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Trapped in the Gap: Doing Good in Indigenous Australia

Emma Kowal
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 214
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  • Book Info
    Trapped in the Gap
    Book Description:

    In Australia, a 'tribe' of white, middle-class, progressive professionals is actively working to improve the lives of Indigenous people. This book explores what happens when well-meaning people, supported by the state, attempt to help without harming. 'White anti-racists' find themselves trapped by endless ambiguities, contradictions, and double binds - a microcosm of the broader dilemmas of postcolonial societies. These dilemmas are fueled by tension between the twin desires of equality and difference: to make Indigenous people statistically the same as non-Indigenous people (to 'close the gap') while simultaneously maintaining their 'cultural' distinctiveness. This tension lies at the heart of failed development efforts in Indigenous communities, ethnic minority populations and the global South. This book explains why doing good is so hard, and how it could be done differently.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-600-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xv)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Picture this: the remote coast of northern Australia, early in the twenty-first century. Endless unspoiled beaches framed by Casuarina pines. Soaring escarpments cradling spectacular twenty-thousand-year-old rock art galleries, roaring waterfalls and Edenic pools. Lush rainforests interspersed with tropical savannahs, teeming with birds, possums, wallabies and goannas. Food sources are everywhere: rivers brim with barramundi, oysters cling to rocks in the shallows, and nests of turtle eggs lie just beneath the sandy surface of the beach. But it is the world of the mangroves, those strange salt-loving trees that form dense forests along the shore, where the real bounty is found:...

  7. Chapter 1 Studying ‘Good’
    (pp. 21-30)

    It was anthropologist Laura Nader’s famous call in 1972 for anthropologists to ‘study up’ that inspired a generation of anthropological scholarship of the ‘West’. She challenged anthropologists to shift our gaze to the ‘study of the colonizers rather than the colonized, the culture of power rather than the culture of the powerless, the culture of affluence rather than the culture of poverty’ (Nader 1972:289).¹

    Since that call, a growing body of anthropological work has emerged examining all kinds of Western institutions, cultures and cultural processes, as well as elite groups within societies around the world. While much work has examined...

  8. Chapter 2 The Culture of White Anti-racism
    (pp. 31-56)

    The one thing that most people who work in Indigenous affairs can agree on is that Aboriginal people are, in general, different from non-Aboriginal people. They have a different history. They have a different culture. Some, especially in the north and the centre of the country, have a different language. They have different family structures, different expectations, different communication styles, and different social worlds.

    But what kind of difference is this? The particular way that we think of Aboriginal difference has a major impact on how we try to address Indigenous disadvantage. Past ideas of difference, when mainstream Western science...

  9. Chapter 3 Tiwi ‘Long Grassers’
    (pp. 57-86)

    This chapter explores the ‘contact zone’ where varieties of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people encounter and recognise each other. It offers a detailed description of Darwin, the tropical capital that the White anti-racists of interest in this book call ‘home’. The narrative begins elsewhere, in the remote community of Gunbalanya on ‘Open Day’, an annual event when the public are briefly granted easy access. The chapter then moves to Tiwi, a suburb of Darwin, where displaced members of the Maningrida community, known locally as ‘long grassers’, live in the open and drink heavily. Long grassers are Indigenous people who come from...

  10. Chapter 4 Welcome to Country
    (pp. 87-108)

    The Welcome to Country (WTC) ceremony and its twin, an Acknowledgement of the Traditional Owners (Acknowledgement), have become prominent anti-racist rituals in Australia. These rituals are rich in meaning: they are simultaneously symbols of colonisation and dispossession; of recognition and reconciliation; and a periodic focus of political posturing. This chapter analyses the multiple meanings of WTC ceremonies, from ‘national psychic Band-Aid’, to individual political statement, to continuous Aboriginal tradition. In particular, I explore the politics of belonging elicited by WTC and Acknowledgement rituals. Welcome to Country ceremonies have been criticised by political conservatives because they challenge their mode of belonging...

  11. Chapter 5 Mutual Recognition
    (pp. 109-130)

    It was the job of many institute employees to collect all kinds of data about Indigenous people – accounts of illnesses experienced, exercise habits or cigarettes consumed, samples of bodily fluids (mostly blood and urine), nasal swabs, eye or ear examinations, as well as qualitative accounts of experiences of health care services or understandings of child development. ‘Participation’ was a common topic of corridor conversations. Most projects had lower than expected numbers of participants. While senior researchers were generally supportive of their staff’s efforts and resigned themselves to lower numbers, this could threaten the integrity of their data set and hence...

  12. Chapter 6 White Stigma
    (pp. 131-158)

    In the history of Australian Indigenous affairs, 2 December 1972 is an auspicious date. The election of the progressive government led by the late Gough Whitlam heralded a change in Aboriginal policy. The new prime minister declared that his aim was to ‘restore to the Aboriginal people of Australia their lost power of self-determination’, marking a decisive move away from previous ‘assimilation’ policies that intended to absorb Indigenous people into mainstream society (Whitlam 1973:12). The following year, the Federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs was established, taking over the administration of Aboriginal affairs from various state authorities. It was a move...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 159-172)

    The White anti-racists depicted in this book find themselves trapped in the gaps they seek to close; the gap between remediable difference and radical difference, between sanitised difference and unsanitised difference, between improvement and assimilation, and between anti-racism and racism. In this conclusion, I consider the implications of my arguments for the current Australian political context, and for the broader project of multicultural recognition. What does my analysis mean for Australia, for Indigenous people, and for the capacity of liberal democracies to treat their subjects equitably and reckon with their colonial pasts? Is what I have described an aberration, a...

  14. References
    (pp. 173-192)
  15. Index
    (pp. 193-198)