Launch of A Different Inequality. The Politics Of Debate About Remote Indigenous Australia, by Diane Austin-Broos
On Tuesday 17th July, 2011 Gleebooks Sydney hosted the launch of A Different Inequality (Allen&Unwin 2012). The publisher, Elizabeth Weiss of Allen&Unwin, introduced Professor Jeremy Beckett who was in conversation with the author, Professor Emerita Diane Austin-Broos. That conversation addressed issues of economic marginalisation and issues of enduring cultural difference that make the circumstance of remote Indigenous communities both highly variable and difficult to address effectively. In the course of the audience discussion, the author underlined that political equality for Aboriginal people will be impossible to achieve without greater economic equality as well. Therein lies a conundrum not only for policy makers but also for Indigenous peoples themselves.
A Different Inequality addresses two debates about anthropology’s representation of remote Aboriginal peoples by the discipline of anthropology. One debate emerged from a post-colonial critique of anthropology by historians and Indigenous scholars. They criticised anthropology for its lack of attention to the variable histories of Aboriginal Australians and their marginalisation in Australia’s economy. In a more recent public policy debate regarding remote Aboriginal communities, anthropologists have been criticised for paying too little heed to the ill-health, poverty and marked distress that is often present in communities. A Different Inequality argues that it is time for anthropologists to adopt more historically-oriented approaches to their work in remote Australia; and to work harder at constructing a standpoint that reconciles identity politics and a concern for economic inclusion. Professor Emerita Diane Austin-Broos has worked extensively on culture and economy both in the Caribbean and in Australia. She has published two books on her Jamaican research and a much applauded ethno-historical work on the Western Arrernte of Central Australia, Arrernte Present, Arrernte Past (2009).
A Different Inequality has been praised both within and beyond the academy for its clear-sighted discussion.
Nicolas Peterson (ANU) wrote:
In an original and highly provocative critique, Diane Austin-Broos asks whether anthropologists’ commitment to cultural difference and failure to treat residents of remote Aboriginal communities as historical subjects blinded them to inequality created by the legal system and the state.
Nicolas Rothwell (The Australian)
It is this disquieting landscape (of academic silence) that Austin-Broos surveys … Her book is gentle, generous to all sides and comes as a welcome, long-overdue demonstration that civilised debate is actually possible in the frontier realm of Aboriginal affairs.
Launch of Ethnography & the Production of Anthropological Knowledge. Essays in Honour of Nicolas Peterson, edited by Yasmine Musharbash and Marcus Barber
On Thursday 24th March, 2011 Professor Howard Morphy launched Ethnography and the Production of Anthropological Knowledge (ANU EPress 2011), edited by Yasmine Musharbash and Marcus Barber, at the Co-op Bookshop on the ANU campus. The Anthropology Department of the University of Sydney and CAEPR generously sponsored the very well attended and lively launch, which celebrated the publication of the book and paid homage to Professor Nicolas Peterson’s ongoing outstanding engagement in the anthropology of Aboriginal Australia and Australian anthropology.
Professor Nicolas Peterson is a central figure in the anthropology of Aboriginal Australia. This volume honours his anthropological body of work, his commitment to ethnographic fieldwork as a source of knowledge, his exemplary mentorship of generations of younger scholars and his generosity in facilitating the progress of others. The diverse collection produced by former students, current colleagues and long-term peers provides reflections on his legacy as well as fresh anthropological insights from Australia and the wider Asia-Pacific region. Inspired by Nicolas Peterson's work in Aboriginal Australia and his broad ranging contributions to anthropology over several decades, the contributors to this volume celebrate the variety of his ethnographic interests. Individual chapters address, revisit, expand on, and ethnographically re-examine his work about ritual, material culture, the moral domestic economy, land and ecology. The volume also pays homage to Nicolas Peterson's ability to provide focused research with long-term impact, exemplified by a series of papers engaging with his work on demand sharing and the applied policy domain.
