Recent Graduations

Barbara Baumann

Mission Impossible: Neo-colonial Projects of Urban Aboriginal Service Delivery

Supervisors: Professor Gillian Cowlishaw and Dr. Terry Woronov
PhD 2014
Department of Anthropology

Abstract
This thesis is an ethnographic study of contemporary Aboriginal–non-Aboriginal race relations in ‘multi-cultural’ Australia. It scrutinizes support-programs for urban Aboriginal families in the wider Sydney area that promote ‘non-intervention’ and ‘cultural inclusion’. The aim of this research was to gain an understanding how non-Aboriginal service providers as program implementers make sense of their work in the face of ongoing program failures to curb Aboriginal ‘dysfunction’.

The thesis is primarily concerned with the intellectual and cultural process that attempts decolonization in contemporary urban Australia and the “relationship between power and culture, domination and the imaginary” in Aboriginal–non-Aboriginal relations (Pieterse & Parekh 1995:4). It analyses the prefix ‘post’ in post-colonialism that invokes the illusion of a present that has liberated itself from the colonial past. The ethnographic case material illustrates how the non-Aboriginal as well as Aboriginal imagination, expressed in concrete every-day behaviour, remains caught in deep-seated contradictions set up by this colonial past that cannot simply be discarded. The focus lies with non-Aboriginal representatives (family service providers, social workers, teachers and academics) of Australian governmental institutions (public schools, family support services and academic institutions) that have the role of interacting with Aboriginal people who are both clients and staff of the institutions. The efforts not only to act but to be ‘post’-colonial or ‘post-racial’ take place while non-Aboriginal hegemony is still in place – something regularly disavowed.

In conclusion, this research has found that program failures are systematic failures and the colonial relationships are being reproduced. At the heart of the issue lies a double-bind; the nation’s contradictory trajectory of celebrating Aboriginal culture, whilst simultaneously disparaging it and attempting to enforce cultural change in Aboriginal people’s behaviour, norms, values and outlook on life. By appreciating the inconsistencies, contradictions and anxieties that afflict the (imaginative) attempt to be ‘post’-colonial the thesis brings to the fore how the neo-colonial structure manifests in individual people’s behaviours and how it mediates concrete every-day interactions between people of unequal power status.


Kylie Tobler

Man! I feel like a Woman! A comparative ethnography of the subjectivity of working class locas and middle class transgender women in Mexico City

Supervisors: Dr. Jadran Mimica and Dr. Vek Lewis
PhD 2014
Department of Anthropology

Abstract
This thesis is a comparative ethnography of the self-experience of working class locas and the middle class 'trans' women. Using a phenomenological approach and a psychoanalytic framework as a guide I will elucidate the subjective dimension of their gendered and sexual selves taken from my observations and their self accounts of experiences with family, spouses, lovers, friends, colleagues and the local and broader communities within metropolitan Mexico City. I present four case studies, Penelope and Yajaira who self identify as locas and live in working class Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl (part of the greater metropolitan area of Mexico City), Karla who identifies as a transexual and ‘is a little bit bisexual’, and Franghia who identifies as a lesbian ‘T-girl’. Both Karla and Franghia live in middle class areas of El Distrito Federal known as D.F., the Federal District of Mexico City. Specifically I compare and contrast what is at stake in the life-worlds of the urban working class locas with that of the middle class trans ‘women’ to gain a sense of their differential experiences of living with a feminine subjectivity. I analyse moments from their childhood and adult relationships in the areas of work, play, love, sex and intimacy, to provide key insights into the experiences of their gendered and sexual subjectivity.


Eve Vincent

Forces of Destruction, Acts of Creation: Aboriginality, Identity and Native Title, on the Far West Coast of South Australia

Supervisor: Professor Gillian Cowlishaw
PhD 2013
Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney

Abstract
Central to this ethnography is a biannual event called ‘Rockhole Recovery,’ which takes place in Far West South Australia. Rockhole Recovery comprises numerous days of Four Wheel Drive (4WD) travel and involves visiting a series of rockholes — permanent water sources that occur in granite outcrops scattered amongst semi-arid mallee scrub. Members of a highly politicised Aboriginal grouping from Ceduna, whom I call Aunty Joan Mob, jointly undertake rockhole trips with interested non-Aboriginal ‘greenies’. This thesis provides an interpretation of Rockhole Recovery as an inspired and generative form of political action. Rockhole Recovery generates meanings, relationships, affects and symbols. It is to the documentation, elaboration and celebration of these that I attend in this thesis. The historical and social context that gives rise to this particular form of politics is explored throughout the thesis.

