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Ethnography & the Production of Anthropological Knowledge

Ethnography & the Production of Anthropological Knowledge: Essays in honour of Nicolas Peterson

Yasmine Musharbash
Marcus Barber
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Ethnography & the Production of Anthropological Knowledge
    Book Description:

    Professor Nicolas Peterson is a central figure in the anthropology of Aboriginal Australia. This volume honours his anthropological body of work, his commitment to ethnographic fieldwork as a source of knowledge, his exemplary mentorship of generations of younger scholars and his generosity in facilitating the progress of others. The diverse collection produced by former students, current colleagues and long-term peers provides reflections on his legacy as well as fresh anthropological insights from Australia and the wider Asia-Pacific region. Inspired by Nicolas Peterson's work in Aboriginal Australia and his broad ranging contributions to anthropology over several decades, the contributors to this volume celebrate the variety of his ethnographic interests. Individual chapters address, revisit, expand on, and ethnographically re-examine his work about ritual, material culture, the moral domestic economy, land and ecology. The volume also pays homage to Nicolas Peterson's ability to provide focused research with long-term impact, exemplified by a series of papers engaging with his work on demand sharing and the applied policy domain.

    eISBN: 978-1-921666-97-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Contributors
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  6. Foreword
    (pp. xvii-xx)
    Fred Myers

    Nic Peterson has been my friend for more than 35 years, and his work and my conversations with him have always comprised a kind of bottom line for theoretical engagement, shared (and sometimes conflicting) understandings of the everyday ways in which central Australian people relate to each other and their world.

    Nic has been an intrepid scholar. I can hardly think of another scholar who has continued to engage actively in field research, in so many different places, over such a long career. He is widely known in the world as one of the most broadly knowledgeable scholars of Indigenous...

  7. 1. Nic’s Gift: Turning ethnographic data into knowledge
    (pp. 1-14)
    Yasmine Musharbash

    When we sat down to begin making some editorial decisions about the current volume, Marcus Barber and I found that the person to whom it was dedicated had immediately presented us with a problem. Professor Nicolas Peterson is an esteemed senior colleague, mentor and former PhD supervisor for both of us. His work is highly regarded nationally and internationally and he has been both involved and influential in major ethnographic, philosophical and policy debates surrounding Indigenous Australians for several decades—almost as long as we have been alive. His longevity at a key nodal point in Australian anthropology, combined with...

  8. Part I. Ritual, Material Culture, Land and Ecology

    • 2. Splitting the Atom of Kinship: Towards an understanding of the symbolic economy of the Warlpiri fire ceremony
      (pp. 17-38)
      John Morton

      Nic Peterson is probably not best known for his ethnographic description and analysis of ritual, but one of his early papers is a detailed and authoritative analysis of the Warlpiri ‘fire ceremony’ (Peterson 1970)—a ritual designed explicitly to enact and resolve community conflict. His approach to the fire ceremony was broadly structuralist, although more ‘British’ than ‘French’ in style. That is, in examining the ceremony, he concentrated on its sociology rather than its symbolism—more particularly on certain contradictions and tensions existing between matrikin and patrikin in relation to the bestowal of nieces/daughters. In his view, ‘the most economical...

    • 3. The ‘Expanding Domain’ of Warlpiri Initiation Rituals
      (pp. 39-50)
      Georgia Curran

      In his paper ‘An expanding Aboriginal domain: mobility and the initiation journey’, Nic Peterson (2000) describes and analyses the conspicuous increase in numbers of people and distances travelled for the central Australian Aboriginal initiatory journey known as Jilkaja.¹ He contrasts initiation ceremonies that he witnessed in the early 1970s, during which Jilkaja journeys to collect boys for initiation were short and involved only a small group of directly related people, with the description of this more recent journey. During the latter, a Warlpiri initiation candidate and his guardian together travelled 2250 km from Yuendumu in the Northern Territory to Tjuntjuntjara...

