Self determination and difference

Hopefully I will get around to revisiting and revising the broad generalisations that are going to make up this post.


One question that had been flying around my mind for years has revolved around how it is decided which groups are potential candidates for self determination, and how is the ‘self’ extended out to groups. It appears to be that having had been a functioning social body in the past counts for a lot, especially when this social body can be marked off with an ethnic or racial label. Who gets to make these decisions is an interesting issue, and could also go some way to providing an explanation.


A thought exercise which is a real conversation killer when it comes to the sort of people I tend to hang around is to think of two imaginary families where the children are not going to school. Both families have been poor for at least three generations. One family is Aboriginal and lives in a remote part of Australia. The other family is white and lives in a city. It is a conversation killer because, unless you can be as thoughtful as Julia and question why we think all children have to go to school rather than society having the responsibility to take the opportunity to learn to them, (1) as it is a thought exercise we do not get to know any of the specific circumstances and attitudes of the family members and (2) while many of us can prattle off various statistics illustrating the structural injustice faced by Aboriginal people, how do we even start to think about the other family?


Of course Tony Vinson’s postcode analysis gives us lots of statistics for talking about compound disadvantage, but as such work was place based this opens up some interesting issues. Place based programs (e.g. Neighbourhood Renewal) include resident participation as both an intended outcome and as a form of consultation. In a suburb where indicators of disadvantage are prevalent it can be expected that at least some of these residents who participate will be ‘disadvantaged people’. Furthermore, even place based programs can be specifically directed at what Centrelink defines as the long term unemployed. However, when you have a mixed community (an area where there are a range of classes) is resident consultation more problematic? Is it a good or a bad idea to think of people who share certain indicators of disadvantage as being similar? Should people who are seen as similar be encouraged to make decisions about social investment together?


I am far from coming to any conclusions, but I think the question of self determination is very much about ‘difference’. ‘Difference’ seems to make the social world a lot easier to map, as I am finding in my project. I know I will not be able to describe any of the opinions or understandings I have heard expressed in the suburb I am looking at as belonging to people from the suburb as a whole. This might not be so much because of how many different opinions are held, but rather because many people think about and justify their opinions in similar ways to how I do. I can hear much of my own uncertainty in the deliberation of others.


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