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Dialoguing in the desert for sustainable development: ambivalence, hybridity and representations of indigenous people

McGrath, Natalie (2007) Dialoguing in the desert for sustainable development: ambivalence, hybridity and representations of indigenous people. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Sustainable development is becoming institutionalised across culture and geography as a framework in which to address ecological and social crises that are increasingly apparent and manifesting in diverse ways across local spaces. It is however, dominated by binary thought which is uncomfortable with ambivalence and seperates self from nature and 'the other' of Indigenous people. Indigenous people are beginning to use the discourse of sustainable development but approach this from relational and holistic perspectives. The negotiation of representational structures and responsibility for implementating strategies towards sustainable development must account for these cultural differences and will require dialogue. This thesis explores how institutional practice and discourse frames Indigenous representation and responsibility and how this either enables or disenables dialogue with Indigenous people.

A case study approach informed the research, and included two consultancy participatory projects in 2001-2004. The case study was located in the Western Desert of Western Australia and involved the Martu people in addition to people working within institutional structures. The first project required extending community development strategies and strengthening Martu representation to take responsibility for a housing development. The second project, titled Dialogue with the Pilbara: Newman Tommorrow, involved encouraging Martu representation in a process based upon deliberative democracy. Reflections from the fieldwork form a considerable part of the analysis. The research also included analysis of a number of interviews with local institutional actors in Newman. Two major themes are outlined: power and representation; and culture. The research is reflexive and involves the use of an autoethnographic story technique which enables a better understanding of the researcher's implicit and changing perspectives. The lessons that emerged from the reflections from the case study are insightful for sustainable development.

The thesis involves two layers (and is structured accordingly): the first relates to a case study and the second to the theory and practice of sustainable development. The concluding section combines these two layers and emphasises the need for greater attention to Indigenous participation and autonomy in order to achieve Indigenous sustainable development. This thesis argues that diverse and hybrid Indigenous voices require considerable amplification within the discourse of sustainable development in order to provide relational and holistic perspectives. Particular focus is required upon the negotiation of representative structures to allow for Indigenous voices to be heard, and thus permit for the negotiation of responsibility across culture (an important consideration of sustainable development). This requires ongoing dialogue, creativity and reflexivity in context.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy
Supervisor(s): Marinova, Dora
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