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Yuendumu Everyday: contemporary life in remote Aboriginal Australia.

Yuendumu Everyday: contemporary life in remote Aboriginal Australia

By Yasmine Musharbash

Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.


Pp: 212, b/w illu.

Price: A$ 39.95

Yuendumu Everyday by Yasmine Musharbash is a subtle yet moving ethnography of how Warlpiri living at Yuendumu, and more particularly, how Warlpiri unmarried women living in jilimis, dwell in their contemporary houses. Inspired by the philosophical reflections of Martin Heidegger and Gaston Bachelard, but working deep within local Warlpiri ways of being, Musharbash seeks to demonstrate that the built environment does not determine life. but ways of being determine how the built environment is used and interpreted.

Yuendumu Everyday begins with a linguistically and culturally informed account of 'olden day camps'--sleeping arrangements prior to the sedentisation period of the post-war 1940s. It then moves into the contemporary Yuendumu community to demonstrate how these cultural principles continue to inform how Warlpiri dwell in contemporary housing blocks even as some foundational social forms, such as marriage, have significantly changed. Musharbash's decision to live in and focus on the institution of the jilimi is quite interesting given a set of debates on feminism and anthropology set off by Diane Bell's 1983 ethnography, Daughters of the Dreaming, which was itself a reaction to the ethnographic writing of Mervin Meggitt. Acknowledging the weighted history into which she has stepped, Musharbash devotes a chapter to detailing in a judicious manner the factual transformations of marriage among Yuendumu Warlpiri and the effects of these transformations on the jilimi as a social formation.

Having set these debates aside, Musharbash is able to focus on the three concepts that frame Yuendumu Everyday: mobility, immediacy, and intimacy. Chapter 4 takes up the question of mobility; Chapter 5 takes up immediacy; and Chapter 6, intimacy. The question of mobility is the focus of Chapter 4 where Musharbash upends dominant narratives about sedentisation. Using statistical evidence as well as thick description, Musharbash demonstrates that, if one takes a 'camp-centric' view, Yuendemu Warlpiri remain remarkable mobile in their relationship to camps. The circuitous rhythms of people moving between permanent housing suggest a resilient mobility in the face of a domineering sedentisation.

The importance of this resilient mobility becomes clear in the next two chapters that explore in turn local modes of immediacy and intimacy. Immediacy was a central concept for Heidegger. It marked an ontological now. Immediacy was not merely a moment or the momentary. It was momentness--a radical presentness in which the past and the future cease to hold sway. For Musharbash, Warlpiri ways of dwelling within contemporary houses continue to value immediacy over futurity opening up time to the radical possibility held in given social relations. As she puts it early in the book, giving over to immediacy 'not only meant experiencing time in new ways, but also entailed a fundamental shift in my ways of relating to others' (11). This fundamental shift is discussed in length in her discussion on intimacy in Chapter 6. There intimacy appears as not merely a matter of proximity, but as a matter of intensification of social relatedness possible only when given plans are allowed to be overwhelmed by the immediate. Indeed, intimacy can be seen as the social experience of this opening of the self to specific others. As Mushbarbash eloquently puts it, intimacy can be understood as the 'webs of sociality' that are 'created through social practices' of immediacy. 'These webs of sociality are incessantly spun, maintained, broken, repaired, expanded, and renewed through the crisscrossing paths of mobility' (138).

Elizabeth A. Povinelli,

Columbia University
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Author:Povinelli, Elizabeth A.
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2012
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