Institutional ethnography of Aboriginal Australian child separation histories : implications of social organising practices in accounting for the past
Peet, Jennifer L.
How we come to know about social phenomena is an important sociological question and a central focus of this thesis. How knowledge is organised and produced and becomes part of ruling relations is empirically interrogated through an institutional ethnography. I do this in the context of explicating the construction of a public history concerning Aboriginal Australian child separations over the 20th century, and in particular as it arose in the 1990s as a social problem. Particular attention is given to knowledge construction practices around the Australian National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal Children from Their Families (1996-1997) and the related Bringing Them Home Oral History Project (1998-2002). The once separated children have come to be known as The Stolen Generation(s) in public discourse and have been represented as sharing a common experience as well as reasons for the separations. Against the master narrative of common experience and discussion of the reasons for it, this thesis raises the problematic that knowledge is grounded in particular times and places, and also that many people who are differently related and who have experiences which contain many differences as well as similarities end up being represented as though saying the same thing. Through an institutional ethnography grounded in explicating the social organising activities which produced the Bringing Them Home Oral History Project, I examine how institutional relations coordinate the multiplicity and variability of people’s experiences through a textually-mediated project with a focused concern regarding the knowing subject, ideology, accounts, texts and analytical mapping. Through this I show how ruling relations are implicated in constructing what is known about the Aboriginal child separation histories, and more generally how experience, memory, the telling of a life and the making of public history are embedded in social organising practices.