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Aboriginal Women and Anthropology
Transcript of Aboriginal Women and Anthropology
Us: Kendra and Helen
"Anthropology, Politics and the changing world of Aboriginal Australians"
by Marcia Langton
born Brisbane 1951
heads Australian Indigenous studies at University of Melbourne
land claims anthropologist
- Representations of Aboriginal women’s gender predominantly generated by women anthropologists
- Section 1: The methodology used to create such anthropological representations establishes a ‘problematic’ binary
- Section 2: Representations challenged by in Aboriginal women’s autobiographical narratives
focus on Aboriginal women (Daughters of the Dreaming)
worked with Aboriginal land rights cases
Hindmarsh Island Bridge
The Bell-Huggins Debate
An Uneasy Relationship
Anthropology's History in Aborginal Affairs
Professor Ronald M. Berndt and Dr Catherine Berndt
field-work in the 1940s and 1950s
empiricist accounts of Aboriginal culture
their work in missions
recording early Aboriginal protests
little choice but to rely on these accounts
The Problem with Essentialism
How the Binary Variously Constructs Images of ‘Traditional’ versus ‘Contemporary’ Aboriginal Women
Speaking About Rape is Everyone's Business
The Article Itself
Anthropology: The social-scientific study of humanity, focusing on the development, history and manifestations of human life - anthropology is distinguished from other social sciences by its emphasis on in-depth examination of context, cross-cultural comparisons and the importance it places on participant observation/long-term immersion into the area of research (Sullivan 2009).
Binary/binary opposition: refers to the dualistic system, manifested in language and thought; in which two paired theoretical opposites are defined against one another (Smith 1996).
Empiricism: Is a theory which states that knowledge comes primarily from sensory experience (Baird & Kaufmann 2008).
Essentialism: the idea that there is an essence behind a person, group or entity. It sets up an opposition to difference and can be both helpful and problematic (Fuss, 1999). In this context, essentialism is used by Aboriginal activists to establish a basis for Aboriginal rights.
Relationality: refers to the way in which two or more people/things are connected.
Subjectivity: Refers to the condition of being a subject and the subject’s perspective, experiences, feelings, beliefs and desires (Solomon 2005).
- Most literature concerned with ‘traditional’ Aboriginal women
- These texts subscribe to an ideological construction of ‘culture’
- Some literature concerned with ‘contemporary’ Aboriginal women
- These texts subscribe to an ideological construction of ‘race’ – essential biologism
- Divides Aboriginal women
- ‘Traditional’ Aboriginal women as exotic and biologically pure
- E.g. They speak their language, perform some ceremonies and are biologically ‘uncontaminated’
- ‘Contemporary’ Aboriginal women – authenticity decentered
Problematising the Binary
- Contradiction - prevents female anthropologists from developing ‘accurate’ understanding/representation of Aboriginal women’s gender
- Aboriginal women as on a trajectory of assimilation - proposition fails account for different cultural constructions of gender
- “Learning to speak English and mimicking the customs of the coloniser does not mean that this fundamentally transforms the self that has been socialised within Aboriginal social domains”
- Multiple subjectivities
Aboriginal Women’s Subjectivity: Relationality and Spirituality
- Aboriginal women’s autobiographical narratives demonstrate their multiple subjectivities
- Relationality: a women’s relationality is based upon the experience of the self as part of others
- Spirituality: social relationships are informed by the moral universe
What is problematic about the binary of 'traditional' vs. 'contemporary' Aboriginal women?
In your opinion, is ignoring white perspectives on indigenous issues harmful or beneficial?
Anthropology. (2009). In L. Sullivan (Ed.), The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Retrieved from:
Baird, E., & Kaufmann, W. (2008). From Plato to Derrida. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Bell, D., & Nelson, T. (1989). Speaking About Rape is Everyone’s Business. Women Studies International Forum, 12(4), 403-416.
Fuss, Diane. (1999). Introduction. In Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference. New York: Routledge.
Huggins, J. (1991). Letter to the Editors: Editorial. Women’s Studies International Forum, 14(5), 505-13.
Langton, M. (2011). Anthropology, Politics and the Changing World of Aboriginal Australians. Anthropological Forum: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Comparative Sociology, 21(1), 1-22.
Moreton-Robinson, A. (1998). When the Object Speak, A Postcolonial Encounter: Anthropological Representations and Aboriginal Women’s Self-Presentations. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 19(3), 275-289.
Smith, G. (1996). Binary Opposition and Sexual Power in Paradise Lost. The Midwest Quarterly, 37(4), 383.
Solomon, R. (2005). Subjectivity. In T. Honderich (Ed.), Oxford Companion to Philosophy (pp. 900). New York: Oxford University Press.
How does Diane Bell justify her right to speak for/with Aboriginal women? In your opinion, does she have the right?
How does Jackie Huggins problematise Topsy’s co-authorship? What about Topsy’s agency?
3. What should be the role of anthropology (specifically indigenous anthropology) now and in the future?
essentialism meant non-indigenous authors ignored
trends prioritised culture, ignoring life-enhancing circumstances
'respect' for the issue led to silence and nothing being done
anthropology was then used to promote agendas in politics
or taken the wrong way
colonisation brought radical new economic structure
trees cleared for crops and herds
forced population removals
almost no retention of pre-contact lifestyles
establishment of Aboriginal caste
acted as a workforce
Aboriginal rights movement:
Equal wages meant redundancy
Aboriginal people had no 'skills'
rapidly growing underclass
The right to take responsibility
racist economic structures
ideas used to promote 'Right wing' agendas
disappointment in the reconciliation movement
self-determination vs. agency
'people' vs. 'peoples'
Women and Children
focus on self-determination and land rights has meant ignoring the rights of women and children
needs of indigenous people at the time of writing conventions vs. needs overall
ILO Convention No. 169
focus on economic rights
Lack of human rights 'instruments'
benefits to anthropology:
examination of context
specificity of economic/legal/medical anthropology
linking of all issues
Currently, anthropologists are afraid of discussing the issues facing Aboriginal Australians and this only fuels the essentialism that is currently popular.
personal is political
'responsibility' of social scientists/feminists
analysis of facts
co-authored by Tobsy Napurrula Nelson
acknowledges problematic ideas behind Bell's own race, attempts to base article on proper respect
the intersection of class, race and gender
general silence on the issue of intra-racial rape
implications of powerlessness among black, working class men
issue seen through a white, male lens
injustice in laws, academia
problems in white feminist movement
needs for Aboriginal-specific services for women who are raped
distrust of police/white authorities
male-oriented legal services
need for feminists and Aboriginal women to re-open the debates
"The predicament of my mob is that not only do we face the same uncertainty as all lower class Australians, but we haven’t even beneﬁted from the existence of the Welfare State. The Welfare State has meant security and an opportunity for development for many of your mob. It has been enabling. The problem of my people in Cape York Peninsula is that
we have only experienced the income support that is payable to the permanently unemployed and marginalised.
I call this ‘passive welfare’ to distinguish it from the welfare proper, that is, when the working taxpayers collectively ﬁnance systems aimed at the their own and their families’ security and development. The immersion of a whole region like Aboriginal Cape York Peninsula into dependence on passive welfare is different from the mainstream experience of welfare.
What is the exception among White fellas—almost complete dependence on cash handouts from the government—is the rule for us.
Rather than the income support safety net being a temporary solution for our people (as it was for the Whitefellas who were moving between jobs when unemployment support was ﬁrst devised) this safety net became a permanent destination for our people once we joined the passive welfare rolls."