I understand Rockhole Recovery to constitute expressive acts on the part of Aunty Joan mob. Rockhole Recovery represents a creative/political response, on the part of Aunty Joan Mob, to the manifold, contradictory and intensely stressful ways in which Aboriginal people are called on to be, and the ways in which they experience being Aboriginal, in the contemporary moment. I argue that Aboriginality is both a thoroughly unstable and relational category of experience.

Specifically, Aunty Joan Mob are responding to the demands, pressures — and invitations — the native title process, which they have experienced as profoundly destabilising. In Ceduna, the native title process has served to contradict, ‘correct,’ supersede and alter the self-understanding and terms of self-identification of Aunty Joan Mob members. Aunty Joan Mob seek to assert, return to themselves and consolidate an understanding of their own lives, histories and identity on their own terms.

Rockhole Recovery is best understood as a creative/political response to the ontological impasse experienced as a result of Aunty Joan Mob’s encounter with the native title process. I describe this as a ‘struggle for self-definition’. This undertaking involves making assertions and acting both with and against others — most significantly with greenies, and against other Aboriginal people. Forces of destruction and creation shape the world described in this thesis.


Heidi Norman

From Activism to enterprise: a political history of the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act, 1983

Supervisors: Professor Gillian Cowlishaw and Professor Simon Tormey
PhD 2013
Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney

Abstract

This thesis is a study of how the NSW Aboriginal land rights laws brought Aboriginal people into new and different relations with the state. This bringing into political life of NSW Aboriginal citizens, through the development and eventual legislated land rights response by the NSW Government’s in 1983, saw Aboriginal people emerge as a political constituency, consulted by Government. This meant Aboriginal people were no longer extrinsic to the political process, no longer marginalized and excluded or perpetual infants of the state, but rather contending with being shaped as a product of the state and in turn shaping the state. It is this very tension that this study is concerned with. My contention is that the process of ‘statecraft’ was emergent with a new sense of a ‘culturo-political’ self among many NSW Koori and Murri leaders. They held aspirations for self-determination, collective identity formation and new understandings of the role of Government, particularly in the governing of the social that ultimately involved Aboriginal people in the exercise of rule as it extended through and beyond the state.


Marianne Hoyd

Aborigines in the European Australian imagination: a case study of a country town

Supervisors: Professor Gillian Cowlishaw and Dr. Neil Maclean
PhD 2012
Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney

Abstract
Based upon fieldwork in Condobolin, a rural community in New South Wales, the core argument of this thesis is of the compelling continuities in the integrated, discursively elaborated and institutionally embedded structures of racism and how racism is disembodied and the responsibility of no one in particular. This thesis restores racism to its rightful place as a specific concept that requires and deserves enquiry.

For decades there has been substantial research on the Australian Aboriginal People; originally as “exotic” subject matter for traditional anthropologists. That research had legitimacy in trying to understand a radically different society. More recently the research has focused on the “plight” of the Aborigines as dispossessed people who have been deprived of their traditions and their land; struggling for a place in Australia since the arrival of the Europeans. These studies have largely overlooked the active role of the white population and government in the marginalization of the Aboriginal People and the manner in which it was and still is achieved. This research focuses on the Europeans, documenting and exploring the racism that underpins their actions and beliefs.

From the abolition of the Aboriginal Welfare Board and through the emergence of national initiatives supporting Aboriginal causes and the Wiradjuri Condobolin Corporation (WCC) in Condobolin, the local Shire Council has largely retained it’s stance of opposition to “things Aboriginal”, treating the Aboriginal people in the community as “other”. The negotiations around the Lake Cowal gold mine increased the existing rift in the Aboriginal community, but the amassing of historical material by one group and the establishment of the WCC, its organization and resources by another, created a “critical mass” that ignited the Aboriginal community and enabled the enhancement of its cultural, economic and political capital.

This thesis demonstrates how the context of racism has changed quite markedly over time. The fundamental structural divide has grown more complex, both in terms of local spatialization, in terms of the increasing complexity of local Aboriginal identity from the point of view of the white gaze, and in terms of the tension between national level discourse, policy, legislation on indigenous issues on the one hand and the fundamental continuities of a racism at a local level on the other.

Finally, it shows how the material grounds of white certainty in the world are shifting under their feet, even as the ideological and governmental context of their local racism is also shifting. The response of the white community and the local Council to the emerging identity and “power” of the Aboriginal community illustrates both how things have changed but also how in some ways they have not. I argue that elements of the old patterns of behaviour on the part of the Council and white community continue and that the embedded racism is evident although, in some cases, manifested somewhat differently over time.


