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Negotiating Aboriginal identity in an urban context: Implications for education

Taylor, Anthea (1993) Negotiating Aboriginal identity in an urban context: Implications for education. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This study investigates the manner in which Aboriginal people conceptualise, maintain and reproduce identity in an urban context. Ethnographic data from various settings throughout Western Australia are used in an analysis of Aboriginal constructions of self and other and the ways in which these ideas impinge on the management of identity, particularly in cross-cultural interaction, are identified. While the sites in which data were gathered and the interactional settings investigated were not confined to educational contexts, the focus of this study is on the implications of Aboriginal identity management for education.

A series of fundamental and interrelated dialectics impinging on Aboriginal identity are made explicit: a dialectic between White and Black Australians; between Aboriginal groups operating within urban Aboriginal society; between public and private faces of Aboriginal identity; between the construction of those faces of Aboriginal identity and the past; a dialectic between the socio-political constructions of the dominant society and the reality of life as it is lived by Aboriginal individuals who identify and/or are identified as an indigenous minority within the nation-state. These influences reflect and produce tensions and ambiguities which add to the complexity of the situation for both insiders and outsiders.

The first part of this study examines historical and contemporary socio-political factors impinging on Aboriginal identity and makes an analytical distinction between 'public' and 'private' facets of identity. The private face of Aboriginal identity and the manner in which it is influenced by the public face is analysed in Part B. In the third part of this study, the impact of such influences on various aspects of education is considered. With a focus particularly on Aboriginal student teachers' experiences of higher education, an institutional context explicitly tied to contemporary Aboriginal affairs policy is highlighted. In adult Aboriginal students' experience of the tertiary system and the schools in which they carried out their teaching practice can be seen the confluence of the public and private facets of contemporary Aboriginal identity and the negotiation of the state and dominant White society.

This study demonstrates the relational nature of Aboriginal identity and highlights subtle and complex examples of socio-cultural maintenance. It describes the efforts being made by many Aboriginal people to work towards educational and professional achievement within the wider society and at the same time manage their identity so as not to be perceived by either Whites or Aboriginals as culturally marginal to Aboriginal society.

The manner in which specific aspects of mainstream education in general and classroom practice in particular do not adequately take account of this snuggle and are at variance with Aboriginal cultural practices in an urban context is demonstrated. The situation - with respect-to the relatively low rates of educational achievement and participation by Aboriginal Australians - cannot be explained simply in terms of explicit cultural differences or lack of cultural representation in Australian education, as is often implied. Greater insight is required into the operation of the politics of race and colour as they operate both within Aboriginal society and in cross-cultural interactive settings such as the school. The critical importance of data-gathering techniques which are culturally appropriate and the need to make language problematical is also illustrated in this study. To assist Aboriginal people to successfully access and challenge the dominant society, education processes which systematically deconstruct and make explicit hegemonic processes and the social construction of power relations in Australian society are suggested.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
United Nations SDGs: Goal 4: Quality Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Currie, Jan and Warren, Carol
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