Anticipatory citizenship is … not citizenship: Kate Coddington, ‘The re-emergence of wardship: Aboriginal Australians and the promise of citizenship’, Political Geography, 61, 2017, pp. 67–76


Abstract: In this paper, I suggest that the category of ‘ward,’ a designation used for Aboriginal Australians in the 1950s and 1960s, has re-emerged in contemporary Northern Territory (NT) life. Wardship represents an in-between status, neither citizens nor non-citizens, but rather an anticipatory citizenship formation constructed by the Australian state. The ward is a not-yet citizen, and the deeds, acts, and discourses that define the ward’s capacities to act as a political subject can maintain their anticipatory nature even as people ‘achieve’ formal citizenship. Wardship can be layered on top of citizen and non-citizen status alike. Rather than accounting for the grey areas between ‘citizen’ and ‘non-citizen,’ therefore, wards exist beyond this theoretical continuum, demanding a more nuanced accounting of political subjectivities and people’s relationships to the state.

I trace the emergence of the category ‘ward’ in the 1950s and 1960s in Australia and its re-emergence for Aboriginal Australians impacted by the 2007 Northern Territory Emergency Response legislation. The promise of citizenship offered by the status of ‘ward’ is built upon expectations about family life, economic activity, and appropriate behaviour. These assumptions underscore an implicit bargain between individuals and the state, that neoliberalised self-discipline will lead to both formal citizenship rights and a sense of belonging. Built-in impediments, however, ensure that this bargain is difficult, if not impossible, to fulfil.

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