"This book reveals with analytical clarity the underside of Australian politics in relation to indigenous peoples—the denials, self-delusions, sleights of hand, and inevitable misdeeds of the empowered majority. Francesca Merlan achieves this not so much through the flagging language of postcolonial critique but rather through the demonstration of consistencies across different times and places and on local and national levels. The cumulative evidence is compelling."—Diane Austin-Broos, University of SydneyIn Dynamics of Difference in Australia, Francesca Merlan examines relations between indigenous and nonindigenous people from the events of early exploration and colonial endeavors to the present day. From face-to-face interactions to national and geopolitical affairs, the book illuminates the dimensions of difference that are revealed by these encounters: what indigenous and nonindigenous people pay attention to, what they value, what preconceived notions each possesses, and what their responses are to the Other. Basing her analysis on her extensive fieldwork in northern Australia, Merlan highlights the asymmetries in the exchanges between the settler majority and the indigenous minority, looking at everything from forms of violence and material transactions, to indigenous involvement in resource development, to governmental intervention in indigenous affairs.
"Dynamics of Difference in Australia is a remarkable and insightful book. Its engaging central theme, the possibility of mutual recognition between indigenous and nonindigenous Australians, is not only topical but also addresses concerns of long standing."—Victoria Burbank, University of Western Australia
Merlan frames the book within the current debate in Australian society concerning the constitutional recognition of indigenous people by the nation-state. Surveying the precursors to this question and its continuing and unresolved nature, she chronicles the ways in which an indigenous minority can remain culturally different while simultaneously experiencing the transformative forces of domination, constraint, and inequality. Conducting an investigation of long-term change against the backdrop of a highly salient and timely public debate surrounding indigenous issues, Dynamics of Difference has far-reaching implications both for public policy and for current theoretical debates about the nature of sociocultural continuity and change.
Francesca Merlan is Professor of Anthropology at Australian National University. She is author of numerous books, including Caging the Rainbow: Places, Politics, and Aborigines in a North Australian Town.