helping anthropologists?

John Ford (art-jcf@JCU.EDU.AU)
Wed, 1 Mar 1995 08:27:25 +1000

I'm in sympathy with John Mcreery's post concerning mixing fieldwork with
social issues.

While I also acknowledge that social issues are a concern to us all, the
intergration of anthropology as 'helping' others to achieve some equity
is, in my view, problematic.

I am reminded of Daisy Bates, who, it another time, was concerned with
the 'passing' of the Australian Aboriginal people with the result that
she believed that it was only her that 'cared for their passing' - the
smoothing the dying pillow approach. Now that indigenous people are not
just going to 'roll over' to please the dominant culture there is a
'rush' of helpers, including anthropologists, to 'get them their rights'.
Political correctness aside, it appears that indigenous people are not
the 'simple' culture that many still take them for. Aborigines and Torres
Strait Islander peoples have successfully negotiated, from a position of
strength, with the mainstream community in Australia. They don't NEED
anthropologists, as a current Ph. D student has found out, but they will
USE them to fit their agenda. Indigenous people are not the benign people
that some seem to think.

Which leads me to ponder - this attitude of helping could it be that this
thinking is the flip side of what Daisy Bates was thinking? In other
words, rather than entering a post-colonial era, we may be promoting the
mistakes of the past in a neo-colonial phase?