Accepted paper:

"We can be the moral compass for the society we want": Fairness, neighbourliness and decolonisation among supporters of people seeking asylum in Australia

Author:

Tess Altman (University of Southampton)

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers alter-political strategies of supporters of people seeking asylum in the face of punitive deterrence-based policy in Australia. Discursive and ideological approaches as well as gendered and racialised dynamics are explored, plus practices of dis/engagement with the state.

Paper long abstract:

This paper considers the alter-political strategies of supporters of people seeking asylum in the face of increasingly punitive deterrence-based policy in Australia. Disenchanted with the state's militarised Operation Sovereign Borders policy towards those who attempt to reach Australia by boat, supporters of people seeking asylum include volunteers, activists and humanitarian organisations. In a hostile climate where the majority of voters support the deterrence policy, supporters both fill the gaps in service provision and seek to instigate social and political change. Ethnographic examples from 16 months' fieldwork in Melbourne include an NGO campaign in the lead-up to the 2016 federal election that introduced new humanistic language based on rights and fairness; a grassroots group that sought to reconfigure the relationship between people seeking asylum and the wider community through the cultural idiom of neighbourliness; and a decolonisation movement that challenged the authority of white Australians to decide who could be part of the nation. The discursive and ideological differences between these approaches as well as their gendered and racialised dynamics are explored. In the process, it is revealed that some responses are more alter-political than others in seeking to challenge the established order and create another world; while others rather seek to mobilise existing cultural norms and values. Another point of interest is a simultaneous disengagement from and engagement with the state: while supporters self-organise and rely on alternative forms of community and loci for collective action, they continue to make ethical and political demands on the state.

panel P139
Alter-politics, commons and ethnographies for another world