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Written By

Tianna Killoran

College

College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

2 September 2021

From coast to coast

A sociologist at heart, Dr Nick Osbaldiston has always had a keen interest in understanding people’s lifestyles and the broader patterns of society. This Social Sciences Week (September 6-12) Nick — a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at JCU — gives some insight into sociologists’ valuable research and what it can tell us about different lifestyles.

Nick says that he has always been interested in understanding the patterns and themes that help to explain society and our place in it. “I started studying psychology as an undergraduate but found that I really enjoyed some of my sociology subjects,” Nick says.

“I enjoy thinking about group and community behaviour rather than just looking at individuals,” he says. “Around the same time as I was finishing my undergraduate study, we were starting to observe this migration of people out of the cities and into coastal areas, in particular. This topic area became really interesting to me.”

It was the observation of this societal pattern that led Nick to undertake his Honours and PhD research, focusing on patterns of lifestyle migration. “I became very interested in this rejection of the city by some groups of people and their adoption of a different lifestyle somewhere else,” Nick says.

Nick’s interest in lifestyle migration has yielded fascinating results that revealed patterns in peoples’ perceptions of weather and coastlines throughout Australia. “Some of my research looks into people who moved to Tasmania, I found that often people were not necessarily looking for cooler weather, but for seasonality. People wanted a proper winter and a proper summer with a clear demarcation between the two,” Nick says.

Panoramic view of a town in Tasmania

Supplied by Nick Osbaldiston

Insuring a tropical lifestyle

Some of Nick’s more recent research at JCU investigates the levels of home insurance taken up by the residents of Cairns. In January of this year, he and the other members of his research team submitted a report to the Cairns Regional Council.

Their report shed light on some important patterns among different groups of Cairns’ residents and how they considered home and contents insurance, including the cost of premiums and their level of cover. “We produced a 100-page report that effectively looks at under-insurance rates in Cairns. We did some broad-based survey analysis but also some qualitative research interviews with householders,” Nick says.

Despite North Queensland’s wild wet seasons and frequent risk of cyclones, bushfires and landslides, Nick’s research found that some people were under-insured.

“One of the major findings was that homeowners were taking insurance only on the basis of obligation rather than choice,” Nick says. “Often people would try to reduce their premiums by reducing how much their home and contents insurance covers.”

“But the bigger pattern we noted was that renters were increasingly not having any contents insurance. That was interesting because it was often for a variety of reasons, including cost — it can be quite expensive — but also some reluctance to trust insurance companies. Often renters will also have some confidence that they don’t need insurance in combination with the belief that they don’t have much ‘contents’ to insure.

“That pattern among renters was really interesting to us because what we’ve seen during past natural disasters is that most often renters are the ones at a loss. Sometimes tenants lose the property they’re living in when the house is declared unliveable and then they also don’t have insurance to help them find somewhere else to live or to replace their belongings,” Nick says.

Although Nick says that Northern Australia has some of the highest insurance premiums in the country, often because of the level of cover that insurance companies have to provide, cost is still a barrier for many individuals, including single women or young people who may be earning less. The recent federal government announcement of a reinsurance pool worth $10 billion dollars may change this for the better.

A smiling woman is laughing while reaching into a packing box and is surrounded by other packing boxes.
A man and a woman sit at a kitchen table with a laptop while each holding up pieces of paper and looking at them together.

Telling life stories

Although we have seen a variety of different research methods during Social Sciences Week, Nick says his research is primarily qualitative.

Nick makes use of both surveys and interviews when conducting his research, however he says it is the interviews that allow people to explain their ideas, motivations and stories in more depth. “I often find that interviews are really important to use in conjunction with the surveys I do. I think that when you do research into topics like risk-perceptions and where people choose to live, it’s really important to get into actually talking to people.”

Nick interprets the stories people share in their interviews through a method called narrative analysis. “This involves considering how people talk about themselves and talk about their past,” he says. “It’s a lot of narrative and storytelling analysis and examining the different themes of what they’re saying. Sometimes it’s also important to consider even the information that people may be leaving out.”

The Social Sciences are numerous in their research methodologies and contain so many unique disciplines that each help us to understand our society, how it responds to certain issues, and consider the past and future simultaneously.

“We live in a very unique time period and understanding the impacts of different events on society is really important,” Nick says. “It can help us to understand how we can move together as a society, particularly in Northern Australia. It’s really important to me to foster a growth of the social sciences so that we can work to alleviate different social issues but also work to progress society in some ways.”

“One of the important things in sociology is actually talking to people and appreciating their life course, including their experiences in the past and how that influences their ideas of the present. We can’t understate people’s emotional experiences and connections in understanding their connections to places.”

JCU Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Dr Nick Osbaldiston

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Dr Nick Osbaldiston

Senior Lecturer

Dr Nick Osbaldiston is a sociologist and senior lecturer at JCU. His research encompasses many areas within sociological and social theory, but three main themes have been the focus of his research: lifestyle migration, critical engagements with higher education, and cultural sociological understandings of place and self.

Nick has published widely in the area of lifestyle migration and is presently investigating the purposes behind migration and the related environmental risks. He has co-led projects and co-published papers examining work/life balance in Australian academics. In 2012, Nick published his first monograph Seeking Authenticity in Place, Culture and Self with Palgrave Macmillan. His second monograph entitled Towards a Sociology of the Coast also explored the relationship between self and place.

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