Politics, Personhood and Human Rights in Aboriginal Central Australia
Stanford Studies in Human Rights
by Sarah E. Holcombe
Published by: Stanford University Press
384 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm
- ISBN: 9781503606470
- Published: July 2018
What does it mean to be a "rights-holder" and how does it come about? Remote Freedoms explores the contradictions and tensions of localized human rights work in very remote Indigenous communities.
Based on field research with Anangu of Central Australia, this book investigates how universal human rights are understood, practiced, negotiated, and challenged in concert and in conflict with Indigenous rights. Moving between communities, government, regional NGOs, and international UN forums, Sarah E. Holcombe addresses how the notion of rights plays out within the distinctive and ambivalent sociopolitical context of Australia, and focusing specifically on Indigenous women and their experiences of violence. Can the secular modern rights-bearer accommodate the ideals of the relational, spiritual Anangu person? Engaging in a translation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into the local Pintupi-Luritja vernacular and observing various Indigenous interactions with law enforcement and domestic violence outreach programs, Holcombe offers new insights into our understanding of how the global rights discourse is circulated and understood within Indigenous cultures. She reveals how, in the postcolonial Australian context, human rights are double-edged: they enforce assimilation to a neoliberal social order at the same time that they empower and enfranchise the Indigenous citizen as a political actor. Remote Freedoms writes Australia's Indigenous peoples into the international debate on localizing rights in multicultural terms.
This chapter provides a brief history of human rights and how the discourse of human rights is understood in law and policy within the Australian state. Australia's ambivalent relationship with human rights is examined, providing a backdrop to the lack of ethnographic treatments of human rights. Tracing the ethnographic focus on land rights as a form of cultural rights, it then lays the foundation for understanding how broader human rights concerns have been decoupled from Indigenous rights. Exploring the parameters for recognition of Indigenous human rights, this chapter interrogates the normative principles embodied within the human rights discourse. Considering how an Anangu person becomes a "human-rights holder," the chapter unpacks the elements that specify this type of personhood. The tensions between culture and human rights are explored via the key tenets of a human-rights-based ontology, enabling a discussion of human rights culture in relation to Anangu cultures.
This chapter examines concepts of rights that arise as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is translated into the local vernacular of Pintupi-Luritja. The semantic properties of English and possible equivalent Anangu concepts are juxtaposed in the translation context, and the limitations and possibilities of the universal human rights discourse are reimagined. This chapter then sets up the core challenges and possibilities of the local uptake of this discourse. Interrogating the assumptions embedded in the Declaration is also to interrogate the foundations of the secular modern person. Can this rights bearer accommodate the ideals of the relational spiritual Anangu person? The anthropological literature on this relational or sociocentric person is discussed. Revisiting this early ethnographic subject is essential if we are to reconsider this distinction in terms of a continuum, rather than a dichotomy and thus also to encourage a local dialogue with human rights.
This chapter explores the relationality of gender and forming and becoming an Anangu "woman" or "man." The family is one of these core sites and one of the most contested sites within the realm women's human rights. The gendered sociality of work practices are explored as sites that reinforce the status quo of gendered roles and responsibilities. This chapter also begins the discussion on women's rights as human rights by recalling the history between early feminism and the Indigenous civil rights movement within Australia. This discussion enables a consideration of the tensions between collectivist and individualist approaches to women's rights as it actively works through the idea that universal concepts, such as women's human rights, can take hold only when they are encountered within local and particular contexts. By exploring where the principles of human rights are operating in several NGOs the work of human rights is revealed.
This chapter examines the contested contours of complementarity and equality through the lens of gender by exploring how gender as a relational practice is manifest in a range of social contexts that assert gender segregation. The social ramifications of the ceremonial practices of "men's business" are explored as a paradigmatic location for making gender. Likewise, the Aboriginal English term "women's business" captures a range of practices to include female sexuality and reproductive rights. This chapter begins to specify a regional and local perspective as mediated through notions of gender complementarity, rather than equality. Although the applicability of feminism is challenged, there is a range of indicators of social transformation where these social practices of gender segregation are being modified and adapted, notably in the changing relations of reproduction. The chapter also examines the social and ontological structures that mediate violence and that have become known as "family violence."
