Indigenous Sociology for Social Impact

The history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice activism to destabilise and overcome colonial practices in Australia began with the British invasion in 1788 and has continued to the present-day. These acts of social and political organisation have strong sociological resonance that should centrally inform sociological inquiry in Australia. Yet Indigenous knowledges are peripheral to the discipline of sociology. This post is the first in a series exploring ways to decolonise sociology, through the leadership of Associate Professor Kathleen Butler, sociologist and Aboriginal woman belonging to the Bundjalung and Worimi peoples of coastal New South Wales.

To redress the problematic racial dynamics of sociological theory and practice, Associate Professor Butler convened the first Indigenous Sociology for Social Impact Workshop at the University of Newcastle, Ourimbah campus, on Darkinjung land. Held on 27-28 October 2016, Professor Butler invited Indigenous and non-Indigenous sociologists from different parts of Australia to consider gaps and opportunities in addressing the ongoing impact of colonialism in our theories, methods and practice.

Today’s post places the workshop in historic context and summarises the discussion. I also include reflections by Associate Professor Butler about the outcomes from the workshop. I end with a set of questions that emerged from the workshop that we should now face as a discipline in order to centre Indigenous knowledges and methods in sociology.

Continue reading Indigenous Sociology for Social Impact

Racism and Transphobia in Contexts

Sociology provides critical thinking about society. So where is analysis in this hateful book promo? Contexts: Understanding People in Their Social Worlds has published a racist, transphobic interview with Rachel Dolezal, a White American woman who deceptively lived as a Black woman until her parents exposed her. She has a new book out and, sadly, Contexts chose to sell out to racism by printing Dolezal’s racist fantasies without any analysis.

This article is dangerous. Not only does it give uncritical media attention to a problematic person; it’s a distortion of social theory.

Social construction of race (and gender) doesn’t mean “whatever White people want to believe.” Social constructionism is a critical theory connecting personal biography to history, culture and place. This is Sociology 101, which we would expect to see explored thoughtfully in a sociological publication, especially one that is available to lay audiences. No such luck.

The social construction of race means that ideas about race categories (genetic features) vary in their social definition, depending on cultural and historical context. Nevertheless, racial relations are real in their consequences. Continue reading Racism and Transphobia in Contexts

Racism and Transphobia in Contexts, Sociology Magazine

Sociology provides critical thinking about society. So where is analysis in this hateful book promo? Contexts: Understanding People in Their Social Worlds has published a racist, transphobic interview with Rachel Dolezal, a White American woman who deceptively lived as a Black woman until her parents exposed her. She has a new book out and, sadly, Contexts chose to sell out to racism by printing Dolezal’s racist fantasies without any analysis.

This article is dangerous. Not only does it give uncritical media attention to a problematic person; it’s a distortion of social theory.

Social construction of race (and gender) doesn’t mean “whatever White people want to believe.” Social constructionism is a critical theory connecting personal biography to history, culture and place. This is Sociology 101, which we would expect to see explored thoughtfully in a sociological publication, especially one that is available to lay audiences. No such luck. 

The social construction of race means that ideas about race categories (genetic features) vary in their social definition, depending on cultural and historical context. Nevertheless, racial relations are real in their consequences.

The groups that get to define racial categories depends on history and power relations. Colonialism structures these dynamics. Groups in power also enforce race. Whiteness is within the control of elite groups; oppressed groups don’t define Whiteness.

The social construction of race is how Australia imposed a racial classification system to justify genocide and how it legalised this racial system to dispossess Indigenous people (“quarter caste,” “half caste” and so on).

The social construction of race is why Australia named its immigration policy the “White Australia Policy” and kept it for around 70 years. It’s why Southern Europeans in Australia were defined as “not White” fro 1901 to the 1970s, until new groups of migrants arrived in larger numbers.

The social construction of race is not about individual choices, but how society maintains a racial hierarchy to reinforce inequality. 

The article then reproduces transphobia, by likening Dolezal’s “minstrel” to transgender experience. This is not sociology.

The comparison suggests that transgender people are engaged in deception, as is the case with Dolezal, a position that has been heavily critiqued by transgender scholars and activists. It creates undue risks for transgender people on many levels. 

So as one sociologist to another, Contexts: does the safety of Black and transgender people not matter? Where’s the critical thinking? 

Here’s where I remind you: our retention of people of colour in sociology careers is abysmal.

Decolonise sociology, now.

Photo: WOCinTech Chat, CC 2.0 Adapted by The Other Sociologist.

[Image: five women of colour sit behind a table talking, with quote “The social construction of race means…in their consequences.]

Paternalism, Colonialism and Indigenous Education

Photo by Mark Roy via Flickr
Photo by Mark Roy via Flickr

By Zuleyka Zevallos, PhD

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the content on this page may contain images and references to deceased persons. (Why this warning?)

The Council of Australian Governments has conducted a national review of Indigenous socio-economic outcomes. Its recent report finds that while some measures are improving, there is still a large gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. This post provides a snapshot of the findings with a focus on education and responses by the state. One of the solutions being offered to improve educational outcomes amongst Indigenous youth is to send them to boarding schools. I discuss this in relation to Australia’s colonial history and the Government’s paternalistic views on Indigenous welfare.

I review other approaches to Indigenous education, which focus on working to students’ strengths in order to improve outcomes. This means making curriculum more focused on applied skills, vocational training within remote communities, and ensuring knowledge is culturally relevant. At the same time, educational efforts must avoid “pigeon holing” Indigenous students and teachers. Instead, education needs to make leadership and career pathways more accessible, and ensure that Indigenous insights are being fed back into the education system.

Finally, my post explores how sociological teaching and activism needs to change in reflection of the history of Indigenous educational practices.

Continue reading Paternalism, Colonialism and Indigenous Education