The book is available for free download or as a print-by-demand-copy from http://epress.anu.edu.au/
Professor Howard Morphy launching the book
Yasmine Musharbash handing Nic Peterson “his” book during the launch
Professor Nicolas Peterson and Professor Howard Morphy
The editors with Professor Mick Dodson at the launch
Launch of Fieldwork Identities in the Caribbean, edited by Erin B. Taylor
On Friday 26th March 2010, Professor Diane Austin-Broos launched Fieldwork Identities in the Caribbean (Caribbean Studies Press 2009), edited by Erin B. Taylor, as part of The Department of Anthropology’s Symposium: Anthropology and the Ends of Worlds.
The book addresses how identity affects research in the contemporary world, where field sites are no longer static. Anthropologists no longer fit the stereotype of white Westerners going to exotic places to study people very different from themselves. Rather, anthropologists now come from a variety of backgrounds, and their identities are complicated, even to them.
Each chapter describes how the author negotiated aspects of identity in the field, including race, nationality, class, gender, religion, and sexuality. The authors are all early-career researchers who have conducted fieldwork in different Caribbean nations, including the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Trinidad, and Belize. Diane Austin-Broos commented of the book:
The essay sequence demarcates three major themes: first, the ambiguity of racial and ethnic identities in the Caribbean, especially for modern trans-Atlantic migrants; second, the permutations of race, colour, class and space in and between societies; and third, the multiple meanings of performance in diasporic settings as they are interpreted by anthropologists who are also members of diasporas.
Much of this material might be placed under the rubric of ‘hybridity.’ In my view though, this would sell the genre short. In fact, each essay is like a thread that, when pulled, unravels a genealogy of one or another form of inter-relation that has shaped the Caribbean. These relations reveal the ways in which local milieux are also global and the manner in which individual trajectories converge and also pull apart as Caribbean history unfolds.
In short, the essays underline that ethnography today still deals with structure – not the structure of a bounded society but rather the structure of the co-ordinates that sustain a global world even in a village or a shanty town, or in Santo Domingo’s National Gallery – as familiar to some as MOMA in New York. To quote from my own remarks, ‘In fieldwork, identity traverses place and is touched by it. Concurrently, reflections on identity bring a larger set of insights on a common history and its intersections… With these insights we develop our sense of anthropology and the role of ethnographic practice.’
The authors hope that this book will help anthropology researchers from all walks of life find their feet in the field, and for more established researchers to reflect on their experiences.
Launch of A Walk to the River in Amazonia: Ordinary Reality for the Mehinaku Indians by Carla Stang
At the “Anthropology and the Ends of Worlds” Symposium held at the University of Sydney in March 2010, Professor Michael Taussig of Columbia University launched A Walk to the River in Amazonia: Ordinary Reality for the Mehinaku Indians (Berghahn Books 2009), written by Dr Carla Stang, an Honorary Associate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Sydney.
In his launching speech Professor Taussig called A Walk to the River in Amazonia “a great book”. He went on to say: “the focussing in on ‘the feel of life’ and the small everyday things struck me as hugely important… and the fascinating conundrums that are actually part of this, such as the Amazonian sense of the world being made up of original and spirit copies.” He concluded by commenting on “the simplicity and the grace of the writing”.
A Walk to the River in Amazonia addresses the fact that though our lives are mostly composed of ordinary realitythe flow of moment-to-moment existence, lying in a hammock, waiting for a busit has been largely overlooked as a subject in itself for anthropological study. In this work, the author achieves an understanding of this part of reality for the Mehinaku Indians, an Amazonian people, by looking at one incidence of it, a walk to the river. The book begins with a journal entry by the author about her experience of such a walk, and goes on to explore various aspects of the Mehinaku world, so as to finally be able to return to the walk and describe how her Mehinaku friend might have experienced it. By portraying how various facets of life come to play in a stream of consciousness, abstract schemata such as "cosmology," "sociality," "gender," and the "everyday", are understood as they are actually lived. This book contributes to the ethnography of the Amazon, specifically the Upper Xingu, with an approach that crosses disciplinary boundaries between anthropology, philosophy, psychology and literature. In doing so it attempts to grasp what Malinowski called the ‘imponderabilia of actual life.’
From the University of Cambridge, Dr Stephen Hugh-Jones had the following to say about A Walk to the River in Amazonia:
Carla...show[s] how ordinary people (in this case, women) think about and experience an enchanted world rather than what the ritual experts (and anthropologists) claim....There is an abundance of clever, imaginative anthropological interpretations of what Amazonians say and do... What very few have ever really asked is how all this...is actually experienced and understood by the people involved. Carla does that and does it very well.
