Practising self-determination: Participation in planning and local governance in discrete indigenous settlements

Moran, Mark F. (2006). Practising self-determination: Participation in planning and local governance in discrete indigenous settlements PhD Thesis, School of Geography, Planning and Architecture, The University of Queensland.

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Author Moran, Mark F.
Thesis Title Practising self-determination: Participation in planning and local governance in discrete indigenous settlements
School, Centre or Institute School of Geography, Planning and Architecture
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2006
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Memmott, Paul
Total pages 546
Collection year 2006
Language eng
Subjects L
310101 Architecture
780107 Studies in human society
Abstract/Summary The principle and policy of self-determination holds that Aboriginal people should have the right to pursue a lifestyle of their choosing and to have control over their interactions with the wider society. Self-determination policy has been in place at a federal level since the 1970’s, yet after thirty years of implementation, there is considerable disarray and disagreement over its merits. This study investigated the transactions of decision-makers as they practised two of the main policy instruments of self-determination: participatory planning and self-governance. The research settings were Mapoon and Kowanyama, two discrete Indigenous settlements on the West Coast of Cape York Peninsula, in the state of Queensland, northern Australia. Three typologies for settlements, planning, and organisations were established, which gave the context for the study, as well as a basis from which to generalise findings. From the types of planning in practice, a participatory plan at Mapoon was singled out for further study since it specifically recreated the language of self-determination. The Mapoon Plan was found to be successful technically, but it fell short of its stated social development goals. Planning proved to be a highly politicised and idealised activity, brokered by external consultants. The complex interplay among knowledge, ideology and politics, as observed, could not be described in terms of two separate domains, but rather in terms of intercultural production across an interethnic field. The anthropological literature tended to treat Aboriginal polities as cultural isolates, situated within administrative vacuums. To progress the study, it became necessary to apply a functional and administrative rationality to what needed to be done in practice. Twenty case studies of decision-making forums were analysed in the main research setting of Kowanyama. Each involved the contemporary practice of self-determination, as local decision-makers engaged with the wider society. In the majority of cases, all six proposed factors were found to be necessary, but not sufficient, for success: (1) participation, (2) technical expertise, (3) negotiation, (4) institutional capacity, (5) focal driver, and (6) jurisdictional devolution. A typology of actors was established to define the different decision-makers involved. Of the 600 adults in Kowanyama, only 30 were found to be actively involved in decision-making. This was unexpectedly low given the quantity of government activity purporting to further Kowanyama’s self-determination. Six determinants were found to influence the level of participation: efficacy in practice, jurisdictional devolution, representativeness, function, informality, language and motivation. In particular, form followed function, whereby the function of a decision-making forum decided the level of participation that was appropriate. Contrary to accounts in the anthropological literature, the study found a fledgling system of representation in Kowanyama, complete with informal ‘extra-constitutional’ checks and balances. Factions were a powerful aspect of Kowanyama society, but they did not monopolise politics. The local polity was better conceptualised in terms of its political pluralism, encompassing a complex array of balancing and competing interests. Significantly, constituents were beginning to exert local political influence over their leaders. The analysis found that notions of ‘community control,’ as promulgated in the community development literature, were not adequate to explain the intercultural production underway. The full spectrum of participation was relevant to the actors of governance, from political activism to ambivalent apathy. Community control was found in the absence of government interventions, imbedded within informal institutions and cultural norms. Yet, introduced political structures, including Councils, were no less a part of the local political arena. The notion of governance better encapsulated the array of decision-making activities and actors occurring across a broad range of institutional positions. The study documented multiple dilemmas and indeterminacies as actors practised self-determination in the interethnic field, especially the interplay between local and external ideologies and knowledge. All of the examples of political innovation in the contemporary history of governance in Kowanyama involved productive social contexts developing locally between leaders and trusted outsiders. The complexity of problems and their solutions were only revealed through practice, one step at a time. Successful initiatives in Kowanyama were to a degree inadvertent; it was not until the end that actors understood what they had done right or wrong. Significantly, political innovation occurred in practice, often without any active intervention by government. Ironically, one of the greatest obstacles limiting local capacity was the size of the task of administering the programs of self-determination. An accepted role for leaders and employees was radical action to manipulate the system and to create the institutional space to permit the subjects of self-determination to participate. The analysis suggested that the importance assigned to government policy, legislation, and structure has fallen out of balance with their actual practice. Rather than fixating on policy solutions to self-determination, policy-makers should be focusing more on creating an enabling framework for practice. The six success factors proven in the study give the basis for such a framework.
Keyword governance
participatory planning
indigenous settlements
community development

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Created: Fri, 21 Nov 2008, 14:16:19 EST