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‘This very difficult debate about Wik’: Stake, voice and the management of category memberships in race politics

LeCouteur, A., Rapley, M. and Augoustinos, M. (2010) ‘This very difficult debate about Wik’: Stake, voice and the management of category memberships in race politics. British Journal of Social Psychology, 40 (1). pp. 35-57.

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The issue of ‘race’ has assumed an extraordinarily salient position in Australian politics since the election of the conservative Howard government in 1996. Central to debate in the Australian polity has been the nature of the relationship between indigenous, or Aboriginal, Australians and the rest of the population, in particular over the issue of the land rights of indigenous people. Land rights, or ‘native title’, assumed a pre-eminent position in national political life in 1996/97 with the handing down by the High Court of the so-called ‘Wik judgment’. The discursive management of the ensuing debate by Australia's political leaders is illuminative of key sites of interest in the analysis of political rhetoric and the construction of ‘racially sensitive’ issues. Taking the texts of ‘addresses to the nation’ on Wik by the leaders of the two major political parties as analytic materials, we examine two features of the talk. First, examine how the speakers manage their stake in the position they advance, with an extension of previous work on reported speech into the area of set-piece political rhetoric. Second, in contrast to approaches which treat social categories as routine, mundane and unproblematic objects, we demonstrate the local construction of category memberships and their predicates as strategic moves in political talk. Specifically, we demonstrate how the categories of ‘Aborigines’ and ‘farmers’, groups central to the dispute, are strategically constructed to normatively bind certain entitlements to activity to category membership. Furthermore, inasmuch as such categories do not, in use, reflect readily perceived ‘objective’ group entities in the ‘real’ world, so too ‘standard’ discursive devices and rhetorical structures are themselves shown to be contingently shaped and strategically deployed for contrasting local, ideological and rhetorical ends.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Psychology
Publisher: Wiley
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