NATIONAL AND CULTURAL IDENTITIES: INTRODUCTION.
Despite its relative harmony, especially in recent times, Australia has by no means remained untouched by such tensions. Terra Nullius, the White Australia policy, the Stolen Generation, the internment of British subjects from Italian and German ancestry during World War Two: these are key historical examples of the racist practices that have helped shape this nation. To this list can be added contemporary examples, including Aboriginal imprisonment rates, the rise of the One Nation Party and the particularly volatile manifestations of long distance nationalisms (like the pro-Milosevic and pro-Ocalan rallies, cf Skrbis 1999). At the same time, Australia is often held up as a shining example of a successful multicultural society, boasting one of the most harmonious heterogenous populations in the world.
The WA editorial board proposed this special issue because they thought it important that the AJSI consider the question of identities in response to the most recent expression of racist politics in Australian society -- `the Pauline Hanson phenomenon'. Although this journal generally concentrates on topics directly related to the more applied branches of the social sciences, it was thought appropriate to make space for analyses of cultural identities, which, while not necessarily a focus of practice, are nevertheless pertinent to it. Thus, this AJSI volume includes papers that deal less specifically with public policy and more overtly with the underlying principles of imagined communities (Anderson 1983) and social constructions of reality. Clearly, it is of the utmost importance that academics (in whatever combination of practice and theory) work towards a greater understanding of identities, in this, the age of migrancy (cf Bottomley 1992). The process of moving to another place, or even of living in a country that hosts people from other places, brings questions of cultural and national identity into sharp relief and inevitably results in reconfigurations of these identities for both the newcomer and the local. It is clear, just from watching the evening news, that these issues are set to characterise at least the beginning of the new millennium.
In addition, the board wanted to give new researchers in this burgeoning field an opportunity to publish their research. All the contributions to this issue (except for Collins's review article) are by early career researchers. They represent an interdisciplinary mix of social scientists including anthropologists, historians, political scientists and sociologists. By `new researcher', the board had intended junior academic staff and postgraduate students. I think it is important to note that several expressions of interest were received from the former, followed eventually by disappointed apologies due, invariably, to heavy work-loads. Consequently, most of the papers included here are by postgraduate students who, despite the difficulties of doctoral study, tend to have more time than staff (and new staff especially) to read and write for publication. It is rather ominous that the destructive impact of the current academic system on the intellectual capital of junior staff should be evident in an issue dedicated to their work.
When discussing the appropriateness of papers for inclusion in the special issue, it transpired that the editorial board shared Professor Laksiri Jayasuriya's view that the AJSI should develop a broader regional focus. Thus, a feature of this issue is that not all the papers deal with the Australian context, two are situated in the broader region of Oceania and Asia and deal with indigenous and regional identities in New Zealand and Thailand respectively. The topics raised in these papers are not only relevant to Australia because they concern countries in our region, but also because there is much to be learnt from other countries and their experiences of negotiating national and cultural identities.
The papers which focus on Australia deal with Italian, Muslim and Croatian, communities. As usual, it is through these exposes on `migrant' identities that we glimpse something of Australian culture. As a collection they attest to how quintessentially Australian national and cultural diversity is, and in this regard, implicitly debunk the white supremacy of the One Nation Party. Indeed, it is this ever more evident national and cultural diversity which represents a threat to the myth of mainstream Australia, rendering it yet another minority group of competing interests. The resultant sense of loss of rights and privilege felt by those who perceive themselves to be `average Australians' accounts for much of the success of Hanson's politics. This appeal has brought into question the value and effectiveness of Australian multiculturalism. In fact, the one nation party's opposition to multiculturalism is shared by some of their political opponents on the left. Are we to reject multicultural policy, as Hanson herself does, for its divisiveness and tendency to define people according to cultural differences? How are we to salvage the proven advantages of multicultural policies while cleansing them of their tendency to racism? In discussing Ghassan Hage's (1999) book, White Nation, Jock Collins in his paper argues that to overcome its fundamental contradictions we must foster a greater identification of the `average Australian' -- `the White masses' -- with multiculturalism.
Interestingly, Hanson's appeal is not restricted to White Anglo-Australia; many of my Italian-born, and, even more surprisingly, some of my husband's Singaporean kin, feel an affinity with this professed `mother of the nation'. In addition, as Collins points out, many Whites are anti-Hanson. Clearly, One Nation politics plays more than just the race card, appealing to the eternally disenfranchised Aussie battler -- even non-white ones. What One Nation's success would indeed seem to indicate is that multiculturalism needs to be made more relevant to all Australians. But, it also suggests that much of the problem is economic, and identity politics, however all embracing, is only part of the answer. Australian sociologist, Frank Jones' (1997) research is consoling where he finds that `dogmatic nativists' are an ageing minority in Australia. But, as Jones points out, social reality is much more fluid and complex than the social groupings identified by his research. The papers in this volume bear witness to the contradictory mix of racist and assimilationist social policies and community attitudes coexisting with people's everyday experiences of cross-cultural harmony. The reverse is also evident: progressive multicultural policies and people's everyday experiences of bigotry and prejudice.