Michael Jackson, Distinguished Visiting Professor of World Religions, Harvard University, described A Walk to the River in Amazonia as “…an extraordinary ethnographic work… outstanding - in the audacious naturalism of its form, the compelling way in which Stang reads Mehinaku reality between the lines, capturing the flow and fluctuations of consciousness as well as the materiality and physicality of their existence.”
Launch of The City’s Outback by Gillian Cowlishaw
On the 13th of March 2009, at that hub of inner Sydney intellectual life, Gleebooks, a former Professor of the Department of Anthropology, Ghassan Hage, launched a book written by Honorary Associate and former staff member, Professor Gillian Cowlishaw.
The book, ‘The City’s Outback’ (UNSW Press) is a diary like account of doing ethnographic research among the disavowed offspring of Sydney city, the western suburbs resident. Here is some of what Ghassan had to say:
Cowlishaw offers the reader a portrait of her encounter as an anthropologist with what she calls ‘everyday Aboriginality’. It is nothing short of a challenging invitation to enter our Aboriginal social unconscious with all the emotions, uncertainties, ambivalences, limitations, but also rewards, that such a difficult encounter generates. What makes the trip less daunting but perhaps more alluring is that Cowlishaw gets the help of some Mt Druitt Aboriginal insiders who also help us along the way with their reported commentary. …
It is a book that you must, absolutely must, read; a book that you must also make your friends, your family members and your neighbours read; those who are interested in Aboriginal Australia and those who aren’t but ought to be. …
The book also offers all of us, non-Aboriginal people, an ethics: a mode of approaching and interacting with Aboriginal people and Aboriginal issues while minimizing the chances of falling into the many pitfalls of everyday white discourse ‘about’ them, whether of the racist or the ‘well-meaning’ variety. Indeed, because it is constantly aiming to avoid these pitfalls, there is a considerable degree of anxiety that pervades the book. It is a healthy kind of anxiety that comes, first, from a constant and relentless questioning of one’s right as a non-Aboriginal person to record and examine the lives of Aboriginal people. It is also an anxiety that emanates from a constant desire to avoid rushing to conclusions, to glorify or disparage. .. But most of all an anxiety to do justice to the lives that are unfolding before our eyes by taking them as they present themselves …
This capacity to open oneself to otherness in all its uncertainty without a desire to fix its meaning and domesticate it is what Keats has called ‘negative capability’. It is what the best ethnographers should always have. If I reveal a bias in recommending this book so highly, it is probably here that my bias lies. By reading Cowlishaw I glimpse the possibility of a vigorous, redeemed and intelligent ethnography of the kind that only anthropologists can do…
One feels that almost in an unconscious mode of adapting to her subject she develops a mode of writing that moves along its escaping subject. Her work ends up coming across as ethnography with rather than about Aboriginal people. Here method and ethics fuse. To do an ‘ethnography about’ is often about ‘capturing’ and ‘fixing’ people in order to portray them in an understandable way. But to write an ‘ethnography with’ is more than to give up on the idea of capturing and to accompany the flow. To ‘write with’ is also to give force, to empower and to propel. It is to offer in one’s writing a mode of ‘accompanying’, strengthening and infusing life in those one is writing about. It is to ‘be with’ in Heidegger’s sense of Mit Dasein. It is like walking a dog in the park where the bounciness of the dog is transmitted to us. We can say that the dog is walking ‘with us’ in that strong sense when its bounciness infuses life in us making us feel equally bouncy. To ‘write with’ is to offer a writing that provides such bounciness.
Frank Doolan, the main character in The City’s Outback, also spoke, both moving and amusing the audience. He told a story from Mt. Druitt about a young boy’s memory of being rescued by his South African neighbours from their backyard swimming pool. Franks also said the book was great, adding ironically, ‘but I would say that wouldn’t I’, thus ending a triumphant evening on a suitably modest note.
Launch of An Appreciation of Difference: WEH Stanner and Aboriginal Australia, edited by Melinda Hinkson and Jeremy Beckett
In December 2008 at the ASA/AAS/ASAANZ conference in Auckland Professor Marilyn Strathern launched An Appreciation of Difference: WEH Stanner and Aboriginal Australia, edited by Melinda Hinkson and Jeremy Beckett (Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra).
