American Anthropologist

The Politics of the Gap: Indigenous Australians, Liberal Multiculturalism, and the End of the Self-Determination Era

Authors

  • EMMA KOWAL

    1. NHMRC Postdoctoral Fellow, Discipline of Anthropology, School of Philosophy, Anthropology and Social Inquiry, University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia
    Search for more papers by this author

Abstract

ABSTRACT  Since the 1970s, “self-determination” has been the dominant trope for expressing national aspirations for Indigenous Australians. Through the principles of self-determination, the liberal multicultural state has attempted to deliver postcolonial justice to its first peoples. In this new century, the sheen of the self-determination era has faded. Once heralded as the antidote to the racist assimilation era, it is now depicted as the cause of social ills. In this article, I draw on an ethnographic study of White antiracists working in Indigenous health in northern Australia to analyze the brand of liberal rationality that dominated the discourse of the self-determination era. By engaging with a “tribe” of White people who identify with the aims of the self-determination era, we can decipher the logic of self-determination as an instrument of the liberal state and better understand the internal contradictions and ambiguities that have led to its recent demise.

Ancillary