Rothwell and Aboriginal “non-compliance” in a tropical context

One of the more frustrating aspects of Indigenous affairs is that there is an almost total disconnect between thinkers in this area and those in international development. As a consequence, while terms like “underdevelopment” and “dependency” are occasionally used in an Indigenous, fourth world context, they remain almost entirely un-theorised and un-explained there.

Nicholas Rothwell has written another cracker over at the Australian, “Rebellion Thwarts Remote Control”, which explains how the failure of normalisation policy is due to passive resistance and non-compliance with the state by Aboriginal people who seek to preserve their own world and way of doing things. He writes:

Aboriginal men and women have adopted a strategy of covert resistance to the intervention and its associated programs…They collaborate with the occupiers, and acquiesce, and also resist, and the strain of resistance strengthens when their limited free agency in life is infringed…Aborigines are being asked to adapt — “we are requiring them to become like us” — and they object, and fail to comply. This is what social policy observers then tend to describe as “dysfunction”.

This is something that will ring true to many thinking participants in the field. It may appear novel, but elsewhere in the Tropics, this phenomenon has been documented and theorised, with the thought leader being James C. Scott and his book The Art of Not Being Governed. It’s about the way in which tribal groups, predominantly in South East Asia (his area of interest), resist being incorporated by encroaching states whilst maintaining their own, anarchist institutions, and have done for hundreds of years. Reading it, you could be reading about the current state of play in Aboriginal Australia at least up (down?) here in the Territory. Time to learn a little wider?

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