Paper short abstract:
How conflict and disputes are framed by participants and others in the native title claim arena can affect claim outcomes. Viewing 'culture' or group identity as emergent through disputation enables conflict to be seen as a productive and integrative aspect of social and cultural practice.
Paper long abstract:
Conflict and dispute within and between Aboriginal communities is a frequent counterpart to the native title claim process in Australia. Whether or not the claim process itself is seen as a causal factor in a given instance, it does provide an arena (and resources) for disputation. How conflict and disputes are framed by participants and other parties in the native title claim arena can profoundly shape outcomes. Conflict and dispute are often interpreted by participants and observers as a barrier to timely claims resolution. I argue that anthropology's long-standing interest in the integrative and constitutive role of conflict and dispute has both theoretical and practical value for re-framing the treatment of conflict and dispute. Of particular value are ideas from anthropologists associated with Manchester University in the mid-twentieth century regarding conflict as a normal state of dynamic tension within society. A reappraisal of the Manchester School's contributions in the light of more recent theoretical concerns with human agency allows us to examine conflict not just for what it reveals about other facets of social and cultural experience (e.g., kinship systems, normative practices regarding rights in land), but also as a means by which social and cultural values themselves are constituted and reproduced. Viewing 'culture' or group cohesion as emergent through disputation should assist anthropologists working in the native title field to incorporate conflict as a productive aspect of social and cultural practice, and not necessarily as something detrimental to the claim process.
Fission and collision: disputation over native title boundaries and group membership