The narrative inquiry reported here examined a significant educational issue during a period of Australian political conservatism in the late 20th and early 21th century. It was a time that gave rise to an assault on ideological ideas of race, disadvantage, social justice and equity. Inside this terrain, 'the problem' in Indigenous education - the gross failure of student success evidenced in statistics on Australian Indigenous educational outcomes, was studied through the experiences of white women teachers who taught in Indigenous schools.
The inquiry, set in contexts where 'the problem' and its consequences were lived, offers recounts from six white women teachers (including the researcher's own experiences) in three Indigenous school contexts. Narratives were constructed from ethnographic descriptions, participants' emails, interviews and conversations. The presentation of the narratives includes a researcher reflective process recorded in text boxes (valances) accompanying the narratives. The analytical framework applied to the narrative constructs - the 'stories from and with' the participants, appropriated feminist poststructuralist thinking, and draws on strategies adapted from Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). These strategies were employed at a micro level enabling close examination of narrative episodes through a sieve of linguistic categories and philosophical concepts including; language and discourse; power and resistance; truth/knowledge and the self - that is, the self as enacted subjectivities. This feed into a macro level of analysis - an interpretation that constructed (re)writings of the narratives by weaving together: (i) the initial micro findings, and (ii) the Australian historical perspective; the discursive and material practices of Indigenous education and the concepts of whiteness processes. This montage was studied for its impingement on the teachers' pedagogical enactments.
The analysis revealed shifting and contradictory subjectivity projections by the participants in their role performances of 'white woman teacher'. What was revealed inside these subjectivity shifts and fractures were varied responses to 'ways of being' in contexts of difference. The variations manifested either (but sometimes simultaneously) as (a) pedagogical barriers to Indigenous students' educational success and/or (b) responses that signalled possible subversion and resistance to dominant subjectivities and associated discourses and practices. In terms of (a) the pedagogical barriers; it was evident that what remained unnamed in the construct of 'the problem', was the contribution whiteness processes made to 'the problem' - the discourse of Indigenous students' and their disenfranchisement from western education. In respect to (b) subversive responses to dominant subjectivities; it was evident that some responses revealed glimpses of participants wanting to stand outside normalising 'regimes of truth', these I name as moments of self-awareness, possibilities of change through what Foucault (1988) calls 'technologies of self. These self-awareness responses represent 'shadows' (doubts) about absurd and surreal normalising practices that white women teachers need to refuse allegiance to, in order to enact more purposeful pedagogical responses for Indigenous learners.
The inquiry offers an archive previously unavailable in that it renders an account of the experience of shifting subjectivities, and unearths the discourses inside pedagogical relations and responses to living with and within difference that materialised when one looked 'head-on at a site of dominance' called whiteness (Frankenberg 1993:6) in Indigenous Australian educational contexts.