• working/reading

    I am reading through 'both ways' literature of Yolngu and non-Yolngu working their knowledge systems together. Alongside I am reading Lorraine Code's 2006 book Ecological Thinking. I am also browsing through blogs and discussions on knowledge work and community development.
  • About this Blog

    Here I post some of my work and thinking. It is a much harder task than I thought! It is an extension of my research on knowledge and difference connecting my experiences, reflections, formal written pieces, and hopefully friends and colleagues. As work and self cannot be separate this blog is both personal and intellectual. Comments are moderated because, while it is a site for collective work, it is not anonymous.
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Nothing there? Think Again. Yolngu Homelands in Arnhem Land

Last Friday I went to hear Banduk Marika speak with John von Sturmer at the Institute for Postcolonial Studies (IPCS). Amongst many other things talked about was the question of Australia’s endless forgetting about Indigenous Australians, their presence and achievements. As Banduk said, ‘we are always asked and required to prove who we are, over and over again.’ She told a story about her efforts to care for her own country and environment over the past 20 years. Banduk and her family started a Landcare program near Yirrkala. It grew as family business and ran on family money. In early 2007, there were 36 people working in the program, only 5 of whom were non-Indigenous. When the Northern Territory created mega-Shires for local governance the legislation enabled the new Shires to acquire all public and community used assets )the Intervention had the same powers). The North East Arnhem Shire took all the resources form the local Landcare group and shut it down. In the last three months Banduk and her family have begun again. A family run, family funded nursery.

Hearing this reminded of a recent story that came out around the recent, but not new, threat to Homelands. The 1967 referendum, at which 90% of then eligible Australians voted to include Indigenous Australians in the census and make the Commonwealth government responsible for their welfare. This included the beginning of social security payments, at first to elderly pensioners. Much of this money, as John explained in the IPCS event above, went towards paying wages for people to begin their own Homelands in clearing airstrips, making buildings and other infrastructure. In 1982, the Homeland of Mirrngatja in Arnhem Land paid for its own school building. I am not sure if the money came from 1967-born pension payments, but knowing some of the elders there, they certainly would have given money if it was there. In any case, that it was paid for is testament to the willingness and resourceful of Yolngu in maintaining living on their country while engaging with mainstream institutions in paying wages and providing schooling. The school at Mirrngatja has been given a measly $200 in maintenance funding in its 27 years of operation by the Department of Education who runs it and provides a teaching one day a week – the full case study and shocking comparison to a non-Indigenous school of similar size is to be found here (from the Institute of Cultural Survival).

Two researchers at ANU have recently written a great post in what they call ‘cultura nullius’ – this inability to see anything in Homelands (social networks, environmental care, social economies, willingness to work with outside groups and ways of living) and its related quite astounding ability to keep forgetting this history. They also point out, and I should too, that we are both writing about our experiences in Yolngu Homelands in North East Arnhem Land – and here are two good videos from this area, one from Mata Mata and one from more recent GetUp campaign.

A closing statement at the IPCS event went something like this: ‘Indigenous movements are good in their own right, but also are valuable in that they reveal things about the state of society. In the academy we need to get outside the box which it has inherited from Government departments and their compartmentalisation of knowledge.’ Even when Indigenous people are listened to, they are still only allowed to talk about themselves and their ‘issues’. Thinking that Indigenous Australians have nothing valuable to contribute to debates on the environment, immigration, social policy, philosophy and much more is an even more insidious part of cultural nullius.

[From Nothing there? Think Again. Yolngu Homelands in Arnhem Land]

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Speaking for Others: small steps and giant leaps

Recently I have been working on a paper about the Digital Objects at work in the Healthy Breathing and Heart Project. In the first draft of a paper I wrote that I was assuming an ‘double outsider’ and referenced a piece of work by Helen Verran where she wrote of being an outsider in what I read to be a similar workshop between Yolŋu knowledge authorities and Environmental Scientists (I’ll put all the papers I refer to down the bottom).

I made this move, assuming to be a double outsider, with a hope to make this simple point: by not being an insider of either recognised knowledge traditions (Yolŋu nor Environmental Science) I might hope to be able to credit and value both knowledge traditions and hopefully work in a way that supported multiple ways of know … not so easy!

A few months later I had the at first stomach turning then delightful experience of having two reviewers take my work seriously and provide some very strong and helpful feedback. After getting over the shock of the red and orange typing all throughout my paper I began to realise how supportive and helpful the comments were, not just to writing this paper but much more generally.

One of the points that was picked up on was how could I claim authority to write as an outsider and I was given two papers to read on ‘speaking for others.’ By trying to just take a little step in order to recognise multiple knowledges, I found I had taken a rather large leap.

So I have rewritten the piece with this in mind and as it happened removed much of the material about subjects and speaking for subjects and focussed on the agency of objects. What was very useful about the Linda Alcoff piece was that she identifies that the problem of speaking for other people as the same problem about speaking about other things: it is how we grant ourselves the power to make the great leap necessary in using a representational theory of knowledge – how we assure the connection between reality and our knowledge of it.

Reading Maria Lugones’ “Playfulness, ‘World’-Travelling, and Loving Perception” I had a reoccurring thought that it was making a parallel argument to Leigh Star and James Griesemer make in their well known piece on boundary objects. At some point I’ll read them together.

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Linda Alcoff, “The Problem of Speaking for Others,” Cultural Critique, no. 20 (Winter, -1992 1991): 5-32.

Maria Lugones, “Playfulness, ‘World’-Travelling, and Loving Perception.,” Hypatia 2, no. 2 (Summer87 1987): 3.

Helen Verran, “A Postcolonial Moment in Science Studies: Alternative Firing Regimes of Environmental Scientists and Aboriginal Landowners,” Social Studies of Science 32, no. 5/6 (2002): 729-762.

Susan Leigh Star and James R Griesemer, “Institutional ecology,’translations’ and boundary objects: Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39,” Social studies of science (1989): 387–420.

[From speaking for others: small steps and giant leaps]