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Australia re-oriented: Negotiating Australia's Asian future from 1983-1996

Frost, Stephen (2000) Australia re-oriented: Negotiating Australia's Asian future from 1983-1996. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis is an examination of the discourse on Asia in Australia from 1983 to 1996. It starts from a position that Asia is a linguistic convention, an interpretation, and as such exists as an interpretive space in which certain representations of Asia are negotiated and contested. I argue that the reality of Asia during the period under review existed due to a complex network of language, terms, ideas and interests. It is the contention of this thesis that an examination of Asia as a linguistic convention allows us to witness the fluidity, heterogeneity and fragility of an imagined Asia.

My methodology owes much to a body of literature which has been concerned to describe the process by which texts represent and translate something we might call reality. Like the theorists I discuss in Chapter 1,1 am interested in the ways in which a complex actor world is reduced to a relatively simple formulation. This thesis charts the simplification of Asia from a complex world consisting of a web of intersecting relations to a number of less complicated representations such as 'economic powerhouse', 'region to which Australia should belong', location of superior work and cultural practices', or 'threat'.

In describing this simplification I have chosen a method that we could call a sociology of translation. Described in Chapter 1, this method enables the observer to chart the process of translation through four stages during which the identity of actors, the possibility of interaction and the margins of manoeuvre are negotiated and delimited. These stages are: problematisation, in which problems are defined and solutions conceived; interessement, when actors are locked into place; enrolment, at which point actors accept that the solutions conceived are correct; and mobilisation,
when a range of actors can be relied upon to properly represent the actor world (in this case Asia, Australia, and their relations) and not betray the interests of others.

I argue in this thesis that the most effective site in which these four moments of translation take place is in the media. Using an analytical method that investigates the media's role in the cultural rationalisation of society through publicity campaigns, the thesis suggests that Australia's future in Asia during the period under review can be understood by a careful analysis of the contest for Asia in that sphere. If Australian society is administered in this way, then concentrating on Asia as it appears in the media seems a fruitful approach.

The argument presented here is that the process of translation was based on two connected practices which give us cause to consider more broadly an ethics of representation. The first entailed condemning aspects of contemporary Asia-Australian relations as problematic, and thus jeopardising closer links with the region. This involved on the one hand the supplanting of 'false' images of Asia with 'true'; on the other hand it was characterised by the formulation of an Australian ideal type - the Ugly Australian ignorant, insensitive and possibly racist towards Asia. The second practice interpreted specific forms of behaviour as objects of ethical concern and attention. The question that requires consideration is how Asia, and in particular Asia-Australia relations, became the object of Australian moral solicitude?

In each of the chapters that follows, I chart Australia's discourse on Asia during the eighties and nineties. It is my contention that the reorientation of Australia towards Asia during this period was not something natural, nor were the reasons for the shift self evident. By examining the terrain in general terms (Part I) and four specific case studies (Part II), the thesis describes the process by which Australia reoriented and negotiated its Asian future.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and 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): O'Regan, Tom and Berger, Mark
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