WEH Stanner was an anthropologist whose influence reached beyond the walls of the academy. He worked with Aboriginal people in north Australia from the 1930s and is best known for his acclaimed 1968 Boyer Lectures, After the Dreaming. Across his career Stanner worked to cultivate public understanding of the richness of Aboriginal culture and cosmology, and urged greater recognition and respect for Aboriginal people in Australian society. More than twenty years after his death, Stanner’s writings continue to command attention in the vexed arena of Aboriginal affairs.
An Appreciation of Difference arises out of a conference celebrating the centenary of Stanner’s birth organised by the editors in 2005. It brings together leading scholars working in Aboriginal Australia to consider Stanner’s legacy in the present and to provide contextual understandings of his contributions to anthropological scholarship, Australian public culture and policy making.
Themes explored include the rich complexity of Aboriginal religion, the development dilemmas of Aboriginal Australia and those of post-war Africa and the Pacific; contestation over land rights and the place of Aboriginal people in the Australian nation, and the creative concerns of life writing.
Launching the book Marilyn Strathern described An Appreciation of Difference as a ‘fascinating and important collection’.
Reviewing the collection in The Monthly, Inga Clendinnen reflected that it ‘raises in poignant form the question of how we can best grasp an individual life history… It offers a magnificent array of information, insights, analyses, evaluations: multiple takes on a multiple man. But be warned. If you pick it up it will eat at least a month of your life’.
For photos of the book launch from the Auckland conference, go to: http://gallery.arts.auckland.ac.nz/anthro/asa/Book+Launch/059.jpg.html
Launch of Yuendumu Everyday: Contemporary Life in Remote Aboriginal Australia by Yasmine Musharbash
Yuendumu Everyday. Contemporary Life in Remote Aboriginal Australia (Aboriginal Studies Press) by Yasmine Musharbash was launched by Emerita Prof. Diane Austin-Broos, at the 2008 ASA/AAS/ASAANZ conference in Auckland. In her launching speech, Prof. Austin-Broos emphasized that Yuendumu Everyday “underlines how great is the need for ethnographic knowledge in the public domain. It is needed not only to refute accounts of pathology. It is also required to demonstrate that if kids in Yuendemu and elsewhere are to gain literate education and jobs, the social tasks involved are highly complex and specific and best wrought by the immediate carers - including the women that Yasmine lived with.”
Yuendumu Everyday explores intimacy, immediacy and mobility as the core principles underpinning contemporary everyday life in a central Australian Aboriginal settlement. It analyses an everyday shaped through the interplay between a not so distant hunter–gatherer past and the realities of living in a first-world nation–state by considering such apparently mundane matters as: What is a camp? How does that relate to houses? Who sleeps where, and next to whom? Why does this constantly change? What and where are the public/private boundaries? And most importantly: How do Indigenous people in praxis relate to each other?
Employing a refreshingly readable writing style, Musharbash includes rich vignettes, including narrative portraits of five Warlpiri women. Musharbash’s descriptions and analyses of their actions and the situations they find themselves in, transcend the general and illuminate the personal. She invites readers to ponder the questions raised by the book, not just at an abstract level, but as they relate to people’s actual lives. In doing so, it expands our understandings of Indigenous Australia.
Fred Myers, Silver Professor in Anthropology, New York University, said about Yuendumu Everyday:
While we have learned that Aboriginal societies are orders of intimate personhood, organisations of sentiment, there are few extensive studies that have made this experience and form of sociality, its accomplishment and fragility, central to their exposition. What is it like to live in this form of social life? Indeed, how does one come to know it? Gracefully and cogently, Yasmine Musharbash opens up the world of everyday life of Warlpiri people at Yuendumu, the pressures and satisfactions of a life dominated by the immediacy of others, and the extraordinary mobility of persons making their way through the physical and social spaces of their world.
In her ALR review of Peter Sutton’s Politics of Suffering, Inga Clendinnen said that Yuendumu Everyday “with its analysis and interpretation flowing outwards from direct experience, is lovely evidence of the health of Australian anthropology”.