The most interesting feature of this collection is that all the papers analyse differences within groups rather than between them. Thus, they endeavour to articulate the complex sets of processes that work to maintain national and cultural identities, despite enormous internal heterogeneity. What is presented to, or perceived by, outsiders as a coherent, homogenous group identity is, in fact, characterised by competing and contrasting discourses and practices both internal to the group (including age, gender, class, and personal experience) as well as external to it (including state and government policies, wider community perceptions, media representations and so on). Any community, whether local or national, which posits its own group identity is characterised by contestations of power masked by powerful, malleable and resilient unifying symbols which are often interpreted differently by its own constituents (cf Cohen 1985).
Despite the variety of cultural groups analysed, the papers are united in their conceptual focus on the highly contested set of notions which deal with identity and ancestry (be it territorial, sanguinal, religious, linguistic etc). Thus, the concepts of ethnicity, race and nationalism are at the forefront of these papers, though the authors also discuss the relationship between these and other concepts including gender, class and generation. It is important to note that each of these terms has a popular set of meanings which are often quite different to their social scientific definitions (cf Banks 1996). In Australian popular discourses, for example, race tends to refer to skin-colour and other phenotypical markers, and is reserved, in particular, for
indigenous identities, while ethnicity tends to be the preserve of diacritical markers and the migrant group. Curiously, the `dinky-di Aussie' seems to have neither racial nor ethnic identity, but rather is only relevant to an interminable search for a national identity (witnessed most recently in the republic debate). In their popular formations, in this country at least, race and ethnicity refer to minority group identities, while nationalism refers to the majority group identity. This provides linguistic evidence (supporting Collins's claim) that multiculturalism is perceived as the preserve of the minority group, and in particular, the `ethnic' migrant. Quite appropriately, this state of play has fuelled the Australian social science's increasing preoccupation with the `politics of difference' and the way the ideology of Australian multiculturalism creates a particular view of the nature of diversity (cf Jayasuriya 1999).
While there is much debate on how to best define the concepts of ethnicity, race and nation and, in particular, the differences between them (cf Jenkins 1997), to the social scientist, they are analytical tools employed to comprehend processes of group identity. The imagining of community, ancestry, language, religion, etc are all boundary-forming devices (Barth 1969) employed by groups to define themselves as unique or different. And yet, these boundaries contain much diversity both within and between different generations, as each of the papers make clear, focusing in particular on gender (Iuliano), religion (Nebhan), class (Peisker), regionalism (Jory), and art and myth (Diamond). While identity is popularly defined as essentialist -- inherent in a group's blood or rooted in some misty past -- most social scientists see it as a dynamic, multi-faceted, socially constructed resource. Marie de Lepervanche (1980), for example, argues that `there are in fact no ethnics, only ways of seeing ethnics'. Similarly, cultural theorists argue that identities, as Stuart Hall writes, (and as Mandy Thomas (1998:4) quotes in a volume with a similar focus to this one), `are subject to the continual interplay of history, culture and power'.
Jo Diamond's paper in this volume works to uncover something of this interplay as she short-circuits the binary opposition of the essentialist/ constructivist debate by analysing essentialism as a form of political action. Her paper offers a sophisticated analysis of why it is that many indigenous peoples, in this case, the Maori artist Robin Kahukiwa, project an essentialist notion of identity. In her Honours thesis, from which the essay is drawn, Diamond relates the story of Kahukiwa's discovery of a bundle of photos of `unidentified Maori women' in the New Zealand National library. This unnerving discovery inspired Kahukiwa to pain[ a series of images which Diamond argues begins to redress the inadequate and often inappropriate ways Maori women have been represented by Pakeha (Whites), sometimes with international exposure, as in movies like The Piano and Once Were Warriors. Diamond analyses one of these paintings, Hine-Titama, with paramount sensitivity and abundant cultural knowledge, as an example of what Bhabha (1994) calls postcolonial criticism.
Also sensitive to the power of representations, Katy Nebhan offers an informative account of the little known yet ever-expanding set of identities of Muslim Australians. Incorporating 64 distinct ethnic groups and 55 different languages and spanning over a century of migration, Nebhan is quite right to describe the Australian muslim `community' as `a microcosm of multicultural Australia', struggling to negotiate, in this case, religious unity amid the tensions of ethnic diversity, a globalising Islam and the development of a sense of Australian national identity. The political nature of culture (Bottomley 1992) is evident in the way the history of the pioneering Afghan cameleers is strategically refashioned into a symbolic resource that enables contemporary muslims to claim a heritage that is both as Australian as the bushman as well as authentically Islamic. The relationship between religious identity and nationalism is set to become a significant issue in Australia's multicultural future.
