The Pulse of Policy: Mapping Movement in the Australian Indigenous Policy World


A “policy world” is a complex and messy assemblage of peoples, places, events, processes, procedures, discourses and artefacts (Shore and Wright 2011). In this thesis I explore aspects of the intercultural world of Australian Indigenous policy by locating and following its “pulse” (Stoler 2009). A policy’s pulse is defined as the ways and means by which that policy moves in and through the policy world assemblage. In this thesis, I track this policy via an analysis of parliamentary articulations of Aboriginality and an examination of the self-governed presentations of three bureaucratic subjectivities who participate in Indigenous Affairs. The journey begins in Canberra, Australia’s capital city, in the chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate where I analyse the speech acts of parliamentarians. I identify the production of a particular “Regime of Truth” (Foucault [1977] 1980a) that frames Indigenous problems, articulates imagined solutions and presents the ideal Indigenous subjectivity. Significantly, the Regime of Truth is constructed through parliamentarians’ personal narratives about interactions with, and knowledge about, Indigenous people. The thesis then turns to investigate the routine, ordinary and everyday activities of three groups of bureaucrats: senior public servants of Commonwealth departments and agencies who appear before Senate Estimate committees; employees of the Commonwealth Ombudsman who investigate complaints about government administration and conduct outreach complaint clinics to remote Indigenous communities; and Resident Service Providers who are the street-level bureaucrats (Lipsky 1980) (teachers, police officers and nurses) working and residing in remote communities. I argue that certain documents and discourses are vital to the way these bureaucrats present themselves in policy spaces, enact policy processes and interact with Indigenous people. Further, by following the pulse of Indigenous policy I demonstrate how the political and bureaucratic figures examined in this thesis interact with and perpetuate forms of knowledge about Aboriginal people. Each figure presents this knowledge in different ways which, to varying degrees, impacts upon wider policy processes. This variety of perspectives of knowledge is mobilised in the concluding chapter where I draw the seemingly disparate political and bureaucratic actors and locations of the policy world together. Ultimately, I argue that tracing the pulse of policy from conception in Canberra through to application in remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory is a step towards understanding the “cultural borderlands” of the Indigenous policy world; “the arenas of interaction and interchange” between Indigenous people, politicians and bureaucrats (Cowlishaw 2003: 11) and the entanglements between forms of knowledge, truth and governance

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The Australian National University

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This paper was published in The Australian National University.

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