Sparsely populated remote edges through a regional geography perspective

Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


This thesis is a contribution to understanding conceptual challenges and methodological limitations related to uneven population distributions when studying sparsely populated regions described in the literature as edges, such as the Australian ‘Outback’. In these regions extreme geographic constraints impose limitations to economic development and social welfare for local populations. Consequently, while being significant for their resources and national security purposes, these edges are less integrated and comparatively small in both population and economy sizes. Modernisation policies aimed at development and integration of these regions were usually large scale, externally sourced and imposed from above by national governments ignoring localised socio-economic factors in situ. Moreover, studies and policy documents have focussed on failures in economic development and population policies as a consequence of remoteness, sparsity, and environmental harshness.

This thesis argues for a systematic and extended understanding and awareness of the human–geography–spatiality nexus behind the existence of edges.
By doing so, a more comprehensive socio-economic characterisation for edges is provided beyond remoteness and sparsity and their direct consequences. This characterisation helps to move away from seeing these places as problem regions trapped in their development trajectory and doomed by externally given geographic constraints. This thesis argues existing socio-economic frameworks could generate and reinforce uneven population distributions which magnify methodological limitations in the quantitative analysis of jurisdictional geographies, confounding systematic relationships and eventually leading to poorly aimed policies. The purpose is to provide a conceptualisation which brings the scope of edges from a western developed to a global perspective by using conceptual, comparative and synthesising research methodology borrowed from regional geography. The benefits from a global perspective is demonstrated and discussed through a series of studies bridging and paralleling different edge scholarships, socio-economic contexts and quantitative statistical methodologies.

This thesis provides studies on sparsely populated edges including analysis of the diverse approaches to edges in the existing literature; empirical studies on socio-economic characteristics associated with sparse subnational jurisdictions; understanding biases in spatial and non-spatial analysis methods associated with uneven population distributions; and understanding how policy interventions can divert population trajectories and trap peripheries into becoming edges. The focus is on methodological approaches and conceptual implications for spatiality and its change through policy impacts and demographic progression.

As a result, a clearer understanding about the role of socio-economic frameworks in the ‘making’ of edges and their influence on spatial dynamics can be applied to direct development policies on localised strengths and advantages. This re-orientation of the focus of policy making from addressing the challenges caused by remoteness and sparsity ‘ex post’ to the role of institutions in reinforcing and reproducing remoteness by asymmetric power hierarchies, for example by limited access to economic opportunities and services, could potentially benefit policy and practice to improve livelihoods of people in sparsely populated remote edges.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAndrew Taylor (Supervisor) & Sigurd Dyrting (Supervisor)

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