Development, Environmental and Indigenous People's Movements in Australia: Issues of Autonomy and Identity

Debal Singharoy
2012 Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: An Interdisciplinary Journal  
Indigenous movements in Australia are at a crossroad in their efforts to protect their intrinsic relations with land, nature and culture on the one hand and engaging with the reconciliatory and developmental dynamics of the state on the other. This paper examines the process of articulation and rejuvenation of indigenous identities that negotiate across culture, environment, sustainable livelihood and the developmental needs of the community. Locating these movements within wider
more » ... ider socio-historical contexts it focuses on the tensions between a proconservation and a pro-development approach in grass roots indigenous movements. Three case studies are presented -drawn from the Sydney region. One indigenous group's struggle against a housing development, defined as a threat to indigenous and environmental heritage, is contrasted with an indigenous group that is internally divided over an agreement with a mining developer, and a third group that has engaged in constructing housing and welfare projects, and in part has itself become a developer. The article thereby addresses the reformulation of indigenous identities in Australian society as indigenous peoples' movements have renegotiated the contending pressures of environment and development. The Problem and the Perspective As collective identity is constructed through contemporaneous processes of daily interactions and engagements and through the historicity of these processes it gets negotiated with local conditions, historical experience and interconnections with the wider society. As a complex and dynamic process of acquiring collective selfhood and constructing culturally-defined meaning with a sense of solidarity, identity also gets reformed and rejuvenated in the process of change and transformation in society. Identities are thus continually shifting descriptions of us (Hall 1996) , and 'can be defined as differential probability' (Stryker 1990, pp. 873-74), formed and reformed with varieties of alternative 'choices based on reason, tradition or else' (Sen 1999, p. 22). These choices may be formed with several cross-cutting discourses of identity namely, class, gender, race, age, and ethnicity at a given time and space. They can also be articulated in different ways. Hence it is the very plasticity of identity that makes its cultural and political significance, since the shifting and changing character of identities chronicles the way that it gets transformed over time (Hall 1996) .
doi:10.5130/ccs.v4i1.2185 fatcat:6ntq3ekfi5dllhpwft7sayjcam