Accepted Paper:

Naturalising inequality in the era of anti-racism: effects of the new culturalism  


Gillian Cowlishaw (University of Sydney)

Paper short abstract:

In Australia, disavowed racial categories have re-emerged as cultural differences that may be valorized and nurtured by the state, or denigrated and corrected through government intervention, but always in the name of protecting Aboriginal people.

Paper long abstract:

Even as egalitarianism, democracy, multi-culturalism and anti-racism are professed as the reigning ideologies in the world, more entrenched inequalities emerge as if by natural forces for which no-one can be held responsible. Today, disavowed racial categories both reproduce inequality and appear to explain it. Old hierarchies of worth are reformulated to fit contemporary conditions.

Australian governments have increasingly created ‘states of exception’ (Agamben 2005) to the laws and rules of equal democratic rights. Indigenous culture is officially valorized and nurtured, while allegedly “dysfunctional’ Aboriginal communities are subjected to intrusive forms of governance, under the rubric of compassion and care. Policies that aim to normalize recalcitrant citizens and save them from themselves are widely accepted as necessary — even by many anthropologists. Asylum seekers are accused of taking advantage of Australia’s compassion and thus ‘boat people’ are cruelly denigrated and incarcerated outside the reach of Australian legal protection.

This paper will suggest that anthropology should challenge the standard images of racialised peoples as pitiable victims and explore the ways they subvert, transcend or bypass the limitations of their life-spaces.

Panel P132
Engaging race and racism in the new millennium: exploring visibilities and invisibilities (IUAES/JASCA joint panel)