lisa slater on anxious belonging in aurukun


Lisa Slater, ‘Anxious Settler Belonging: Actualising the Potential for Making Resilient Postcolonial Subjects’, M/C Journal 16, 5 (2013).

Bit in lieu of abstract:

When I arrived in Aurukun, west Cape York, it was the heat that struck me first, knocking the city pace from my body, replacing it with a languor familiar to my childhood, although heavier, more northern. Fieldwork brings with it its own delights and anxieties. It is where I feel most competent and incompetent, where I am most indebted and thankful for the generosity and kindness of strangers. I love the way “no-where” places quickly become somewhere and something to me. Then there are the bodily visitations: a much younger self haunts my body. At times my adult self abandons me, leaving me nothing but an awkward adolescent: clumsy, sweaty, too much body, too white, too urban, too disconnected or unable to interpret the social rules. My body insists that this is not my home, but home for Wik and Wik Way people. Flailing about unmoored from the socio-cultural system that I take for granted, and take comfort from – and I draw sustenance. Anxiety circles, closes in on me, who grows distant and unsure, fragmented. Misusing Deborah Bird Rose, I’m tempted to say I’m separated from my nourishing terrain. Indeed it can feel like the nation (not the country) slipped out from under my feet.

I want to consider the above as an affective event, which seemingly reveals a lack of fortitude, the very opposite of resilience. A settler Australian – myself – comfort and sense of belonging is disturbed in the face of Aboriginal – in this case Wik – jurisdiction and primacy. But could it be generative of a kind of resilience, an ethical, postcolonial resilience, which is necessary for facing up to and intervening in the continence of colonial power relations in Australia? Affects are very telling: deeply embodied cultural knowledge, which is largely invisible, is made present. The political and ethical potential of anxiety is that it registers a confrontation: a test. If resilience is the capacity to be flexible and to successfully overcome challenges, then can settler anxiety be rethought (and indeed be relearned) as signalling an opportunity for ethical intercultural engagements (Latukefu et. al., “Enabling”)? But it necessitates resilience thinking to account for socio-cultural power relations.


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