Narrating Oppression, Psychosocial Suffering and Survival through the Bush Babies Project

Quayle, Amy (2017) Narrating Oppression, Psychosocial Suffering and Survival through the Bush Babies Project. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


Running title: Dispossession, Social Suffering, and Survival. --- Abstract: Aboriginal people in Australia continue to fare worse across the broad range of social, economic, and health indicators. One response to fostering Aboriginal empowerment has been through community arts and cultural development–a creative and participatory methodology for working in and with communities. The current research examined the stories shared by Aboriginal Elders as part of the Bush Babies project, and in conversational interviews with four Aboriginal Elders who participated in the project. Aboriginal storytelling through the project and in the context of the research was conceptualised as a site to examine and challenge power as part of a transformative psychosocial praxis (Sonn, Stevens, & Duncan, 2013). Informed by contextualist constructionist epistemology and critical theory, the current research adopted narrative inquiry to examine the stories shared by Aboriginal Elders in explaining the past, present, and possibilities for the future and in constructing what it means to be Aboriginal/Noongar in the present. Rappaport’s (2000) model for conceptualising personal stories, community narratives, and dominant cultural narratives, and writing on counter-stories/storytelling informed analysis of the stories. Three broad community narratives were identified in the Bush Baby storytelling. Drawing from both historical memory and the living memory of the Elders, the stories highlighted the circuits of dispossession in the lives of Aboriginal people. Elders not only narrated historical forms of violence and injustice, but also the continuity of structural and cultural forms of violence, and the ongoing disregard for Aboriginal people. The Elders’ stories also showed the destructive and cumulative psychosocial impacts of social suffering for individual subjectivities, communities, and across generations. Importantly however, the stories also pointed to the various ways Noongar/Aboriginal people have resisted oppression and the resources that have been central to cultural continuity and survival. Told from positions of alterity, the Elders’ stories provide insights into the oppression, resistance and change. Through these stories, we are called upon to bear witness to social injustices, past and present, but also to the stories of strength and survival, which counter the common depictions of dysfunction and despair, and play an important role in affirming identity and ensuring cultural continuity. These stories are thus important both with and beyond Aboriginal communities. Community psychologists can play an important role in supporting Aboriginal communities to tell their stories. Yet working at the cultural interface requires ongoing vigilance.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1701 Psychology
Historical > FOR Classification > 2002 Cultural Studies
Current > Division/Research > College of Health and Biomedicine
Keywords Aboriginal peoples, Western Australia, Narrogin, social psychology, colonial history, mental health, oppression, narratives, culture, resistance, survival, cultural continuity, Stolen Generations
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