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Hunting alone: Aboriginal Australia's declining social capital

Scougall, John (2015) Hunting alone: Aboriginal Australia's declining social capital. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis examines the explanatory power of social capital theory as an aid to understanding disadvantaged socio-economic circumstances prevailing in many contemporary remote Aboriginal communities. The term ‘social capital’ refers to social resources that fuel human cooperation such as relationships, civic engagement, support and norms of reciprocity and trust.

There are several strands of ‘social capital’ theory, but it is Putnam’s take that is my main focus. His ‘Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital’ (1995) analysed the state of community relatedness in the United States. By contrast my thesis explores the extent to which a social capital framework might be useful in seeking to understand the nature of connections between Aboriginal people in remote Australia. How is social capital formed and eroded in this vastly different context?

The contemporary relevance of the thesis is that it is occurring against the backdrop of widespread concern about wellbeing and cohesion in remote communities. By seeking to explain the phenomena through a social capital analytic lens, the thesis provides a relational perspective on Aboriginal advantage and disadvantage. The focus is on the quality and nature of relationships. The significance of social capital theory is that it purports to account for “why some societies or groups work better than others, despite having comparable economic or material resources” (Cox & Caldwell, 2000: 58).

It is the development of an understanding of remote Aboriginal community disadvantage through the prism of a social capital theoretical framework that is this study's original contribution to knowledge. While the concept is not new, its application in this context is. The thesis occupies contentious intellectual territory because ‘social capital’ is a ‘white western’ concept that may have little cross-cultural applicability or resonance. Yet despite limitations, it is nevertheless argued the concept provides useful analytical insights into the functioning of remote Aboriginal communities. A perspective informed by theorising about social capital, at least as Robert Putnam understands that term, might guide strategies that make for ‘stronger’ (thriving and prosperous) communities

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Management and Governance
Supervisor(s): Palmer, David and Albrecht, Glenn
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