Agency and structural constraints: Indigenous peoples and the Australian settler-state in North Queensland

Page, Alexander, and Petray, Theresa (2016) Agency and structural constraints: Indigenous peoples and the Australian settler-state in North Queensland. Settler Colonial Studies, 6 (1). pp. 88-98.

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Abstract

In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have long been subjected to attempts at extermination, exclusion, and assimilation, but continually resist these efforts. This history is woven through the social fabric of Australia. This paper is a single case study which looks at contemporary race relations in Townsville, Queensland, and describes current settler-colonial settings in terms of structure and agency. We focus primarily on agency as a strengths-based approach, but recognise the structural constraints Indigenous people face. Based on in-depth interviews and extensive fieldwork, we explore Indigenous perceptions of agency and constraints. Indigenous people have many ways to exercise agency, and our focus is on those who identify as activists and advocates. Participants expressed their capacity to undertake social action as high and varied in method, articulating agency as activism or advocacy. These agents view the state as both an enabler and a constraint, largely exclusionary of indigeneity. The settler-state only increases the capability for social action when it chooses to do so and has been and continues to be largely exclusionary of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Significant to agents is the local context of Townsville as a racist city distant from political decision-making. Participants describe experiences of continuing covert or implicit racism and 'active apathy' held by the wider non-Indigenous community of Townsville. Despite these constraints, Indigenous agents creatively adapt such structures in order to exercise their agency.

Item ID: 36749
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1838-0743
Keywords: settler-state; structure; agency; activism; social change; exclusion
Funders: James Cook University (JCU)
Projects and Grants: JCU Rising Star Award
Date Deposited: 02 Feb 2015 00:00
FoR Codes: 44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4410 Sociology > 441004 Social change @ 50%
45 INDIGENOUS STUDIES > 4505 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, society and community > 450524 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sociological studies @ 50%
SEO Codes: 94 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 9401 Community Service (excl. Work) > 940102 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Development and Welfare @ 100%
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