Australian anthropology and post-colonialism

Gillian Cowlishaw (University of Sydney)
Tess Lea (University of Sydney)
Ligertwood 231
Start time:
12 December, 2017 at 9:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

How did post-colonial forces—Aboriginal intellectuals, critical international scholarship, and the liberalising state—shape the anthropology of Aboriginal Australia? What projects and ambitions were rejected as our once arcane discipline increasingly participated in state-sponsored projects?

Long abstract:

When the Australian state recognised Aboriginal equal rights and rights to ancestral lands, what had been a small arcane scholarly discipline emphasising its scientific credentials was elevated to national significance, providing evidence for the development of new bodies of land and property law. Such new roles were accepted at the cost of retaining the discipline's focus on the Aboriginal past rather than developing a more contemporary, critical anthropology relevant to Aborigines' and Australia's present and future. Internationally, critical approaches to disciplinary assumptions were developing, anthropological theory was expanding, and ethnographers were exploring urban life ways, subcultures and histories of colonial engagement (eg. Taussig 1980, 1987). Presentations will critically reflect on the responses and refusals that have characterised the trajectory of Australia based anthropology when it was challenged by historians, by Aboriginal scholars and activists, and by the demands of state sponsored projects that are intended to benefit Aboriginal people — from self-determination to Native Title. The panel will include studies of how Australia's classical anthropology, which was based on 'the radical incommensurability of modern and non-modern worlds' (Bessire 2014:20), responded to or resisted the demands of post-colonial scholarship with its insistence that natives and anthropologists are coevals, part of 'different societies facing each other at the same Time' … 'locked in antagonistic struggle' (Fabian 1983: 155; cf. Eric Wolf 1982; Talal Asad 1973).