Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

National and Cultural Identities: Introduction

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

National and Cultural Identities: Introduction

Article excerpt

As guest editor of this special issue on national and cultural identities, I was prepared to interpret the theme broadly and to include papers that analysed the identity constructions of any type of human collectivity -- whether defined by culture, class, geography or special interest. It turned out, however, that the final papers selected for inclusion, and, indeed, the majority of papers submitted, dealt with an ethnic or national group. This focus is not surprising given the contemporary global pertinence of issues of ethnic tension.

Despite its relative harmony, especially in recent times, Australia has by no means remained untouched by such tensions. Terra Nullius, the White Australia policy, the Stolen Generation, the internment of British subjects from Italian and German ancestry during World War Two: these are key historical examples of the racist practices that have helped shape this nation. To this list can be added contemporary examples, including Aboriginal imprisonment rates, the rise of the One Nation Party and the particularly volatile manifestations of long distance nationalisms (like the pro-Milosevic and pro-Ocalan rallies, cf Skrbis 1999). At the same time, Australia is often held up as a shining example of a successful multicultural society, boasting one of the most harmonious heterogenous populations in the world.

The WA editorial board proposed this special issue because they thought it important that the AJSI consider the question of identities in response to the most recent expression of racist politics in Australian society -- `the Pauline Hanson phenomenon'. Although this journal generally concentrates on topics directly related to the more applied branches of the social sciences, it was thought appropriate to make space for analyses of cultural identities, which, while not necessarily a focus of practice, are nevertheless pertinent to it. Thus, this AJSI volume includes papers that deal less specifically with public policy and more overtly with the underlying principles of imagined communities (Anderson 1983) and social constructions of reality. Clearly, it is of the utmost importance that academics (in whatever combination of practice and theory) work towards a greater understanding of identities, in this, the age of migrancy (cf Bottomley 1992). The process of moving to another place, or even of living in a country that hosts people from other places, brings questions of cultural and national identity into sharp relief and inevitably results in reconfigurations of these identities for both the newcomer and the local. It is clear, just from watching the evening news, that these issues are set to characterise at least the beginning of the new millennium.

In addition, the board wanted to give new researchers in this burgeoning field an opportunity to publish their research. All the contributions to this issue (except for Collins's review article) are by early career researchers. They represent an interdisciplinary mix of social scientists including anthropologists, historians, political scientists and sociologists. By `new researcher', the board had intended junior academic staff and postgraduate students. I think it is important to note that several expressions of interest were received from the former, followed eventually by disappointed apologies due, invariably, to heavy work-loads. Consequently, most of the papers included here are by postgraduate students who, despite the difficulties of doctoral study, tend to have more time than staff (and new staff especially) to read and write for publication. It is rather ominous that the destructive impact of the current academic system on the intellectual capital of junior staff should be evident in an issue dedicated to their work.

When discussing the appropriateness of papers for inclusion in the special issue, it transpired that the editorial board shared Professor Laksiri Jayasuriya's view that the AJSI should develop a broader regional focus. …

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