Theorizing Relationality: A Response to the Morphys

Francesca Merlan

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    In “Anthropological Theory and Government Policy in Australia's Northern Territory: The Hegemony of the ‘Mainstream’” (AA 115[2]:17–187), Frances and Howard Morphy suggest that the “intercultural”—a concept I deployed in description and analysis of the relations between indigenous and other Australians in a Northern Territory town (Merlan 1998)—and recent Australian government policy attempts to enforce change in indigenous communities are both aspects of a hegemonic “mainstream.” The alleged link between them is that neither I, nor the government, attribute sufficient “autonomy” to indigenous people and their ways of being. Interpreting the “intercultural” as the “spaces where indigenous people interact with settler Australians,” they propose instead a notion of “relative autonomy” of Yolngu people of northeast Arnhem Land with whom they have worked for several decades. They also suggest that the latter notion, basically an insistence on the distinctness of wider Australian and Yolngu societies, is useful for critiquing recent invasive policy. Here I address problems in their understanding of the concept of the intercultural that I deployed and in their attempt to reduce indigenous involvement in wider Australian social processes to zones through the notion of “relative autonomy.”
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)637-638
    JournalAmerican Anthropologist
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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