Family affairs: An historical anthropology of state practice and Aboriginal agency in a rural town, North Queensland

Babidge, Sally Marie (2004) Family affairs: An historical anthropology of state practice and Aboriginal agency in a rural town, North Queensland. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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This thesis is an historical anthropology of power, a study of the relations between the state and Aboriginal family in Charters Towers, a rural town of approximately 9,000 people, 135km south west of Townsville, North Queensland. In this thesis I argue that the state/society relationship is mutually (if unequally) constituted, and that the relationship (in practice, in discourse, and in the imagination) operates at many levels. The thesis takes up critical evaluations of the anthropological research on family/kinship in rural Aboriginal Australia through an ethnographic study of the practices of family and belonging. I begin by examining the nature of the frontier, in the construction of knowledge across the frontier and the early practices of the state and Aboriginal people in the reproductions of cultural and social boundaries. The reproduction of Aboriginal difference is institutionalised at the turn of the 20th Century when the state creates specific legislation to control Aboriginal people under the rhetoric of ‘protection’. Subsequent state policies of ‘assimilation’ and ‘self-determination’ are seen as extension of measures of control, although practised by state bureaucracies in novel ways. Under ‘recognition’, in the era of Native Title, Aboriginal difference is ‘recognised’ in terms of concepts of ‘traditional culture’: a static de-historicised Aboriginality with which Aboriginal people identify as well as subvert and resist. In the thesis I examine how Aboriginal families are produced and reproduced in ways which are enmeshed in state practice as well as constituted by practice identified as particularly Aboriginal. Utilising archival sources produced by the colonial state, as well as published histories, oral history and ethnography, I analyse the complexities of state intervention into Aboriginal people’s lives and Aboriginal discourse and practice in response to these measures. An ethnographic study of everyday articulations of ‘family’ and of events such as meetings and funerals, demonstrates that relations of kinship are formed and reformed through frequent performance, which as practice creates and recreates the terms of such relations. My engagement with these arguments in relation to Australian Aboriginal anthropology, is distinct in its analysis of the role of power outside of the resistance/domination duality.

Item ID: 942
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Ethnographic study, Practices of family and belonging, Relations between the state and Aboriginal family, Charters Towers, State intervention into Aboriginal people’s lives, Role of power outside of the resistance/domination duality, Aboriginal difference
Date Deposited: 04 Oct 2006
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1601 Anthropology > 160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology @ 0%
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