Lawrence, Rebecca and Gibson, Chris, 2007, Obliging indigenous citizens? Shared responsibility agreements in Australian Aboriginal communities, Cultural Studies, 21(4-5), 650-671.
This paper discusses how understandings of culture and place are deployed in governing colonial Aboriginal1 subjects in contemporary Australia. Recently, Australia’s conservative Federal Government has sought to reorientate Aboriginal affairs away from debates about rights and inheritances, to the ‘responsibilities’ that communities must accept in order to be provided with infrastructure and services from government. Discourses of mutual obligation and responsibility target Aboriginal populations and are linked to claims that Aboriginal communities themselves have requested more overt and tailored interventions from central governments. The new ‘Shared Responsibility Agreements’ (SRAs) signal the formalisation of these shifts and oblige Aboriginal communities to conform to a series of specified disciplinary practices (such as improving personal hygiene, maintaining clean households, and preventing school truancy) in order to receive access to health care and other basic social services and supplies. We analyse how a hierarchy of ‘culture’ is articulated in SRAs, and highlight the particular complexity of governing remote colonial subjects and spaces at a distance. Although SRAs appear to indicate a novel policy direction, our analysis reveals how they mobilise longstanding colonial discourses of Aboriginal people and communities as welfare dependent and ungovernable, and reinstate donor/recipient relationships characteristic of earlier colonial rationalities and citizenship practices. Our case study demonstrates how governing practices are constantly reconstituted through knowledges of the governed, and through techniques that hybridise early illiberal practices with new neoliberal discourses. We argue that the act of governing remains thoroughly mediated by the inheritance of colonial visions of place and culture.