Anthropology, philosophy and a little Aboriginal community on the edge of the desert

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This thesis explores a rethinking of community, one without identity. This thinking became possible and necessary because I lived in a little Aboriginal community in south central Western Australia, called Ululla. The Jackman family have made Ululla a home (a home among others, this changes over time), not as a kind of ideal place that would stabilise and centre an identity, but as a place one leaves and returns to, where family gathers and stays for awhile – a number of years or a few months – depending on other forces going on in the region and with kin. What I gained a sense of, was that the claim of another – their work – forces one’s sense of responsibility outward, towards other gatherings across time and space; an extension that does not rest, stay put, but that moves. Extensive relatedness puts a community in motion, forces a thought of community without notions of bounded identity. A community at ‘loose ends’ perhaps, where differences, discontinuities and multiplicity do not become One (Miami Theory Collective 1991). Anthropologists have noted that what Aboriginal people emphasise is regional relatedness and extensive social ties rather than exclusive or restricted groupings (Myers 1986). There is no centring as such, rather relations are pivotal, turning one towards another without rest. As a result, and drawing broadly from Jean-Luc Nancy’s work on community, I think of community as movement and imperative – an outward extension – rather than a retreat or consolidation – an inward concentration. Here, community is not to be controlled or managed or unified (centred, bound-as-one ) but something to go with, to feel happening as an imperative or inclination; a kind of event where one gets ready to respond to the call of others from elsewhere. Following Nancy, I think of community as something that is happening – an event, a call, an inclination – rather than an object of description (Nancy 1990). My thesis draws upon a critique of anthropology and a use of Nancy’s philosophy (Levinas and Lyotard are also important at times) to say something about Ululla. The problem with anthropology, as I argue here, is that it works to secure the identity of a people through uncovering an underlying unity that is supposed to order and sustain the group (Norris 2000); the anthropologist works to centre an identity in order to speak of the group itself. I imagine a different possibility here, one that would reflect Aboriginal social practices of community. The thesis is structured in a non-linear way and is organised around ‘gatherings’ ‘breakaways’ ‘articulations’ and ‘spacings/rhythms’. This organisation means that the form and shape of the community, it’s rhythm if you like, is reflected in the structure of writing itself. Events happen, one is taken away, breakaways and gatherings take place across space.
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