Indigeneity in the Contemporary World: Performance, Politics, Belonging


Under the leadership of Professor Helen Gilbert, the multinational research team will work within four broad conceptual themes:

• Commodity and Spectacle
This theme investigates the global circulation of indigenous performance as cultural capital, problematising current ideas about what constitutes ‘authentic’ expressions of indigeneity. Historical events such as colonial exhibitions are included to help contextualise present-day commodity consumption. Our work draws stimulus from Aboriginal sociologist Marcia Langton’s model of ‘intersubjectivity’ as a way of understanding indigenous agency in events that might initially seem to operate at the level of pure spectacle. Theories about social affect and utopian desire are relevant to this theme, especially in relation to mass media culture.

• Heritage and Cultural Transmission
Heritage is considered not just in terms of transmitting and perpetuating objects, discourses, values and practices, but also in an expanded sense as mobilising historical understanding or social memory to nourish a desire for solidarity between generations. In this dynamic conception, heritage practices and industries are as much concerned with modes and impulses for transmission as with the creation of tangible archives. Diana Taylor’s work on ‘the archive’ (material remains) and ‘the repertoire’ (embodied practices) as distinct modes for the transfer of cultural knowledges is a conceptual starting point for this theme.

• Mobility and Belonging
This theme focuses on the relationships pertaining between indigenous performances of mobility and traditional notions of indigeneity as a marker of rootedness or belonging grounded in place. Mobility is conceived as a socially produced movement that is intimately connected with the ways in which we encounter people, objects and places, both in real and imaginative terms. We examine indigenous performances as embodied material practices that rehearse, reproduce, revitalise and initiate forms of mobility and belonging. Theoretical perspectives on this theme draw from recent debates about cosmopolitanism, citizenship and sovereignty.

• Reconciliation and Social Cohesion
This theme responds to local and transnational debates on reconciliation and engages with performative enactments of social policy as well as ideas about reparation and social justice. We consider the role of indigeneity as an ethical touchstone in contemporary social formations in several postcolonial regions and trace the philosophical, social and religious roots of the idea of reconciliation. Studies in critical race theory and hybridity intersect with this theme, which also revisits Benedict Anderson’s concept of ‘imagined communities’.

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