    • 4. Who Owns the ‘De-Aboriginalised’ Past? Ethnography meets photography: a case study of Bundjalung Pentecostalism
      (pp. 51-68)
      Akiko Ono

      Since its inception, photography has provided a resource for the recording of ethnographic data and photographic evidence has been used in the construction of anthropological information in complex ways (Edwards 1992). Much has been said about the asymmetrical power relations between the ethnographer’s gaze and Indigenous peoples subjected to the production of ethnographic knowledge (for example, Clifford 1986; Marcus and Fischer 1986; Rosaldo 1993; Said 1978; Spivak 1988; for Aboriginal issues, see, Attwood and Arnold 1992; Beckett 1988). In this chapter, rather than engaging in interpreting photographic ways of seeing within anthropology, I show how Nicolas Peterson’s work on photographs...

    • 5. Thomson’s Spears: Innovation and change in eastern Arnhem Land projectile technology
      (pp. 69-88)
      Harry Allen

      The 1960s was a lively time to be an undergraduate at the University of Sydney. The campus was in furore with demonstrations against the Vietnam War and freedom rides in favour of Aboriginal rights. If studying anthropology at Sydney was a privilege then experiencing visitors, cricket matches against The Australian National University and the academic salon life of Balmain—maintained by Les Hiatt, Betty Meehan and Rhys Jones—was to be in heaven. I remember the arrival of a PhD student, Nicolas Peterson, fresh from Cambridge, who quickly embarked on fieldwork at a newly established Aboriginal outstation at Mirrngadja, on...

    • 6. ‘Nothing Ever Changes’: Historical ecology, causality and climate change in Arnhem Land, Australia
      (pp. 89-100)
      Marcus Barber

      Nicolas Peterson has maintained a longstanding research interest in questions of human ecology, subsistence and the wider relationships between human beings and their environments, even as, over the course of his long career, interest in that area within anthropology as a whole has waxed and waned. This disciplinary inconsistency with respect to one of his foundational research orientations is perhaps one source of Nic Peterson’s healthy personal reserve about adhering to the current anthropological fashion. His primary fieldwork period involved the almost overwhelming physical demands of many months’ hunting and gathering in remote Arnhem Land and this suggests that deep...

    • 7. The Language of Property: Analyses of Yolngu relations to country
      (pp. 101-120)
      Ian Keen

      Among his many significant contributions to Aboriginal studies, Nicolas Peterson, in the 1970s, brought a fresh perspective to bear on the question of Aboriginal relations to land. L. R. Hiatt (1962) had questioned the validity of Radcliffe-Brownian orthodoxy on ‘local organisation’, drawing a vigorous defence and elaboration from W. E. H. Stanner (1965). Stanner’s synthesis provided a language for analysis, which has endured, especially his distinction between a clan’s ‘estate’ and a residence group’s or band’s ‘range’. Neither Hiatt nor Stanner (or indeed Radcliffe-Brown) had spent time living and moving with an Aboriginal band through the course of a year....

  9. Part II. Demand Sharing, the Moral Domestic Economy, Policy and Applied Anthropology

    • 8. From Applied Anthropology to an Anthropology of Engagement: Japanese anthropology and Australianist studies
      (pp. 123-132)
      Sachiko Kubota

      In this chapter, I share my observations of the different natures and historical developments of anthropology in Australia and Japan. My main focus is on applied anthropology (cf. Van Meijl, this volume). For a long time, and for historical reasons, applied anthropology has been viewed sceptically in Japan. My chapter details how this has begun to change through the influence of Professor Nic Peterson. I trace this emergent change in attitude in Japanese anthropology by illuminating how the study of Australian Aboriginal people generally and Nic Peterson’s work and contacts in particular have changed hitherto prevalent ideas in Japan.


    • 9. Community Development as Fantasy? A case study of contemporary Maori society
      (pp. 133-146)
      Toon van Meijl

      In 1999, Nicolas Peterson received the Lucy Mair Medal for Applied Anthropology from the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, and in what follows I engage with his longstanding interest in the intersection between legal, political, economic and socio-cultural development issues amongst Indigenous communities in Oceania (see also Kubota and Martin, this volume). Since the 1970s, Nic Peterson has been involved in many land claims, and in more recent years he has also written numerous native title reports in support of Aboriginal communities aspiring to obtain land rights to their traditional territories. The research he has conducted for...

