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John McCarthy

Professor, Crawford School; Resources Environment and Development program.


B.Sc (University of Melbourne), B.A. Hons (Monash University), PhD (Murdoch University)

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John McCarthy is a professor of rural development and the anthropology of policy. He has an abiding interest in the rapid socio-environmental change taking place in the Global South. His work focuses on environmental change, rural development, food and livelihood security and the impacts of climate change on the global south. As a scholar of rural development, environmental sociology, and the anthropology of policy, he has concentrated his work on critical issues related to this transition with a focus on the case of Indonesia, converging on three specific themes: Vulnerability and Food Security; Smallholder Development and Rural Change; and Forest and Land Governance.

John McCarthy was previously a Research Fellow at the Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University, Western Australia and Leiden University in the Netherlands. He has carried out various assignments with aid and development agencies, including AusAID (now DFAT), the World Bank, and the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). He has also published Land & Development in Indonesia: Searching for the People’s Sovereignty (ISAS), The Oil Palm Complex: Smallholders, Agribusiness and the State in Indonesia and Malaysia (NUS) and The Fourth Circle: A Political Ecology of Sumatra’s Rainforest Frontier (Stanford). In 2022 he will publish the book The Paradox of Agrarian Change: Food Security and the Politics of Social Protection in Indonesia

In 2020 John McCarthy was the country lead for Indonesia on the ACIAR project “Assessment of Food System Security, Resilience and Emerging Risks in the Indo-Pacific in the context of COVID-19”.

For the full publications list see Orchid.

Current projects

Developing an Integrated Approach to Climate Change Adaptation, Food Security and Social Forestry in Vulnerable and Indigenous Communities in Eastern Indonesia – KONEKSI (

Protecting the Most Vulnerable in Rural Indonesia: How Can We Develop More Adaptive Social Protection? – KONEKSI (

Recent projects

  • ‘Household vulnerability, food security and the politics of social protection in Indonesia’, (ARC discovery project)

  • ‘Land Governance and Rural Transitions in Southeast Asia and the Pacific’ (ANU College of Asia and the Pacific Asia-Pacific Innovation Program Scheme)

PhD Students

Piers Gillespie Politics, power and participation: A Political Economy of Oil Palm in the Sanggau District of West Kalimantan (completed)

Undarga Sandagsuren Property ‘owners’ without rights? Exploring property relations and access in the Harlen Bayan-Ulaan Reserve Pasture areas of Mongolia (completed)

Ramesh Sunam. Growing prosperity, persistent poverty in Nepal: Reconsidering the links between poverty, migration and agrarian change (completed)

Yulia Indrawati Sari The Building of ‘Monuments’: Power, Accountability and Community Driven Development in Papua Province, Indonesia (completed)

Katiman Village Governance, Social Relations and Patterns of Deliberation in Java

Ahmad Dhiaulhaq Negotiating justice: Politics, institutions and power in conflict resolution in Indonesia’s oil plam and pulpwood plantations (completed)

Nihith Tanny, Food and Gender in Bangladesh

Asrul Sidiq, Forest and Land Rehabilitation in Indonesia

Vania Budianto, Social Protection in Indonesia

Ananda Devkota Rural Livelihoods and Vulnerability to Environmental and Socio-economic Change: A Case of High Value Agriculture Communities in the Middle Hills of Nepal

Research interests

  • Agricultural policy and food security
  • Resource rights, governance, and institutions with a focus on forestry, agriculture and land use
  • Politics, policy and natural resource governance in a developing context


Updated:  25 May 2024/Responsible Officer:  Crawford Engagement/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team