how the labour-intensive workforce deals with extreme heat and humidity in Australia’s tropical monsoon zone.

Elspeth’s case studies explore how heat stress is shaped by everyday practices in hot and humid conditions: the habits and beliefs of employees, locations and processes of work, divisions of labour across teams or sites, and workplace culture. The resulting analysis seeks to be responsive to the daily realities of the people, place and purposes of that workplace, and to their capacity to make decisions and be responsive to change. This in-depth understanding of social practices at worksites and of workers will inform the analysis of how adaptations to extreme heat and humidity might be enabled.

Research Interests

  • Heat stress - social practices, governance and the tropical monsoon zone
  • Climate change adaptation - resilience, transition and transformation
  • Post-structural political theory - governmentality, biopolitics of security
  • Knowledge systems - genealogy, discourse analysis and discourse theory

Open all | Close all

Research Projects

Current Projects

LEBA Faculty Supporting Research Excellence Grant, A$32,400, September 2016
Chief Investigator, with Dr Matt Brearley, National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre (NCCTRC): ‘Heat Stress Research Partnership applications: app development and prototype’ to develop the Heat Stress Management App content and test the prototype with industry focus groups in late 2017.

Recent Projects

Department of Defence, A$15,000. March 2017 – June 2017
Chief Investigator, scoping study on heat stress implications for preparedness and operations. Commissioned by the Preparedness Directorate, Vice Chief of the Defence Force Group, conducted in co-operation with the Defence Science and Technology Group.

Environmental Health Branch, NT Department of Health, $11,000. June 2013 – December 2016
Secured operational funding for the development of a web-based Application (‘App’) to top up a PhD Scholarship: ‘Exploring the development of a Heat Stress Warning and Management Tool for Northern Australia’.

Alcohol and Other Drugs Services, NT Department of Health, $27,127. January 2015 - December 2016
Chief Investigator, with Dr. Matt Brearley, National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre: ‘Heat Stress, Alcohol Use and Economic Participation among labour-intensive workers in tropical conditions: implications for the development of health policy.’ 

LEBA Faculty Medium Grant (Collaboration and Seed Focus), $7,866. April 2016
Chief Investigator, with Dr. Don Zoellner (CDU Honorary Fellow), and Dr. Matt Brearley, National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre: ‘Why Apprentices Fail to Complete: Exploring Northern Australia’s Extreme Heat as a Possible Factor’.

Menzies School of Health Research – Charles Darwin University Collaboration Fund, $45,500. June 2015
Chief Investigator/Project Representative, in collaboration with Prof. Ross Andrews, Dr Matt Brearley: ‘Heat Stress in Northern Australia: creating an epidemiological evidence base and partnership for further research’.

LEBA Faculty Small Research Grant, $3,464. September 2013
Chief Investigator, with Dr. Matt Brearley (CI-Collaborator), National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre: ‘The Role of Social Practice in managing heat stress exposure in Top End Labour intensive workforces.’

Publications & Resources

Book Chapters

Oppermann, E., Brearley, M., (2018). From Skin to Strategy: repositioning the terrain and temporality of heat stress and its management through social practices. In S. Pearson, J. Holloway, R. Thackaway (Eds.), Australian Contributions to Strategic and Military Geography. Advances in Military Geosciences. Springer, Cham https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-73408-8_14

Oppermann, E., & Walker, G. (in press). Immersed in thermal flow: heat as produced by, and productive of, social practice. In Y. Strengers & C. Maller (Eds.), Social Practices and More-than-humans: Nature, materials and technologies. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Stephens, A., Oppermann, E., Potts, R., Turnour, J., & Dale, A. (accepted). Exploring Critical Systems Thinking as a Framework for Governance Systems Analysis. In R. Wallace, S. Harwood, R. Gerritson, B. Prideaux, T. Brewer, L. Rosenman, & A. Dale (Eds.), Rethinking Northern Australia Development. Canberra: ANU Press.

Oppermann, E. (2013). Why the discursive environment matters: The UK Climate Impacts Programme and adaptation to climate change in the UK. In L. Synga, K. O'Brien & J. Wolf (Eds), A Changing Environment for Human Security: New Agendas for Research, Policy and Action (pp.234-247). London: Routledge.

