Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

An Investigation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Men's Learning through Men's Sheds in Australia

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

An Investigation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Men's Learning through Men's Sheds in Australia

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study builds on understandings of bow learning occurs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men in Men's Groups and Sheds across Australia. Wenger's (1998) model of mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire provides the theoretical framework to underpin this study. Qualitative methods are presented and analysed; methods comprise yarning circles (focus groups) and semi-structured interviews with IS groups and 45 men. Findings reveal that Men's Groups and Sheds provide a safe and conducive environment for men to yarn and learn new skills about educational, employment and economic matters and enhance their social learning and ability to reconnect with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditions and culture. Men's Groups and Sheds are a unique and culturally sensitive way to provide Indigenous men with the skills that may lead to employment. The improvement of the social determinants of Indigenous men's lives is critical to enhancing their employability.

Introduction

This qualitative study explores and reports on a model of community learning practice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, communicated through the various and complex social determinants of their lives that support and enhance their needs and wellbeing. Learning that happens in these communities of practice embodies fluid developmental activities carried out in Men's Groups/Sheds, which are the catalysts for men's learning. According to Wenger (2000:229), communities of practice are 'formed communities [of human beings] that share cultural practices reflecting their collective learning: from a tribe around a cave fire ... to a community of engineers interested in brake design'. Communities of practice are about the relationships among individuals in a particular community that may expand to a 'constellation' of communities, such as groups of Indigenous communities, with common interests (Wenger et al. 2002). Given that Indigenous culture is collectivist in nature, social relationships are critical to traditional learning and community wellbeing (Arney and Westby 2012). The main goal of the study is to examine affordances for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men's informal learning by extending understandings of communities of practice in Men's Groups/Sheds. The social nature of the learning that happens encompasses structure, culture and the men's social relationships (Giddens 1991; Lave and Wenger 1991). The study is guided by the following research question: 'how do Indigenous men learn and improve their lives through communities of practice in Men's Sheds'? We employ a qualitative method underpinned by semi-structured interviews and yarning circles (focus groups) with 15 communities from urban, rural and remote areas throughout Australia.

When we use the term 'Indigenous' throughout this paper, we are referring to Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people and their ancestors. The plight of Australia's Indigenous men has been well documented (AIHW 2006). Health, economic, political, social and cultural issues continue to impact on Indigenous communities throughout Australia (Adams 2006; Ellemor 2005; Briscoe 2000; McCoy 2006; van Holst and Clague 2005). Indigenous Men's Groups and Sheds are providing men with opportunities to get together, learn how to deal with social and health issues, and share stories, as well as affording them employment opportunities (Cavanagh and Bartram 2013). This approach offers Indigenous men the opportunity to engage with an effective strategy to manage the social determinants of their lives.

The Men's Shed is a grassroots community movement that provides opportunities for all men (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) to gather and become involved in various activities in a collegial and supportive environment (AMSA 2013a). Men's Sheds began to open in 2006 but there is evidence of groups of men working together in sheds dating back to the 1990s. …

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