Historical reasoning about Indigenous imprisonment: A community of fate?

Tim Rowse, University of Western Sydney


The high rate of Indigenous incarceration is a problem for public policy and therefore for historical and social analysis. This paper compares and contrasts two recent attempts at such analysis: Thalia Anthony’s Indigenous People, Crime and Punishment (2013) and Don Weatherburn’s Arresting Incarceration: Pathways Out of Indigenous Imprisonment (2014). My question is: what difference do these books’ contrasting narrative models of Australian history make to our thinking about contemporary Indigenous incarceration? My reading reveals several differences and similarities in their perspectives: how they position themselves in relation to the values that shape Australian debate about punishment; their historical understanding of the institutions of ‘protection’ and of the impact of ‘assimilation’; whether the law and order apparatus is systemically biased against Indigenous Australians; and whether Indigenous Australians should be understood as a ‘community of fate’.

Tim Rowse <t.rowse@uws.edu.au> is a Professorial Fellow in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts and in the Institute for Culture and Society. He has worked in the field of Australian Indigenous studies since 1981, focusing on the making of national policy, on the history of Central Australia and on issues of historiography. His most recent book is Rethinking Social Justice: From ‘Peoples’ to ‘Populations’ (Aboriginal Studies Press, 2012). He is currently working on a book about Australian Indigenous affairs since Federation.

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