Who do they think they are? : constructing Australian immigration in letters to the editor since 1966

McCormack, Paul Joseph (2002). Who do they think they are? : constructing Australian immigration in letters to the editor since 1966 PhD Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

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Author McCormack, Paul Joseph
Thesis Title Who do they think they are? : constructing Australian immigration in letters to the editor since 1966
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2002-01-01
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Susan B. McKay
Total pages 182
Language eng
Subjects L
420399 Cultural Studies not elsewhere classified
751004 The media
Formatted abstract This thesis examines, within specific parameters, some of the discursive constructions by 'ordinary' Australians, of some of the putative effects of their country's changing immigration programme over the thirty-five years since 1966—the year in which the Holt Government announced the first of what were to become over the course of time a number of sweeping changes to the administration of Australia's immigration and settlement programmes. Its focus is on one particular outlet for that discursive construction of supposed effect—the Letter to the Editor of the metropolitan press. Against the background of a consideration of the nature of that unique medium, as well as a consideration of Australia's specific history in respect of the administration of immigration, it identifies and examines the recurring notion in a number of such letters that there is something like an intractable or inevitable relationship between the socio-cultural and demographic composition of a society on the one hand, and its stability, prosperity, and even viability on the other.

The theoretical construct of the Interpretative Repertoire is borrowed from the work of Margaret Wetherell and Jonathan Potter, among others, in order to better explicate the operation of that apparent relationship in those letters. Assertions about the inevitability of internecine strife in multicultural or multiracial societies speak to the pre-existing sets of general and specialised knowledge, ideas, opinions and other intellectual resources—the "explanatory resources", in other words (Wetherell and Potter, "Discourse Analysis" 172)—which the various correspondents both have access to, and make use of, in developing their respective arguments. So too do speculations about the nature of the material impression, if any, on the conduct and manner of life in Australia that any given migrants are likely to have. What emerges most strongly from the data, though, is the fact that assertions and speculations of this kind have frequently been mobilised in general support of, as well as in direct opposition to, the ongoing broadening of legislative definitions of 'suitable' or 'desirable' immigrants to include those of a markedly different socio-cultural or racial background. Taking the view that what is being achieved in each of the letters in turn is the discursive construction of particular alternative versions of these ontological categories of immigrants, this thesis demonstrates, by means of a close attention to lexical as well as symbolic content, that all of the correspondents are drawing upon remarkably similar explanatory resources, regardless of any apparent differences in their respective attitudinal stances.
Keyword Letters to the editor -- Australia.
Australia -- Emigration and immigration -- Public opinion.
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