Shifting the lens: Indigenous research into mainstream Australian culture

Muller, Lorraine (2017) Shifting the lens: Indigenous research into mainstream Australian culture. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Mainstream culture is positioned, in research and literature, as the normal by which all others are viewed and studied. Indigenous Australians have long been the focus of research that is designed by and for members of non-Indigenous mainstream Australian society. Before this research, no one has considered that Indigenous Australians might have questions about certain aspects and protocols of non-Indigenous mainstream culture that are not clear. This study shifts the research lens to explore the values and principles of mainstream non-Indigenous Australian culture, from an Indigenous perspective.

Through its foundation in my previous study, the need for research into mainstream Australian culture that was designed by and for Indigenous Australians was first identified (Muller, 2010, 2014). This new research is initiated by Indigenous people, for the primary benefit of Indigenous people. It contributes a greater understanding of mainstream Australian culture and addresses an element that is missing from literature and current tertiary curricula. For example, cross-cultural programs and courses are available to assist non-Indigenous people develop an understanding of Indigenous Australians, yet there are no such resources to assist Indigenous people to understand mainstream non-Indigenous society.

Decolonisation formed the theoretical framework for this research. Centred within the third stage of "Healing and Forgiveness: Reclaiming Wellbeing and Harmony" (Muller, 2014, pp. 60 & 217-218) it used a qualitative Indigenous research method grounded on respect. Participants of this study were professionals or students from a variety of disciplines in the helping professions, who self-identified as belonging to mainstream non-Indigenous Australian culture. Recruitment was Australia wide and had a selective focus aimed at reducing or excluding participants who expressed explicit racism. Conversation promoting questions were provided to prospective participants and assisted in the enlistment of generous people who were prepared to look deep within themselves and their worldview to assist my inquiry. People shared their knowledge, either with individual interviews or by being a member of either of the two focus groups.

In many areas participants found it challenging to explain what it meant to belong to mainstream Australian culture because they rarely had to reflect on it in the depth I asked of them. Exploring the similarities and differences between their own culture and theory and Indigenous Australian culture and theory, using an Indigenous model of circular learning, provided opportunities for the mutual learning that fulfilled one of the stated aims of this research.

Discussed in a culturally safe environment, some of the intricacies of what it means to be a member of non-Indigenous mainstream Australian culture were identified. Issues such as non-Indigenous individualism, use of time, family and relationship with Elders emerged where there are differences but also some similarities. The meaning of respect was another significant point of difference. For non-Indigenous Australians, a person should respect the law, whereas, for Indigenous Australians, respect is law.

While yarning about respect and exploring Indigenous and non-Indigenous understanding of it, an exciting new framework for non-Indigenous people engaging with decolonisation emerged. This proved useful in building greater inter-cultural understanding, especially in the focus groups. This research has demonstrated that fair-minded non-Indigenous mainstream peoples are interested in working to build a better relationship with Indigenous Australians. However, the current cross-cultural training processes do not nurture all of this goodwill because some people leave unfulfilled and unsure of how to progress. This study identifies a new and additional aspect of building on that goodwill and develops inter-cultural respect.

Reversing the research lens to focus on mainstream Australian culture, from an Indigenous point of inquiry, is timely as the wider Australian society is asked to consider the implications of Australia's Referendum Council's 2017, historic 'Uluru Statement from the Heart.' Recent usage of the Yolngu word 'Makarrata' and talk of treaties indicates that this research is well positioned to contribute to the promotion of harmony and wellbeing between coloniser and colonised peoples, based on respect.

Item ID: 53362
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Aboriginal Australians; cross–cultural studies; cross culture; decolonization; Indigenous Australians; mainstream culture; non-Indigenous Australians; research; Torres Strait Islanders
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Sensitivity Note: Restricted access: Mediated access only due to cultural sensitivities.
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Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Chapter 7: Muller, Lorraine (2016) Preparing to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island (Indigenous) peoples: decolonisation for social work practice. In: Maidment, J., and Egan, R., (eds.) Practice Skills for Social Work & Welfare. Allen and Unwin, Australia, pp. 84-101.

Date Deposited: 01 May 2018 02:18
FoR Codes: 20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2002 Cultural Studies > 200201 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies @ 60%
20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2002 Cultural Studies > 200209 Multicultural, Intercultural and Cross-cultural Studies @ 40%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9502 Communication > 950201 Communication Across Languages and Culture @ 30%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9599 Other Cultural Understanding > 959999 Cultural Understanding not elsewhere classified @ 70%
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