Accepted Paper:

Remote indigenous self-determination: fictions of capitalism and of the Australian state  


Diane Austin-Broos (University of Sydney)

Paper short abstract:

Shifts in capitalism’s interest that bear on the state illuminate the expansion and subsequent containment of homelands movements in remote Indigenous Australia. The analysis addresses fictions of capitalism, the law, and of political economy more broadly.

Paper long abstract:

In Australia's Northern Territory, self-determination for remote Indigenous people mainly has consisted in land rights and a homelands movement now frustrated by bipartisan neo-liberal policies. The frame for this discussion is the expansion and subsequent containment of self-determination by initial and ongoing primitive accumulations of land and its resources, first to the benefit of agricultural interests and, more recently, trans-national mining corporations. Indeed, a major dimension of land rights has been state-imposed procedures for negotiations over land which facilitates mineral extraction by the corporations. Nonetheless, these measures promoted a homelands movement including local Indigenous governance, stopped in its tracks by two further shifts in global capitalism. From the 1940s on, one was the decline in agricultural employment due to technological change and, in relative terms, the increasing importance of mining. The other, from the 1980s on was the effect of Bretton-Woods' demise on an economy geared to trade in commodities. Banks were deregulated and rising debt at all levels placed pressure on governments. A neo-liberal turn brought aggressive cost-cutting in many areas, including Indigenous affairs. The post-war social democratic initiatives that culminated in land rights acts are now on hold as youth incarceration escalates. This paper discusses various fictions including 'settlement,' 'property ownership' and 'the market,' as well as 'sovereignty' and 'self-determination' within the context of a capitalist state. For remote Indigenous youth, a final fiction (of political economy) is the centrality of 'work.' Indigenous youth are disaffected as much as 'unemployed,' a circumstance with both positive and hurtful effects.

Panel WIM-GF02
Fictions of capital: movements and modalities