Journal Articles

Oppermann, E.,Brearley, M., Maller. C., Strengers, Y., & Rickards, L.(2018) Beyond Threshold Approaches to Extreme Heat: Repositioning Adaptation as Everyday Practice, American Meteorological Society. https://doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-17-0084.1

Rickards. L & Oppermann, E. (in press) Battling the tropics to settle a nation: Negotiating multiple energies, frontiers and feedback loops in Australia, Energy Research & Social Science. doi: 10.1016/j.erss.2018.04.038

Oppermann, E. (2018) Book Review: Lockwood Alan H (2016) Heat Advisory: Protecting Health on a Warming Planet, Science and Technology Studies, 31(1).

Oppermann, E., Brearley, M., Law, L., Smith, J. A., Clough, A. and Zander, K. (2017), Heat, health, and humidity in Australia's monsoon tropics: a critical review of the problematization of ‘heat’ in a changing climate. WIREs Clim Change, e468. doi:10.1002/wcc.468

Zoellner, D., Brearley, M. & Oppermann, E. (2017). Regional disparities in apprentice attrition rates: heat and quarter four's significance in Northern AustraliaInternational Journal of Training Research, pp. 1-17. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14480220.2017.1312694

Stephens, A., Oppermann, E., Turnour, J., Brewer, T., O’Brien, C., Rayner, T., Blackwood, G., & Dale, A. (2015). Identifying Tensions in the Development of Northern Australia: Implications for GovernanceJournal of Economic and Social Policy, 17(1), 5.

Oppermann, E., Spencer, M., & Brearley, M. (2015). Emotional Athletes, Brainy Workers and other Hot New Developments: Multiple (re)problematizations of Heat Stress as an object of governance in northern AustraliaLearning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts [Special Edition: Objects of Governance], 15, 32-39.

Zander, K., Botzen, W., Oppermann, E., Kjellstrom, T., & Garnett, S. (2015). Heat stress causes substantial labour productivity loss in Australia. Nature Climate Change, advance online publication. doi: 10.1038/nclimate2623. 

Oppermann, E. (2011). The Discourse of Adaptation to Climate Change and the UK Climate Impacts Programme: De-scribing the problematization of adaptation. Climate and Development, 3, 71-85.

Oppermann, E. (in preparation). From spectre to suture or sacrifice? The role of the supplement in policing the choice between transition and transformation in adaptation to climate change.

Conference Proceedings & Papers

Oppermann, E., (2017) Energetic entanglements with heat: the (in)security of workers’ bodies in the practice of securing the grid. American Association of Geographers Annual Conference, 5-9 April, Boston, United States.

Oppermann, E., Gordon, W., (2017) Tempos of Temperature: rhythms of time/space/energy, thermo-physiology in everyday adaptation to climate change. Rethinking Time and Temporality in Response to Climate and Environmental Change, 23 May, Melbourne, Australia.

Oppermann, E. (2016). Mango Madness: The every-day practices and discourses that produce heat stress as mundane rather than catastrophic in Australia’s Monsoonal North. Institute of Australian Geographers Annual Conference, 29th June – 1st July 2016, Adelaide, Australia.

Oppermann, E., & Maller, C. (2016). The materiality of weather in 'Mango Madness' season: how heat and humidity co-produce everyday practices in Australia's Monsoonal North. Royal Anthropological Institute Anthropology Weather and Climate Change Conference, May 27-29, 2016, London, United Kingdom.

Oppermann, E., Brearley, M., & Smith, J.A. (2014). Heat Stress, the Labour-intensive Workforce and Social Wellbeing in the ‘Top End’. Northern Australia Development Conference, Darwin, Australia, 25th November 2014.

Oppermann, E., Stephens, A., & Dale, A. (2014). Critical Systems Thinking as a Framework for Systemic Governance Analysis: an approach to the Governance Challenges of Northern Australia. Northern Australia Development Conference, Darwin, Australia, 25th November 2014.

Oppermann, E. (2013). The Productive and Policing Function of Social Emergence in UKCIP’s Problematization of Adaptation to Climate Change. University of Minnesota Critical Climate Change Workshop, 5-7 April 2013, Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Oppermann, E. (2012). Securing climate change: The changing problematization of adaptation at the UK Climate Impacts Programme 1997 to 2011. Presented at the American Association of Geographers Annual Conference, 24-28 February 2012, New York, NY.

