Pursuing a multidimensional approach to justice for Indigenous students: Possibilities, tensions and problematics

Year: 2012

Author: Keddie, Amanda, Gowlett, Christina, Mills, Martin, Renshaw, Peter, Monk, Sue

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper draws on interview data from one of the case study schools that had a high Indigenous population, roughly 25% of all students. The school is highly regarded within the broader community as catering well to the educational needs of this population. The paper articulates the concerns that the school administration, teachers and support staff express in relation to this disadvantaged group - concerns associated with under-achievement, poor attendance, low motivation, racism and violence. With reference to Fraser's conceptualising of justice as occurring on three dimensions: economic (distributive), cultural (recognitive) and political (representative), the paper theorises the school's approach to addressing these concerns. The school, for example, supports distributive justice through home/liaison and learning assistance programs where extra material and human resources are allocated to these students; it supports cultural justice through the integration of Indigenous knowledges within curricular and extra-curricular activities and it supports political justice through the representation of Indigenous voices within staff and student leadership roles. Against this theoretical backdrop, the paper highlights the capacity of this multidimensional justice approach to ameliorate some of the circumstances of disadvantage constraining the educational success of these students. However, the paper also illuminates the tensions arising from this approach associated with a group identity politics that begins with differentiation on the basis of Indigeneity. Such engagement is vulnerable to homogenising and reifying Indigenous culture and identity against a white middle class norm - washing out complexity, multiplicity and contradiction within and between dominant and marginalised groups. Drawing on deeper analyses of particular initiatives at the school, the paper theorises a more generative approach that engages with a situated and critical analysis of all relations that oppress and marginalise. This approach is not about recognising group identity simply on the basis of marginality or privilege, but rather on dismantling the social arrangements that create distributive, recognitive and representative injustices.

Chair:Sue Monk