    • 10. Give or Take: A comparative analysis of demand sharing among the Menraq and Semai of Malaysia
      (pp. 147-158)
      Alberto Gomes

      Nicolas Peterson’s concept of ‘demand sharing’, in which goods and services are exchanged ‘by taking rather than giving’ (Peterson 1993: 861) and in which the driving motivation is something other than unsolicited generosity, raises several theoretical and comparative questions pertinent to the anthropology of gift giving (cf. Altman, Kwok, Martin and Saethre, this volume). In this chapter, I discuss the practice of ‘demand sharing’ in two ethno-linguistically different Orang Asli (Malaysian aboriginal) tribal communities. Through a comparative analysis of exchange relations that I have observed among the Menraq of Kampung Rual (hereafter shortened to Rual Menraq) and in a Semai...

    • 11. Owning Your People: Sustaining relatedness and identity in a South Coast Aboriginal community
      (pp. 159-174)
      Natalie Kwok

      Peterson’s seminal 1993 article critically reframed the ethic of sharing in huntergatherer society bringing into spare relief a moral terrain surprising to the Western moral conscience. This chapter examines the relevance of Peterson’s (1993) explication with respect to a NSW South Coast semi-urban Aboriginal community (see Altman, Gomes, Martin and Saethre, this volume, for more on demand sharing). The crucial importance of relationship to kin in achieving practical sustenance and the attainment of personhood is found here, as elsewhere in Aboriginal Australia, to bring a testing element and emotionally coercive pressure to calls for sharing (Myers 1986; Peterson 1993; Peterson...

    • 12. Demand Sharing, Nutrition and Warlpiri Health: The social and economic strategies of food choice
      (pp. 175-186)
      Eirik Saethre

      Throughout his long and productive career, Nicolas Peterson has exerted a profound influence on Australian anthropology, exploring a wide range of theoretically engaging issues. In this chapter, I focus on Peterson’s insights regarding the ways in which social norms intersect with the financial constraints of unemployment benefits and other government assistance packages. A central theme for Peterson is reciprocity (see also Altman, Gomes, Kwok and Martin, this volume). On one hand, the Australian Government has distributed food and cash to Aboriginal people. On the other hand, Aboriginal individuals exchange resources with one another. In each instance, exchange acts as a...

    • 13. A Genealogy of ‘Demand Sharing’: From pure anthropology to public policy
      (pp. 187-200)
      Jon Altman

      In 1993, Nicolas Peterson introduced a novel concept—‘demand sharing’—into the anthropological lexicon via his article ‘Demand sharing: reciprocity and the pressure for generosity among foragers’ (cf. Gomes, Kwok, Martin and Saethre, this volume). The article is Peterson’s most cited work,¹ and the concept has been quickly adopted and adapted by anthropologists in Australia and abroad. ‘Demand sharing’ has also been influential in Australia outside academic domains as it has been used to explain the absence of individual or household control over resources, thereby (partially) justifying the quarantining of Indigenous people’s welfare income by the state (on welfare, see...

    • 14. Policy Alchemy and the Magical Transformation of Aboriginal Society
      (pp. 201-216)
      David F. Martin

      This chapter focuses on an issue to which Nicolas Peterson has directed our attention for nearly two decades (for example, Peterson 1991, 1998, 2005; Peterson and Taylor 2003): that many Aboriginal people, particularly but not only those living in remote regions, bring distinctive repertoires of values, world views and practices to their engagement with the general Australian society that have profound implications for the nature of that engagement. Critical social analysis of the situations of Aboriginal people must never ignore, for example, the historical role of the state; but neither must it avoid the central role of Aboriginal agency. My...

  10. Afterword: Peterson’s Impartye—A short appreciation
    (pp. 217-222)
    Diane Austin-Broos

    By a curious stroke of fate, Nic Peterson’s ‘Totemism yesterday’ (1972) had a particular resonance for me. My cohort at Chicago had been alerted to the glories of Lévi-Strauss by Nur Yalman, a youthful Terence Turner and David Schneider. No-one knew better than us what cognitive classification was about. Less usual for the times, my class also read Meyer Fortes’ Tallensi corpus. This was our introduction to ethnography. The books were out of print and, for Raymond Smith, part of our project was to go downtown and copy a swathe of work. The tension that we saw between Schneider and...

  11. Appendix 1 Graduate students supervised by Professor Peterson
    (pp. 223-226)
  12. Appendix 2 Nicolas Peterson: Collated publications, reports and films
    (pp. 227-238)
  13. Index
    (pp. 239-246)