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Changing listening frequency to minimise white noise and hear Indigenous voices

Carnes, R. (2011) Changing listening frequency to minimise white noise and hear Indigenous voices. Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues, 14 (2-3). pp. 170-184.

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“Listening… can involve the listener in an intense, efficacious, and complex set of communicative acts in which one is not speaking, discussing, or disclosing, but sitting quietly, watching, and feeling-the-place, through all the senses…. In the process, one becomes a part of the scene, hearing and feeling with it.” (Carbaugh 1999: 259)

To listen this way involves much more than providing a chance for words to be spoken; it includes tuning in and getting the listening frequency clear. As a non-Indigenous person seeking to conduct qualitative research that listens to Aboriginal people, I need to ask how I can tune into the “active attentiveness” described by Carbaugh (1999) in order to listen in a manner that is appropriate, respectful and minimises my inherent white privilege. In addressing this question I draw on the work of Indigenous authors and academics, critical whiteness studies and my own experiences learning from Aboriginal people in a number of contexts over the past ten to fifteen years.

History in Australia since colonization has created a situation where Aboriginal voices are white noise to the ears of many non-Indigenous people. This paper proposes that white privilege and the resulting white noise can be minimised and greater clarity given to Aboriginal voices by privileging Indigenous knowledge and ways of working when addressing Indigenous issues. To minimise the interference of white noise, non-Indigenous people would do well to adopt a position that recognises, acknowledges and utilises some of the strengths that can be learned from Aboriginal culture and Indigenous authors.

This paper outlines a model of apprentice, allied listening for non-Indigenous researchers to adopt when preparing to conduct research alongside Indigenous people. Such an approach involves Re-learning of history, Reviewing of the researcher’s beliefs and placing Relating at the centre of the listening approach. Each of these aspects of listening is based on privileging of Indigenous voices.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Publisher: Monash University. Centre for Australian Indigenous Studies. School of Applied Media and Social Sciences
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