Thiago Oppermann

Tsuhana: Processes of Disorder and Order in Halia

Supervisor: Dr. Jadran Mimica
PHD 2012
Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney

Abstract

This thesis studies the intersection of state, the cash economy and political kinship amongst the Halia of Buka, Autonomous Province of Bougainville. Drawing on 16 months fieldwork between 2006 and 2008, a historically informed ethnographical profile is drawn of a society which has sought to engage state and economic forces in its own terms, and which in turn has been profoundly transformed. This Austronesian society is structured around clan houses known as tsuhana, which provide a model of proper social order. By contrast, the Papua New Guinea state and present-day social conditions are seen as concretely demonstrated models of disorder. Halia leaders hope that by revitalizing tsuhana, unity can be restored. Yet the revitalization would take place by integrating tsuhana into the state. This paradoxical situation stems from the fact that the houses and the matrilineal domain of kinship on which they are based have become articulated around legal and economic requirements. In particular, land conflict has led to realignment of the modes of kinship – far from being replaced by patrilineal inheritance models, matrilineal kinship has become ideologically exclusivist, even as more fluid practices continue.


Emma Young

Growing Up Koori, Growing Up Kids: Aboriginal Families in Griffith, New South Wales

Supervisor: Dr. Gaynor Macdonald
PhD, 2011
Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney

Abstract

My thesis explores the ways in which children and young people have been, and can be, included within anthropological interests and thus as fieldwork participants, focusing on Aboriginal Australia. I draw on my fieldwork with Aboriginal families in the rural agricultural city of Griffith, in south-western New South Wales to respond to the dominance of a dichotomising approach to children and adults’ lives. I found I could not understand the lives of ‘Aboriginal kids’ by conceptualising distinct life stage categories or states of being which were separate or belonging to ‘two worlds,’ a kids’ world and an adult world. According to the specificities of relatedness in an Australian Aboriginal kin-based society, being a ‘kid,’ whether as a life stage or as someone’s kid as offspring confers a mutually constituted identity between child and adult.
These Aboriginal-constituted relations are played out within an intergenerational and interethnic social field that is simultaneously subject to the condemnatory gaze of European-Australians and the state. It was not enough to understand Aboriginal people’s lives through the rubric of kinship; they were also constituted in other, often contradictory, ways. Despite a desire to maintain the profile of Griffith as a harmonious multicultural town, many residents of British/European origin took the view that there was something ‘different’ about Aboriginal kids, with the result that double standards applied when these kids ‘behaved badly.’ Within this wider society of which Aboriginal people are a part, a causal relationship is commonly inferred between the behaviour of kids and the care practices of their parents. This influences the constitution of adults as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ parents, so that condemnatory attitudes held towards children and young people subject Aboriginal adults to the same.
I explore the ways in which Aboriginal people deal with the tensions and disjunctures they experience as they move in and out of social contexts which constitute them in differing ways, including their shared response to the shame experienced as a result of the (predominantly) European-Australian gaze, which constitutes Aboriginal parents as ‘neglectful’ and their kids as ‘unruly.’
My thesis also reflects on the way in which my fieldwork challenged me to rethink my own initially dichotomising approach. I reflect on the importance of stepping aside from pre-conceived ideas when in the field, listening more closely to how people understand their worlds, and allowing their understandings to challenge taken-for-granted models.


Sean Leneghan

The Varieties of Ecstasy Experience. Ecstasy: An Exploration of Body, Mind and Person in Sydney’s Club Culture

Supervisor: Dr. Jadran Mimica
PhD, 2011
Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney

Abstract

This is a phenomenologically grounded ethnographic study of the life-world of ecstasy users in the socio-cultural contexts of raving and clubs in Sydney, Australia. The thesis espouses existential-phenomenology as a framework for describing and understanding these experiences. I argue against and reject the widespread mechanistic-materialist paradigms that inform bio-medical and bio-psychological interpretations of drug-use and non-ordinary states of consciousness.

As an alternative to these dominant reductionist perspectives I draw on a holistic organismic approach and the application of phenomenology to ethnographic field research. More specifically, my exploration of the experiences of ecstasy is based upon a dialogal phenomenology which enabled me to generate a processual morphology of the varieties of ecstasy experience and the users’ mode of being-in-the-world. Through this endeavour I also argue for a phenomenological foundation of the study of drug use and non-ordinary states of consciousness in general.


