Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Histories of Indigenous-Settler Relations: Reflections on Internal Colonialism and the Hybrid Economy

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Histories of Indigenous-Settler Relations: Reflections on Internal Colonialism and the Hybrid Economy

Article excerpt

Abstract: To what extent can models of economic hybridity provide a theoretical basis for histories of Indigenous-settler relations that emerged as Indigenous labour came to be incorporated into settler economies, and the transformation of those relationships through time? This paper reflects upon this question by sketching some theoretical links between Jeremy Beckett's application of the theory of internal colonialism and Jon Altman's model of the hybrid economy. As part of a greater legacy, Beckett's analysis of the engagement between Torres Strait Islanders and the pearling industry served as a corrective to the general orthodoxy in which Indigenous Australians were considered to be peripheral to the settler economy. The two approaches are discussed in relation to recent ethnographic and archival research on the history of Indigenous-settler relations in the Eurobodalla region of the New South Wales south coast.

Introduction

This paper aims to reintroduce theoretical models to debates about the incorporation of Indigenous labour and settler-Indigenous relations in Australia by contrasting Altman's (2001) model of the hybrid economy with Beckett's (1977, 1982) adaptation of the theory of internal colonialism from the model developed by Wolpe (1975). (1) Beckett's use of the internal colonialism model, along with similar adaptations by Hartwig (1978) and May (1983), was a key shift away from previous debates around Indigenous economic and social relations that were heavily wedded to Elkin's (1951) notions of predetermined economic relations and monolithic states. Peterson's (1993) work on the domestic moral economy and demand sharing was also significant for re-theorising dynamic Indigenous economic and social domains. Rowse's (1998) contribution, which examined the intersection of policy with dynamic Indigenous cultural forms, was important because it also helped to move the debate beyond preset cultural states and economic relations of the type influenced by Elkin (1951). More recently, Altman's (2001) model of the hybrid economy provided a valuable contribution to understanding the range of economic strategies Indigenous Australians utilise on a daily basis, and includes overlaps and logical relationships between customary, market and state sectors of economic activity. It follows that these intersecting and overlapping fields of economic activity correspond to intercultural relationships that develop as Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people go about their daily business of living.

A significant body of literature in Australian anthropology incorporates analyses of historical processes to provide texture and depth to ethnographic engagements in the present context. Recently, Austin-Broos (2009) has produced an important work of ethnohistory that contextualises present conditions in Indigenous Central Australian communities in a broader history of socio-cultural change. Austin-Broos develops the notion of 'ontological shift' to provide an analysis of the way in which the world and being of the Western Arrernte has changed since the arrival of explorers and pastoralists in the 1860s. While Austin-Broos' theoretical lens, a 'phenomenology of the subject' (Austin-Broos 2009:5), provides a deeply sensitive analysis of the complexities of social change for the Western Arrernte, an orientation towards historical contextualisation is not entirely new.

A strand of Australianist anthropology emerged in the 1980s that explored the various forms of Indigenous accommodation and resistance to the effects of colonial and postcolonial interventions by state and non-state actors. In particular, extensive studies by Beckett (1987), Cowlishaw (1988) and Morris (1989) brought new theoretical perspectives to bear on unequal power relationships in the historical and contemporary context. The emergence of this strand of literature gave rise to an enduring tension in Australianist anthropology between those who give contrasting weight to colonial oppression and racism on one hand, and those who focus on Indigenous agency, adaptation and voluntarism on the other (see, for example, Morton 1994). …

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