Published on InTouch (

Economy, law and self-determination: a central Australian case



Contemporary Cultures and Societies seminar series

Presented by Professor Emeritus Dianne Austin-Broos, University of Sydney.

The paper departs from the observation that law and economy are dual conditions both for colonialism and de-colonisation. I consider two forms of governance imposed on the Western Arrernte people of central Australia in the periods of assimilation and self-determination respectively. One form of governance involved the Hermannsburg Lutheran mission and its domestic economy; the other, federal and territory secular administration in the midst of a cash and commodity world. The experience of the Arrernte shows that just as the mission was not alone in radically changing Western Arrernte culture, so the current circumstances of the Western Arrernte have not been the product simply of the law and rights that self-determination brought.
In one context, a voracious pastoralism and, on the other, inclusion but marginalisation in a cash economy have been central forces in the Arrernte's lives. I deploy a concept of ontology, derived from both Heidegger and Marx, in order to explore the impact on a people's experience of radical economic change. The discussion raises issues of change, materiality, assimilation and self-determination as they apply to the Western Arrernte today. Although their history is a specific one, an implication of the paper is that these issues apply in different but related ways to other remote Aboriginal groups.

Dianne Austin-Broos is Professor Emeritus in Anthropology at the University of Sydney. Prior to that she held posts at the University of Chicago, the University of the West Indies, New York University and the University of Sydney where she held the Chair in Anthropology from 1997. Her work has considered two major field areas and it has focused on issues of class, race, religion (Pentecostalism and Fundamentalism), the relation between culture and economy, in the history of anthropology, both in the trans-Atlantic world and in Australia. Her most recent work is among the Western Arrernte at Hermannsburg, CA. Professor Austin-Broos is extensively published, and she is presently completing a book entitled Critical Silences: why academics had not very much to say about a crisis in remote indigenous Australia. Professor Austin-Broos has twice been President of the Australian Anthropological Society and is a fellow of the Australian Social Science Academy.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012 | 5.15 - 7.00pm

Faculty Function Room, Fifth Floor, John Medley Building

Location map

Registration opens on Thursday, 1 March and closes on Wednesday, 21 March 2012.

Contact Erin Eades in the School of Social and Political Sciences at or 8344 6564.

Connect with us Follow the Melbourne Uni Alumni Facebook page  Follow the University of Melbourne Alumni LinkedIn group  View the University of Melbounre Alumni photostream  Follow us on Twitter
Date created: 27 July 2010
Last modified: 22 September 2011
Authoriser: Director of Alumni Relations
Maintainer: Alumni Relations
The University of Melbourne ABN: 84 002 705 224
CRICOS Provider Number 00116K (visa information)
Accessibility | Disclaimer & copyrightPrivacy |  Website terms of use