Author Denis Dragovic, has written a vast range of works, including an academic book, chapters within books and journal articles, a literary non-fiction book, as well as a piece in Meanjin; and opinion pieces in newspapers. In all of his writing, he aims to bridge the divide between academics, policy makers and the general public.
‘A lot of writing today is written by individuals within one of those three groups, in a way that speaks to others in the same group, without being widely accessible. This is a problem for society, as academics have an understanding of the fundamentals, policy makers the practical elements and the public, well, they need to be convinced of the best way forward. If the three don’t talk to each other, we will stumble – and that’s where we’re at in relation to many major public policy challenges.’
As someone with academic credentials, Denis often reads journals and scholarly books and then translates the ideas into opinion pieces in national newspapers, such as the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun, on various topics from terrorism to Middle Eastern geopolitics to religious freedom in Australia.
He is currently writing a book about immigration and culture, which draws extensively on academic research and then translates this into useful policy prescriptions, informed through over fifteen years working with migrants and refugees.
‘My book, No Dancing, No Dancing: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis, built upon my decade of experience working in war zones around the world, helping to infuse the narrative. It follows my return journey back to the places where I have worked, with practical insights and recommendations.’
Denis says he writes because he feels not enough is done to capture the experiences of people who aren’t paid to write. He believes we should do more to help people in practical careers spend time translating their experiences into books and articles.
Five Things About Denis’s History
- I have an eclectic background. I first studied civil engineering, worked on two construction projects in Singapore, then studied a Master of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, where I had the privilege of working for the former United States National Security Advisor, Anthony Lake (incidentally he names one of his characters in his book 6 Nightmares: Real Threats in a Dangerous World and How American Can Meet Them, Denis).
- I spent ten years working in war zones around the world as a humanitarian aid worker, including four years in Iraq as well as time in Darfur, South Sudan and East Timor. In Iraq I led the efforts to release the first aid worker kidnapped in the country. This story is a part of my book No Dancing.
- This was followed by a PhD from the School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, where I researched the role of religious institutions in rebuilding countries after war and subsequently published Religion and Post-Conflict Statebuilding: Roman Catholic and Sunni Islamic Perspectives.
- After St Andrews my wife, who was working in Baghdad at the time, and I, decided that we wanted to settle down and so we returned to Australia, where I worked for Australian Red Cross. Now, I am a senior member on the Tribunal that hears appeals by asylum seekers who have had their cases rejected by the Australian government.
- I love to travel and experience different cultures and see nature’s beauty. COVID has limited us but hopefully soon we’ll be able to travel overseas again.
The book Denis is currently writing examines Australia’s immigration programme and how culture impacts Australian society.
‘This is a risky topic to engage with, as the idea that culture can influence society for better or worse is taboo. We tend to only appreciate culture in the food, festivals and colourful clothes that it brings, but culture is far more consequential. It influences how we think, what we judge to be right and wrong, and even how a society should be structured.’
Denis is bringing together three different writing styles in this new work, as it’s a policy and an academic exercise, but also draws greatly on his personal experiences to bring the concepts to life. The challenge, he says, is incorporating these in a way that makes the book feel coherent, as switching between writing styles can be quite a challenge.
What Helps Denis Keep Writing?
- Life experiences – I couldn’t be a career academic in the humanities, or even social sciences, without having a parallel career in the real world. It’s through the experiences life offers, that I gather the ideas that subsequently become starting points for research.
- I’m doubtful about the current practice for academics in these disciplines to spend a lifetime in universities. The problem is that they only build upon the ideas of others, who are limited to the ivory tower. That may work well for astronomers or mathematicians, but people who study the human condition and our society, need to live life to garner new insights.
- Reading other people’s work motivates me. I’m often inspired, frustrated or moved to write something, after having read another person’s work. Reading is a powerful mechanism for people to learn about how others live and the way they think differently.
In the future, Denis hopes for a ‘less polarised world’, where we don’t live in echo chambers.
‘I hope for a world where people can find the intellectual space to not only listen to opposing views without shouting them down, but have the empathy to be able to convincingly argue ideas they don’t believe in.’
He feels this is not only a lost skill, but one that is derided and that this is a source of a lot of unnecessary distrust and tension in society.
‘This will become a problem if it’s allowed to continue. I fear my forthcoming book will be ‘cancelled’, not by publishers, but by a Twitter mob who dislike the evidence I have collated, or the conclusions I have made. I hope that this insanity, currently infecting the young of Western societies, is quickly overcome.’