Accepted Paper:

Empowering or shaping: non-government organisations and state agendas in contemporary Aboriginal Australia   


Gaynor Macdonald (University of Sydney)

Paper short abstract:

NGOs are increasing activity across Aboriginal Australia, addressing ravages of violence and marginalisation and efforts of local people to re-empower themselves. The effects are concerning: lack of government accountability, vacuum of moral authority, and demands to conform to new subjectivities.

Paper long abstract:

Australia does not use development rhetoric in addressing the often extreme disadvantage, violence and social stress being experienced by Aboriginal peoples. To do so might suggest it was not looking after its own citizens. However, in recent years there has been a shift from the largely failed approach of direct government intervention to using a variety of non-government organisations, (seemingly) removed from government. These NGOs operate at the intersections where material, social and cultural histories have converged to produce unliveable lives. They take on various roles, addressing material, legal and cultural needs and aspirations, and may work at local, regional or national levels. They include long-standing mainstream NGOS, such as World Vision and Save the Children; philanthropists developing pet projects in education or health; and Indigenous-controlled organisations, many of which receive government funding but operate as NGOs. I focus on two effects of this movement. One is the way in which they elide government responsibility and accountability, while taking over the authority and decision making power of people at the local level. The second is the way in which they are manipulating, through conditions of support as well as non-locally controlled criteria of recognition, what constitutes 'Aboriginality'. Are they really 'empowering' as they claim, or are they the latest Trojan horse in Australia's ongoing efforts to deny its history and deny the legitimacy of difference?

Panel WIM-GF02
Fictions of capital: movements and modalities