A Post-Colonial Approach to Security Studies: Engaging with the Spiritual Landscape in Timor-Leste.

Bronwyn Winch, PhD candidate.

Year commenced: 2015
Anticipated completion: 2018
Supervisory Team: Dr Damian Grenfell (Senior), Dr Robin Cameron and Dr Charles Hunt (Associates)

In Timor-Leste, the spiritual landscape is widely acknowledged and documented yet its security dimensions remain relatively unexplored and under-theorised. This research is situated within the broader overarching argument that security studies must be reconfigured to give analytical focus to the different worldviews informing how security is experienced and produced. This thesis argues that in Timor-Leste, the spiritual landscape is pivotal to the ways in which people secure their physical security and livelihoods. This argument is demonstrated by focusing on four key aspects of relationships with the spiritual landscape: (i): connection to place; (ii) access to knowledge; (iii) exchange and reciprocity; and (iv) materiality (use and possession of protective objects). Building on existing literature in combination with fieldwork, this research lifts the study of spiritual landscapes (traditionally located within the discipline of anthropology) into connection with theoretical dimensions of security studies, an approach that has not been done before in Timor-Leste.


What I'm reading at the moment:

  • Bennett, Jane. “The Force of Things: Steps Toward an Ecology of Matter.” Political Theory 32, no. 3 (2004): 347-372.
  • Bovensiepen, Judith. “Spiritual Landscapes of Life and Death in the Central Highlands of East Timor.” Anthropological Forum: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Comparative Sociology 19, no. 3 (2009): 323-338.
  • Endres, Kirsten W., and Andrea Lauser, eds. Engaging the Spirit World: Popular Beliefs and Practices in Modern Southeast Asia. New York & Oxford: Berghahn Books.
  • Keane, Webb. “Semiotics and the Social Analysis of Material Things.” Language and Communication 23 (2003): 409-425.
  • Palmer, Lisa. Water Politics and Spiritual Ecology: Custom, Environmental Governance and Development. New York: Routledge, 2015.
  • Reddekop, Jarrad. “Thinking Across Worlds: Indigenous Thought, Relational Ontology and the Politics of Nature; Or, if only a Nietzsche could meet a Yachaj.” PhD diss., University of Western Ontario, 2014.
  • Rio, Knut. “Subject and Object in a Vanuatu Social Ontology.” Journal of Material Culture 14, no.3 (2009): 283-308.
  • Telle, Kari. “Dharma Power: Searching for Security in Post-New Order Indonesia.” Social Analysis: The International Journal of Social and Cultural Practice 53, no.1 (2009): 141-156.
  • Wang, Zilan. “Defensive Landscape: Spiritual Land, Spiritual Boundary and the Spatial Strategic Layout in a Miaow Village.” Inner Asia 13 (2011): 117-139.


  • Bronwyn Winch, 'Relationships with the Dead and Securing the Self in Timor-Leste', The Powerful Dead: The Politics of Martyrs and other Dead Bodies in Southeast Asia, Panel Presentation at the 9th European Association for SouthEast Asian Studies (EuroSEAS) Conference, Oxford, United Kingdom, 16-18 August 2017.
  • Bronwyn Winch, 'The Spiritual Landscape in Timor-Leste: A Research Agenda for Human Security'New Research on Timor-Leste: A Timor-Leste Studies Association (TLSA) Research Conference, Universidade Nacional de Timor-Lorosa’e (UNTL), Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Lisbon, Dili, Timor-Leste, 29-30 June 2017.
  • Bronwyn Winch, 'Spiritual Beliefs and Magic in Post-Colonial Timor-Leste: The Role of Transcendental Power and Agency in the Constitution of Security' 7th Oceanic Conference on International Studies (OCIS), University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, 4-6 July 2016.

Publications & Reports