Oppermann, E. (2010). The discourse of adaptation to climate change in the United Kingdom: Questioning the conceptualization of capacity in conditions of uncertainty. 5th International Conference on Interpretative Policy Analysis, 23–25 June 2010, Grenoble, France.

Oppermann, E. (2009). Conceptualising adaptation to climate change. Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers’ Annual Conference, 25-28 August 2009, Manchester, UK.

Oppermann, E. (2009). UK Climate Impacts Programme: Adaptation to climate change. Global Environmental Change and Human Security Conference, 22-24 June 2009, Oslo, Norway.

Research Reports

Oppermann, E., Brearley, M., Carter, S., & Rickards, L., Holloway, J., (2017) Final Report: Scoping Study on Heat Stress in Australia’s Monsoon Tropics. Confidential, commissioned report for the Preparedness Directorate VCDF, Department of Defence.

Oppermann, E., Brearley, M., Field, E. (2017) Final Report: Heat Stress, Alcohol Use and Economic Participation Among Labour-intensive Workers in Tropical Conditions. Commissioned report for NT Department of Health Alcohol and Other Drugs Branch.

Westhorp, G., Ball, D., Overbeeke, N., Oppermann, E., (2014) (Confidential, commissioned report.)

Oppermann, E. (2009). Theorising social adaptation and adaptation to climate change. (United Kingdom) Planning and Environment Research Group Newsletter, November 2009.

Professional Positions, Memberships & Awards


Visiting International Fellow.  July 2016 – October 2016
Dynamics of Energy, Mobility and Demand (DEMAND) ESRC Research Centre, Lancaster University, United Kingdom
Successful application for a competitive 3-month fellowship to co-author publications with senior UK-based researchers and secure international collaboration for a DECRA and ARC Linkage application. Proposal title: ‘Governmentality, Co-production and Social Practice: contributions to the analysis of demand by theorizing heat stress and cooling at work and home in northern Australia’. 

Visiting Scholar/Collaborative Research Network Secondment. March 2016
Centre for Urban Research, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University, Melbourne, Australia
2-week Visiting Scholar position at the Centre for Urban Research (CUR), working with the co-directors of the Beyond Behaviour Change Programme. Preparation of a co-authored paper for the Royal Anthropological Institute conference ‘Anthropology, Weather and Climate Change’. The paper will be subsequent submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. CUR are members of the Heat Stress Research Partnership and intended partners in developing a CRC-Project in 2016 and an ARC Linkage application in 2016-2017.

3-Year Competitive Fees and Living Allowance PhD Scholarship. 2007
Faculty of Science and Technology, Lancaster University, United Kingdom

Mahindra Naraine Prize for best MA Dissertation. 2006/2007
Department of Politics and International Relations, Lancaster University, United Kingdom

Penultimate Year School Prize for Best Department of Politics Student. 2004
School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, United Kingdom


2017 - presentAssociation of American Geographers
2014 - presentEuropean Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST)

Peer Reviewer

  • Publons: https://publons.com/a/1207957/
  • Learning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts (2016)
  • Security Dialogue (Sage). Impact Factor: 1.952, ranked 7/82 in International Relations (2014)
  • E-Politikon Political Science Quarterly (2013)
  • Book chapter in Scheffran, J. et al., (2012) Climate Change, Human Security and Violent Conflict: Challenges for Societal Stability. Hexagon Series on Human and Environmental Security and Peace, Volume VIII. Springer-Verlag: Berlin Heidelberg
  • Book chapter in Methmann, C., Rothe, D., and Stephan, B. (2012). (De)Constructing the Greenhouse: Interpretive Approaches to Global Climate Governance. London: Routledge.

Higher Degree by Research (HDR) Supervision

Associate Supervision

  • Janice Crerar (PhD). Gender, science and discourse: Investigating the effects of dominant discourses in science and science education.
  • Rens Van der Vegt (PhD). A Risk Society Analysis of LNG Projects and Climate Change Risk in Northern Australia scholarship project. 
Dr Elspeth Oppermann


T: +61 8 8946 7649
E: elspeth.oppermann@cdu.edu.au

Darwin NT




HSRP web icon