The somewhat surprising way Australian Catholicism supported the maintenance of Italian local identities is a focus of Susanna Iuliano's paper which makes an important contribution to our understanding of a fascinating but little explored issue in Australian migration history -- proxy marriages. In her detailed analysis of the factors which led to an estimated 24 000 such marriages between Italian-born spouses, Iuliano provides valuable insights into the ways in which State and Church interventions shaped the identity-formation and socio-cultural traditions of a large group of Australians. Iuliano's painstaking research reveals that, ironically, post-war Australian governments preferred to facilitate what they saw as the `civilising' and `reproductive' influence of Italian women migration, despite the fact that proxy marriages helped to foster strong, parochial, transnational ties and the potential formation of `ethnic' ghettos. The latter had long been seen as an indication of the failure of assimilationist policies (de Lepervanche 1984) and hence were supposed to be avoided at all costs. Here we see evidence of how immigration policy is gendered, rendering women the appendages of protective males or the patriarchal state or the Church. The most striking feature of Iuliano's paper is the subtle example it presents of how the diaspora, even in an avowedly assimilationist place like Australia, can produce communities which are more -- in this case -- `Italian' than the home country, with Church and State policies conspiring to ensure an apparently higher rate of provincial and home-town endogamy than occurs in Italy.
Like Iuliano, Val Colic Peisker also explores an under-researched area in Australian immigration history -- the relationship between different waves of migrants from the same home-country. In her paper, Peisker points out the tendency for academic writing, government policy and popular conceptions alike to homogenise and stereotype migrant communities. By highlighting the importance of differences in class and socio-economic background between the two waves of voluntary Croatian migrants to Australia, Peisker mounts a solid argument against the existence of one, united Croatian migrant community. Her analysis takes into account the impact of the recent war of Croatian independence on the identity politics and imaginings of the Australian Croatian diaspora to present a not uncontroversial critique of the `bad image' or myth of Croatians as `fierce nationalists'. In her comparison of the identity construction of the two waves of Croatian migrants, Peisker juxtaposes the postmodernist notion of `mobile habitus' (where people are seen to belong to a cultural/economic niche) with the more modernist idea of campanilismo (connection to locality).
The relationship between identity and place, so central to discussions of cultural and national identities, is also analysed by Patrick Jory in his paper on Thailand. While not about the Australian context, Jory's finely honed analysis of the regional cultural resurgence currently taking place in Thailand is eminently pertinent to contemporary Australian debates about ethnic diversity and its potential threat to national unity. After a century of assimilation, and without a policy of multiculturalism, the Thai government is beginning to see the benefits of the promotion of regional cultural identities. Jory's research examines how significant an impact the state can wield over the expression of identity. It was Thai government policies which ensured that, despite its enormous cultural diversity, Thailand has been commonly seen as ethnically homogenous. Jory's article also shows that ethnic diversity is more likely to be celebrated and supported under democratic governments during good economic times. This is undoubtedly the Australian experience as well (it is by no means a coincidence that the success of the One Nation Party developed under a conservative government and during economically depressed times). The promotion of regional diversity in the Thai tourist sector has produced significant financial gains and has consequently added to the resurgence of regional identities. Once again there are Australian parallels evident, for example, in the marketing of indigenous Australia. Despite its significantly impoverished economic status generally, Aboriginal Australia represents good business in tourism. However, unlike the Thai case, these financial gains have not resulted in increased Government support for indigenous politics (although it must be added that Thai government support has been for regional and not ethnic/racial identities).
Each of the papers included here is a case study in the contrasting sets of processes which characterise contemporary life: processes which create, on the one hand, globalising, cosmopolitan, and fluid sets of identities, and on the other, localised, sedentarian and demarcated ones (Hannerz 1990). Postmodernists argue that contemporary life is characterised by deterritorialised, nomadic identities (cf Bauman 1996, Appadurai 1991), and yet, as the articles in this collection make clear, people spend much time shaping a specific identity and reaffirming their ties to a particular place, even if only to an imagined one (cf Gupta & Ferguson 1992). Group identity is necessarily about defining and maintaining difference, whether perceived or real. National and ethnic identities are only ever an issue in contexts of interaction between diverse cultural groups, be they intra- or inter- group distinctions. All the authors are sensitive to the dynamic nature of identity and they all employ an historical perspective, not only to trace some of the changes wrought by time, but to show that identities are specific to time and place.
It has been an enormous pleasure to bring this collection together -- a volume which attests to the importance of researching and interrogating ideas about difference and identity, both historical and contemporary, at home and away.
I would like to thank the AJSI editorial board for their support, especially Richard Hugman for his continuous patience and guidance throughout the preparation of this issue. Thanks to Michael Pinches and Richard Bosworth for their comments on an early draft of this introduction and to the anonymous reviewers for their willingness to provide as much assistance as possible to the contributors. Many thanks also to Cheryl Lange and Raelene Wilding for their editorial assistance. Finally, special thanks to the authors for their hard work and enthusiasm.
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Jones, F. (1997) `Ethnic Diversity and National Identity', Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology 33(3), 285-305.
Skrbis, Z. (1999) Long-distance Nationalism: Homelands, Diasporas and Identities, Ashgate, Aldershot.
Thomas, M. (ed.) (1998) `Diaspora, Identity and Cultural Politics', Special Issue 9, The Australian Journal of Anthropology. 9, 1.
Dr. Loretta Baldassar, Department of Anthropology, University of Western Australia, Nedlands. WA 6009 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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|Publication:||Australian Journal of Social Issues|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1999|
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