The Meaningful Difference of ‘Aboriginal Dysfunction’ and the Neoliberal ‘Mainstream’
AbstractOnce restricted to ‘expert’ medical and functionalist psycho-sociological terminology, ‘dysfunctionality’ seems to have known a surge of success in the last twenty years within common language to refer to perceived pathological or ‘maladaptive’ aspects of individual and social behaviour. Within the Australian context, ongoing public debates on socio-economic and health issues within Australian Indigenous communities now commonly feature the term ‘dysfunctional’ to qualify the various ‘problems’ which are popularly assumed to be prevalent within Indigenous communities, from high rates of unemployment to alcohol abuse and ‘domestic violence’. Public commentators’ recourse to the term has been particularly frequent around the time of the 2007 Northern Territory Intervention. Public outcry about the ‘dysfunction’ of Aboriginal communities has operated as justification for state intervention, with a strong emphasis on disciplining and reforming behaviours and inducing individual ‘responsibilities’ (this is particularly evident in the restriction of individual welfare income spending to the purchase of food and other essential goods – see Lattas & Morris 2010a, 2010b). While arguments on which it was based occupied a growing place in public debate since the 1990s (see Austin-Broos 2011), the Intervention can be viewed as a landmark in the gaining in public authority of a particular type of discourse about remote Indigenous communities, a discourse which portrays these communities as maladaptive ‘exceptions’ to the ‘mainstream’ (depictions of Aboriginal communities in terms of pathology, however, are not limited to ‘classical’ remote Northern Territory communities, as we shall see with the case of Palm Island, located in North East Queensland). Such contrastive discourse is not strictly limited to, but particularly evident in, neoliberal accounts of contemporary conditions within Indigenous communities.
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