research on Indigenous issues has been extensively funded over nearly forty years by a special agency, such assured funding has rarely been available to those working on immigration and other non-Indigenous issues. The Bureau of Immigration Research, the most recent and successful of the specialist government funding agencies, was closed, as was its predecessor, the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs, after only a relatively short existence. These closures highlight the difficulties confronting those commissioning, and undertaking, policy-oriented research in a sensitive and publicly important policy area such as immigration. While researchers working with Indigenous groups have not faced the same challenges related to the policy relevance of their research, they have had to address perhaps even more important challenges concerning the relationship between the researcher and the researched.
Despite these challenges, for half a century, and longer in the case of research involving the Indigenous population, Australian researchers have assembled a highly impressive body of research data, which has placed them at the forefront of international theoretical developments. However, in contrast to the nineteenth century, when data from the Aboriginal population provided the basis for major theoretical treatises, the primary scholarly interest in the contemporary data is located in Australia. This is not because the themes explored in the research are not relevant elsewhere. Indeed, many of the issues concerning land rights or immigration settlement are high on the political and research agendas in other countries. A partial explanation is that national institutional and historical contexts are of particular significance for ethnic and race relations. Recognition of this limits the direct transferability of research findings from one society or country to another. There are also limitations associated with research whose strength lies in its detailed description of specific events and circumstances, and where the more general conceptual and theoretical significance of these events and circumstances is not emphasised. However, another important factor limiting the audience for much Australian research involves academic publishing and the limited opportunities for Australian research, especially monograph-length publications, to attract the attention of international publishing outlets. The reputation of Australian research on immigration and Indigenes ensures that access to international publishing is not, perhaps, as difficult as in some other research areas.
One emergent trend that may create greater opportunities for Australian research to reach an international audience is the growing international interest in comparative research among policy-makers and theorists. Also valuable may be conceptual approaches that recognise and explore the transnational linkages between ethnic and immigrant groups. Perhaps an even more important outcome of these trends is that they can contribute to ensuring that Australian research remains at the forefront of new theoretical and conceptual approaches in ethnic relations and immigration.
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Publication information: Book title: The Cambridge Handbook of the Social Sciences in Australia. Contributors: Ian McAllister - Editor, Steve Dowrick - Editor, Riaz Hassan - Editor. Publisher: Cambridge University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2003. Page number: 585.
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