Sophorntavy Vorng

Status City: Consumption, Identity, and Middle Class Culture in Contemporary Bangkok

Supervisor: Dr Richard Basham
PhD, 2009
Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney

Abstract

I explore social stratification and consumption practices in Bangkok, focusing on shopping malls, markets, and hypermarkets. Critiquing the idea that shopping malls, in particular, work to create a globalised, homogenous, consumer identity, I suggest that they are meaningful in ways that are uniquely local. The socio-spatial configuration of consumption sites in the capital city highlights Thai class relations and the elaborate system of social stratification. Specific attention is directed towards delineating the socially, politically, and economically influential urban middle class, a group that has notoriously eluded comprehensive definition thus far. I further argue that understandings of class are limited unless contextualised within the Thai status hierarchy, and considered in relation to the significance of power, presentation and prestige in Thai social life.


Erin B. Taylor

Abajo el Puente: Place and the Politics of Progress in Santo Domingo

Supervisor: Professor Diane Austin-Broos
PhD, 2009
Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney


Abstract

In recent years there has been substantial research on Dominican migration and transnationalism, yet these studies have largely overlooked both the manner in which globalisation generates new localisations, and the continuing salience of the state as a mediator between the global and the local. Based upon fieldwork in La Ciénaga, a poor barrio of Santo Domingo, this thesis argues that emplacement, rather than transnationalism, is paradigmatic of the experiences of poor Dominicans and provides their primary source of unity. Race, ethnicity, and social class have long been promoted as structuring the experiences of Caribbean people, but my analysis suggests that these operate more as sources of differentiation than of identification in Santo Domingo’s barrios. I examine the strategies and practices residents deploy to create value in place, overcome their localisation, and achieve progreso (progress) within the bounds of the state. These include transforming the material environment and its symbolic meanings, elaborating certain social hierarchies and contesting others, and developing locality-based political organisations.

the Caribbean, it has been usual for studies of cultural oppositions or dualisms to effectively constitute a different genre to studies of class, race, and globalization. My ethnography indicates that this distinction is false. Residents of La Ciénaga deploy cultural oppositions and notion of difference to define a place in the social hierarchies of the barrio and city, while simultaneously recognising the moral value and identical structural position of those around them. Popular politics in Santo Domingo are characterised by this tension between social stratification and the elaboration of cultural value in place. This thesis develops a political and social economy of value that addresses both the bases of stratification in the sphere of production and the ways in which projects of self-creation, such as through consumption, allow for the elaboration of cultural value and meaning for individuals and social groups. Given the importance of locality to popular politics, I argue that this integrated approach is necessary to any assessment of the transformative potential of community organisations and other political movements in Santo Domingo.


Yuriko Yamanouchi

Searching for Aboriginal Community in South Western Sydney

Supervisor: Dr. Gaynor Macdonald
PhD, 2008
Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney

Abstract

This thesis explores how Aboriginal people in the suburbs of south western Sydney develop a sense of being part of a community. Unlike many Aboriginal social contexts, in this urban area they are not connected through kinship ties or place of origin. They do not live in close proximity but are spread through various suburbs. They do not have most of the characteristics thought to be the basis of community. To understand why they nevertheless refer to themselves as a community, the thesis will develops a model which links the notion of social networks to interaction with organisations dealing with Aboriginal issues. People in urban areas are connected and their social networks activated by their participation in activities run by these organisations. These activities create event-places, which are to community what individuals are to an ego-centric network. Interaction in event-places are the nodes of the experience of community. Through their experience at one or more of these event-place nodes, people are recognised as Aboriginal and come to gain their sense of community – an experience which does not rely on community as shared or bounded.

The sense of community in urban Sydney is entangled with the complicated processes of identity negotiation. In addition to people born and raised in all-Aboriginal communities of rural Australia, many of those living in south western Sydney have only recently identified as Aboriginal people. The thesis seeks a way in which to conceptualise the dynamic nature of both community and identity, and in doing so to contribute in two ways. First, it develops an approach which can transcend the tendency in urban anthropology to rely on models originally developed for the study of small-scale communities assumed to be relatively homogeneous, and thus opens up a means through which urban anthropology can better incorporate the ethnography of people who live lives that only intersect from time to time. It uses an ethnographic approach to reposition discussion on the possibility of community in a modern complex society. It then applies this model to the exploration of how an Aboriginal commonality emerges in an urban context which is no longer based on place of origin or kinship.