Cast all imaginations: Umbi speak

Bainbridge, Roxanne (2009) Cast all imaginations: Umbi speak. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Cast All Imaginations speaks from the heart of human experience as a contemporary narrative of Aboriginal women’s agency in Australia. It offers a unique opportunity to discover the incredible wellsprings of strength, resilience and hope found among Aboriginal women by examining their potential to live lives of their own choosing and that reflect their own valued ways of knowing, doing and being in the world – their ways of transcending survival, flourishing in life.

While these extraordinary women inhabit lifeworlds unprecedented in a colonised space, their potential and productivity is not always revealed in the demographic portraits of all Aboriginal Australians. Pockets of survival marred by social exclusion and entrenched disadvantage continue to stain the landscape of contemporary Australian society. For Aboriginal people, mere survival, poor quality of life has long been associated with social exclusion - colonisation laid the foundations for it; misguided policy and programs perpetuated and exacerbated those experiences; continual pledges of change for Aboriginal people made by successive governments have generally not come to fruition; and the personal incapacity of many Aboriginal people themselves now consolidates and sustains those experiences. Thus, this research narrative was prompted by the need for Aboriginal people to take up the challenge of change and improve the circumstances of their own lives within the context of oppressive and restrictive policies and social practices. It sought to provide a response to social exclusion by identifying practical applications based on empirically founded knowledge, which aligns with, and holds meaning for, Aboriginal people and their aspirations of living healthy and productive lives and becoming self-determining subjects in a contemporary world.

Methodologically, most research concerning Aboriginal issues overwhelmingly emanates from a deficit model of research which identifies the ‘Aboriginal problem’ and imposes a White cultural framework of meaning and interpretation to the findings. As a result, this type of research not only views the issue in problematic terms, but also fails to adequately capture the perspective of the Aboriginal research population. In contrast, this study was a strengths-based model of research which let Umbi speak, listened carefully and analysed and interpreted the findings through the eyes of an Aboriginal woman. The imperative in this research was to understand how Aboriginal women themselves have developed narratives of agency and navigate the process of change to achieve quality of life so as to know what is required to teach others who have been less fortunate, to become self-directing and ultimately garner the skills to change the circumstances of their existence. Therefore, the study aimed to explore and document the specific strategies orchestrated by a particular cohort of Aboriginal women who have adequately transitioned the process of change within the bounds of patriarchy and colonisation. The purpose of the study was to develop a substantive theory of these phenomena as they evolved in naturalist settings, in the everyday. Critically examined was the performance of agency for urban-dwelling Aboriginal women at the nexus of social discourse, power and personal experience in the contemporary context. The study, grounded in a critical emancipatory imperative, makes use of the tools of feminism and poststructuralism to interrogate the performance of Aboriginal women as agents in a contemporary narrative of development with a view to identifying the underlying social psychological process.

A constructivist grounded theory was used in the analysis of life-history narrative interviews conducted with twenty Aboriginal women. ‘Being Aboriginal’ infused the lifeworld of the women, who participated in this study, with meaning and strengthened their life purpose. Performing Aboriginality was conceptually identified as the core category and encompassed the women’s concern for carving out a fulfilling life and carrying out their perceived responsibilities as Aboriginal women. The analysis also led to the identification of a specific ecological model of Aboriginal women’s empowerment, conceptually identified as Becoming Empowered. The subsequent process, represented by a bricolagé of four signifying facets, articulated how the participant women developed multiple models of personal and socio-cultural adaptation and growth, which was negotiated through retrospective mechanisms and in interactions between self and others, self and history and self and their environment and which, in turn, led to the exercise of personal agency. The substantive theory of Becoming Empowered, while confirming much of the extant literature on empowerment, also offers new insights and makes a unique contribution to theories of empowerment by identifying new dimensions − the process was underpinned by an ethics of care and morality and a spiritual sensibility. The study can be acknowledged as an original endeavour in the area of Aboriginal women’s empowerment. Significantly, the findings have practical implications for improving quality of life by informing the development of social and health policies and interventions that resonate with Aboriginal women’s ways of knowing, doing and being.

Item ID: 8235
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Aboriginal women, grounded theory, agency, empowerment, change, narratives, life histories, quality of life, social exclusion, social policies, social practices, feminism, colonisation
Sensitivity Note: Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people are advised that there is a possibility this document contains the transcribed voices of people who have passed away.
Date Deposited: 24 Mar 2010 23:14
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1699 Other Studies in Human Society > 169902 Studies of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Society @ 34%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1699 Other Studies in Human Society > 169901 Gender Specific Studies @ 33%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160806 Social Theory @ 33%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society @ 50%
94 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 9401 Community Service (excl. Work) > 940102 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Development and Welfare @ 50%
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