Part 6, 15 February 2021

Reconciliation Action Plans, Indigenous Studies and the Australian Neo-Liberal University

Dr Michelle Carey


This presentation considers the themes of ‘identity’, ‘difference’ and ‘belonging’ via a critical engagement with Reconciliation Action Plans, or ‘RAPs’.  Specifically, explicates the issues perceived as arising out of a tightening of the nexus between the paradigmatic influence of RAPs in the conceptualisation and operationalisation of reconciliation and the increasingly precarious position of the discipline of Australian Indigenous Studies in the Australian neo-liberal university.  In so doing, this discussion makes tangential links between the themes of this current series of Philosophy Circle lectures and those of 2019.   In the first instance, this discussion is prompted by the observation that contemporary governance processes whose authority is instantiated by the politics of identity rely on an overdetermined understanding of identity as absolute difference. In the Australian neo-liberal university, where governing for Indigenous difference now stands as a substitute for Indigenous Studies disciplinary expertise, the necessary problematisation of Indigenous identity as absolute is denied. In view of the importance of Indigenous Studies to cultivate in those who encounter it a “sensibility or disposition” towards Australia’s intercultural citizenry (Moore, Pybus, Rolls and Moltow 2017, 8-9), this discussion explores the implications of a diminished Indigenous Studies for our understanding of citizenship as a site of our political belonging. The overarching theoretical framework for this discussion is Wendy Brown’s seminal work on the impact of neo-liberalism on democracy and citizenship, Undoing the Demos (2015).  Guided by her contention that the economisation of education, and the radical transformation of its role in the cultivation of knowledge in preparation for citizenship to the development of human capital acquisition in the service of the economy, it is argued that RAPs, in their governing for Indigenous difference, undermine the role of Indigenous Studies in complicating our understanding Indigenous identities and issues. In so doing, they legitimise the reduction of the sophisticated level of knowledge required to negotiate the complexity of Indigenous identities and issues into easily insertable gobbets of information about Indigenous difference that purportedly meets employers’ and other economic needs.

Terry Moore, Carol Pybus, Mitchell Rolls and David Moltow. Australian Indigenous Studies: Research and Practice (Peter Lang, Bern: 2017).

Wendy Brown. Undoing the Demos: Neo Liberalism’s Stealth Revolution (Zone Books, New York: 2015).

Artwork: “Aussie Urban Art” by Leonard J Matthews is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0