This chapter explores the intersections among legal rights, local perceptions of social justice, and gender violence. Spousal or intimate partner violence exposes multiple sites of articulation with formal rights via the legal system at the same time as revealing Anangu responsibilities in customary terms. Anangu women's interactions with and responses to the legal system, including the police, reflect contradictory and competing discourses between family and the state system. The formal legal system representing Aboriginal people has instrumentalized women as the "victims" and men as the "perpetrators" through the extensive range of mandatory reporting and sentencing laws. This chapter specifically elaborates the ways in which rights that entail some specification of suffering, injury, or inequality compel an identity defined by subordination. Seeking to explain Anangu women's lack of compliance with pressing charges against violent spouses, the chapter considers whether mandatory reporting and mandatory sentencing reduce the suffering of victims.
This chapter examines therapeutic interventions, including the Cross Borders Indigenous Family Violence Program and the Women's Shelter outreach service. These programs and services aim, respectively, to change the status of the "perpetrator" to an empathizer and to alter the subjectivity of clients from a "victim" to an actor. Exploring these methods and approaches, the chapter analyzes the ways in which this new Aboriginal self is inscribed as the inner subjectivities of the participants/clients are managed. As these therapeutic technologies aim to foster the responsibilization discourse they must first question and dismantle the sociocentric structures of feeling that guide Anangu decision making. These programs and services closely follow the framework and concepts that underpin human rights. The role these therapeutic technologies plays in the production of individuals' "freedom to choose" and freedom to associate offers insight into the incremental transformation of Anangu subjects into human rights holders.
This chapter explores the ways in which citizenship has become the mechanism for neoliberal reform. How do the tensions in human rights as political entailments play out between the regulatory dimensions of citizenship and its emancipatory promise? The behavioral norms that this citizen has to comply with are explored in terms of rights as entailments as these unfold via the responsibilization discourse and ubiquitous working of the good governance project. This chapter ultimately asks: What are the terms for an efficacious Aboriginal politics with and against the state, and is there room to expand the political imagination to incorporate alternative terms and modalities? In the course of the case study discussion on governance, a pluralist approach is articulated as this concept is specified as "good enough" or as "effective and legitimate." It has come to incorporate the foundational dimensions of a multicultural and a self-consciously "incomplete" human rights.
The penultimate chapter returns to the sites where human rights and Indigenous human rights took their shape and continue to evolve—the United Nations Headquarters in New York City and Geneva. In discussing the soft advocacy within the UNPFII, its other roles as educatory and emancipatory through further development of the second wave Indigenism are elaborated, along with the performative aspects of these UN sites as a "public audit ritual." The multivalent concept of "good governance" is also located here. Although the methodology of this chapter has telescopic tendencies, it is also a reflection of the issues that confound the possibilities for the mobilization of this discourse to remote central Australia. A key question explored is whether and how the Indigenous human rights discourse, at this international level, circulates to remote central Australia, where arguably it is most needed.
This chapter summarizes the dimensions of human rights that underpin a diverse range of government policies, approaches, and programs in very remote central Australia. Many of these dimensions are the acknowledged public goods of accountability, representation and gender equity. For Anangu citizens the entailments of citizenship are dual edged. Whether explicit or tacit, there has been an increasing coupling of rights and duties. By exploring this discourse, the relationship between what constitutes a [human] right and what constitutes a person was revealed. This book agitates for alternative understandings of human dignity and more porous human rights that are less dependent on liberal definitions of humanity. Yet, the moral language and social justice potential of human rights has much to offer Anangu. The conclusion locates local practices that intersect with and explicitly draw from human rights norms to reveal what it takes for sociomoral normative practices to change.
Sarah E. Holcombe is Senior Research Fellow at the University of Queensland and a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University.
"A vibrant, thoughtful analysis of the political and gendered experiences of indigenous rights, human rights, and citizenship among aboriginal communities in Australia. Remote Freedoms draws on Holcombe's years of research to offer accessible, nuanced engagements with anthropological theories of personhood, translation, politics, and justice." ~Dorothy L. Hodgson, Rutgers University
"Australia has an ambivalent approach to human rights, especially regarding Aboriginal peoples. This highly-readable book brings a fresh perspective. Contrasting legal and rights approaches, Holcombe examines how Aboriginal women experiencing violence resist victimhood, but have few alternatives to change their circumstances. The national political context which frames the focus on Central Australia makes it all the more compelling." ~Gaynor Macdonald, University of Sydney
"Holcombe's achievement is to make it clearer to outsiders what is at stake as Anangu dialogue, among themselves and with outsiders, about experiments in reconciling human rights principles and vernacular notions of social justice." ~Timothy Rowse, Oceania