Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Regimes of knowledge

I've just finished (only slightly belatedly!) Margaret Simons' fascinating but quite long book on the Kumarangk/Hindmarsh Island Bridge saga, The Meeting of the Waters. There's much to praise in it, and if I teach the Aboriginal Australia course again, I'll use her chapter on the Mathews Enquiry instead of the Tonkinson essay. Not, or not just, because she vindicates the "sacred women's business," but because with clarity and compassion she shows all of the very many sides in the long series of investigations and judgments in dynamic interaction.

I don’t think that it was Ngarrindjeri culture that was romanticised during the Hindmarsh Island Bridge Affair — or not only Ngarrindjeri culture. I think it was our own, by which I mean Western European culture. We believed in judicial process, and the ability to find the truth. We believed in books over the testimony of oral culture. We were very confident about our ‘common sense’ and where it might lead us.
We like to think of our culture as open. We value transparency as a democratic virtue. This is one of the stories we tell about ourselves. But in fact, as this story shows, information is distributed unevenly and communicated when it suits people to do so. Information follows the lines of power. Aboriginal culture makes this explicit. Western European culture — and my own journalistic culture — like to pretend it isn’t necessarily so.
(Sydney: Hodder, 2003), 454

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