Sociologic: Symbolic Violence and the ‘Noble Savage’

So here i34222014_ms a challenging one – which I must say, I find very confronting!

Last month Coalition MP Dennis Jensen controversially told Parliament he does not think the Government should be funding people to live a ‘noble savage’ lifestyle in remote Indigenous c
ommunities.

Say what???

To label Indigenous Australians as ‘noble savages’ – particularly in 2016 – is deeply offensive (or as Sociologists may say, is an act of symbolic violence). To suggest that the decision to live in remote communities is a ‘lifestyle choice’ ignores the deep-rooted and intrinsic relationship Indigenous Australians have to their country: something that has been well outlined and researched in many reports including some great work by Amnesty International

Mr Jensen’s words echo previous comments made by Mr Tony Abbott (who was then PM) when he backed a plan to close more than 100 remote Indigenous communities in Western Australia.
In Dr Nikki Moodie’s chapter on ‘Aboriginal Australia’ in Sociologic, she discusses the ways contemporary societies reproduce historical patterns of control and domination on Indigenous people, specifically the ways Western worldviews tend to ignore the social and cultural reality of many Indigenous Australians.

After reading Anna Henderson’s article for the ABC, and having a look at Moodie’s chapter, what do you think?

How does the idea of the ‘noble savage’ reproduce racist assumptions about Aboriginal people?

And – more broadly – how do Jensen’s comments reproduce the historical patterns of control and domination experienced by Indigenous Australians?

james and Alex

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2 Responses to Sociologic: Symbolic Violence and the ‘Noble Savage’

  1. Steve Kokkinis says:

    Let’s not get too carried away here. Mr Jensen was refering to the Term “Noble Savage” à la Jean-Jacques Rousseau from the 1700’s. Where Rousseau explained how the Noble indigenous populations were living in harmony on the land until Europeans came and spoilt their natural living. I agree, he should of selected a better way of posing the argument, as the term “savage” is no longer useful in modern day lexicon and rather embarrasing to say the least. But if we really believe in a liberal society, he has a right to free speech.

  2. Andrew Glover says:

    This is a really vexed issue, and unfortunately one that’s become very politicised recently with the remote communities issue. You’d probably be aware of how articulate and considered Stan Grant has been on these matters. Before he received mainstream attention for his speech on racism in Australia, he was on the news talking about the push back against the potential closure of these remote communities. He said the following:

    “What is the end game here? Is the end game closing the gap? Is it about improving the lifestyle choices, the opportunities, for indigenous people? Is it about cultural and spiritual attachment to land? Can you have both of those things?….

    If you look at the way the world has turned, we have become a more urbanised world, we live longer because of it. We have great access to jobs & education, health, and so on. China lifted a quarter of a billion people out of poverty because it’s economy improved and people left smaller remote areas to move to the cities. These are hard questions….

    It requires hard choices among families and individuals, and it requires a really hard discussion in the indigenous community as well, who sometimes fall prey to this idea that ‘we need to keep people in remote communities because that’s there the real [inaudible] are and that makes me feel better about my identity’. That’s fine if you’re living in a city like I am, with the opportunities that I’ve had. It’s not too fine for the kid growing up there to make me feel stronger about who I am and my identity. These are really hard questions.”

    Now, in this last part of this passage, it seems to me that Stan is making a similar point to Dennis Jensen. He doesn’t refer to indigenous people as ‘noble savages’, but he’s critical of those people who champion the idea of living the ‘real’ indigenous lifestyle if it comes at the expense of other measures of wellbeing.

    The term ‘noble savage’, on my understanding, refers to our tendency to idealise the lives of indigenous peoples living off the land, since they’re seen as ‘uncorrupted’ by Western capitalism, industrialisation, consumer culture, etc.

    Yes, of course we shouldn’t seek to make other cultures to become more Western by default. But neither should we look past obvious hardship & poor life outcomes in favour of facilitating more abstract – and contested, even within the indigenous communities themselves – notions of ‘authentic’ cultural lifestyles.

    Stan also does seem to think that improvements to life expectancy (as Closing the Gap intends) come with increased urbanisation – and therefore, and move away from remote communities.

    I don’t have the answers here, but I thought Stan’s view on this is worth pointing out, since few people actually paid attention to his remarks on this issue.

    Stan’s dialogue is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzFKv4lXem8

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