Identity as a problem in the sociology of knowledge : the social construction of Aboriginal identity with special reference to the 'World' of education
The object of the research was to map Aboriginal 'worlds' in order to establish the components of a viable individual and group identity for Aboriginal people. Three research contexts were established: 1) Strelley Community, a tradition-oriented group in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The group had forged social structures with the specific aim of conserving Aboriginal identity; 2) Port Augusta, a country toti%m located in the north of South Australia, a town situated at geographical and cultural crossroads for Aboriginal people; 3) metropolitan Adelaide which received migrations from the sixties onwards, chiefly from two Aboriginal reserves, Point NcLeay and Point Pearce. Identity was defined as the location of the self, both by the self and others in a particular world of-meaning; The problem which was investigated was one of how identity is socially constructed and socially maintained. The research, therefore, was located theoretically into that area of sociology concerned with the social construction of reality - namely, the sociology of knowledge. The issues isolated for the study were i) Interaction between psychological reality and psychological models - that is, the theorizing about 'worlds' of meaning, and the way in which this locates the people into a particular identity. (ii) Interaction between social structure and the 'worlds' in which Aboriginal people find their identity - that is, the typifications of Aboriginal people which locate them into particular 'worlds'. (iii) Interaction between the self and society - that is, the choice among the identities offered by these 'worlds'. The world. of Aborigines was studied through an analysis of the conceptualisation of the Aboriginal world and the naming/identification of Aborigines found in Government legislation and policy before and after the 1967 Referendum. The legislation and policy of governments before 1967 were seen to be based in conceptual machinery which acted to nihilate the symbolic world of the Aboriginal people and locate them within a universe having negative attributes. Constantly changing policies of identification/naming structured a situation for identitydiffusion. Government policies post-1967 were seen to exclude Aborigines from a new Australian identity being fostered by the conceptualisation of Australia as a multicultural society. At the same time, Government policies, at the level of theorizing, gave positive recognition to the uniqueness of Aboriginal identity. The Schools Commission, a government statutory body, gave positive support to the recognition of Aboriginal identity in practice, as well as theory, in the 'world' of schooling. The 'worlds' of Strelley, Port Augusta and Adelaide were examined within Sorokin's categories relating to the construction of group identity. The 'worlds' of schooling at each location were selected out as a context for studying the subjective correlates of identity. It was found that the theorizing about Aboriginal identity on the part of the staffs of the schools in the study was supportive and reflected the differing 'worlds' of the particular clientele of each institution at the student level. However, it was found that the typifications of Aboriginal students by non-Aborigines was negative. This was less negative in schools where Aborigines were less visible and where theorizing on the part of the school was less overt. Typifications of Aborigines by Aborigines was also negative. The stereotyping of the dominant society was shown to be internalised by Aborigines for Aborigines in general. However, negative typifications were not internalised for the Aboriginal self (as opposed to typifications for Aborigines in general). 'Rudimentary theorizing' on the part of Aborigines was also positive. Aborigines theorized positively for the Aboriginal self about schooling and about interaction with the white world. Consonant with this finding was the evidence that Aborigines} p flied 'Australians' positively, despite the fact that they, (the Aborigines), were typified negatively by Australians. The expectation that Aboriginal students would, in general, show evidence of socialization into negative identity and identity-diffusion was not realised. The school situation was seen as a locus for positive theorizing and for support for the construction of different Aboriginal identities, in accordance with the options made by the Aboriginal people. The options revealed were 1) Theorizing permitting assimilation 2) Theorizing offering the possibility of integration and identification with pride-as an Aborigine, but without claiming identials that were specifically Aboriginal 3) Theorizing for the maintenance of an Aboriginal identity secured by identials that are specifically Aboriginal. Only Strelley offered a fourth possibility: 4) Theorizing that structured a situation for Aboriginal identity with a coherent ideological base. Strelley exercised autonomy in all areas. The continuity of the group was provided for by indoctrination of the group into a common ideology, and by establishing processes for continual adaptation within the ideological base, and continuity of leadership. In the metropolitan urban situation, among Aboriginal people, there was seen to be a lack of cohesion, a lack of clearly articulated ideology, a lack of an economic base for autonomy, a lack of-acknowledged leadership. It was concluded that the one institution in society currently permitting and supporting multi-structures within which Aboriginal identity could be constructed, for those choosing this option, was the school. Schools based on some form of voluntary segregation could be developed to provide basic structures where those features seen to operate successfully at Strelley could be adapted to provide, within a micro-cosmic situation, for the development and inculcation of an ideology and the development of leaders.