Mending the web: Conflict transformation between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous Australians

Walker, Polly O. (2001). Mending the web: Conflict transformation between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous Australians PhD Thesis, School of Social Work and Applied Human Sciences, The University of Queensland.

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Author Walker, Polly O.
Thesis Title Mending the web: Conflict transformation between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous Australians
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Work and Applied Human Sciences
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2001
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Catherine McDonald
Total pages 286
Collection year 2001
Language eng
Subjects 160803 Race and Ethnic Relations
200201 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies
370200 Social Work
750309 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander development and welfare
Formatted abstract This thesis illuminates the processes of sustainable conflict transformation between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous Australians. The literature review explores Indigenous approaches of consensual conflict processing, discussing the central characteristics of the worldview underlying the methodologies. The literature review also compares Indigenous methods of consensual conflict processing with Western conflict resolution and conflict transformation methods, examining differences and similarities in worldview. This thesis discusses the ways in which Indigenous worldviews have been and continue to be suppressed through the processes of colonisation.

In the literature review the author identifies the central characteristics of the worldview underlying Australian Aboriginal, Native American and Native Hawaiian models of processing conflict: interconnectedness, emphasis on processes and relationships; inclusion of holistic experience; and expanded conceptualisations of time. These characteristics are contrasted with the central characteristics of the dominant Western worldview underlying problem solving models of processing conflict. This worldview is characterised by: a mechanistic paradigm which is atomistic and analytical; emphasis on technique rather than process; privileging the intellectual aspects of experience; and linear conceptualisations of time. The author argues that because of these differences in worldview, implementing Western problem solving models in conflicts involving Indigenous peoples at best leads to short term solutions to conflict, and at worst may exacerbate existing conflicts.

This thesis proposes a connection between Indigenous and Western consensual conflict processing in that the practice of Western conflict transformation is based on a worldview similar to that of Indigenous consensual conflict processing. The third literature review chapter identifies the central characteristics of Western conflict transformation to be: a paradigm of interconnectedness; emphasis on relationship and process; holistic experience; and expanded conceptualisations of time. 

The author suggests that this thesis serves as an example of conflict transformation in and of itself in that it creates a synthesis on several levels: it integrates Indigenist and emergent Western epistemologies and methodologies; it proposes a synthesis of Aboriginal and non-Indigenous participants' experiences of conflict transformation; and it explores the interconnections between Western conflict transformation and the ethnopraxis discussed m the findings chapters.

In the methodology section, the author describes this research project's emphasis on story, maintaining that use of story in data collection and analysis bridges both Indigenous and Western epistemologies. Use of story as a research method supports interconnections between personal experience and the web of larger experience and meaning.

The methodology of Interconnected Knowing utilised in this research is designed to support both Indigenist and emergent Western epistemologies in that: it is based on a paradigm of interconnectedness; focuses on processes and relationships rather than technique; involves expanded concepts of data; and integrates intellectual, emotional, bodily and spiritual aspects of experience.

The findings chapters demonstrate that conflict transformation between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous Australians involves a complex web of interconnected projects and programs designed to implement long term positive social change. The author discusses the ways in which the practices of colonisation have silenced Indigenous knowledge and practice of conflict transformation. Rather than drawing solely on literature, the author has focused on ethnopraxis, participants' experience of transforming conflict between Indigenous and non- Indigenous Australians. This thesis increases current knowledge regarding ethnoconflict theory and practice.

This thesis proposes a synthesis of participants' experience of conflict transformation, the author's field research and experience, and written accounts of the experience of other Australians involved in conflict transformation. The synthesis is expressed through six themes which represent the authors' understanding of the central characteristics of the process of conflict transformation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. These themes illuminate processes of

• Developing deep understanding
• Utilising the power of emotions
• Developing relationships
• Working together to implement positive social change
• Balancing inequalities
• Personal transformation

This thesis proposes that sustainable conflict transformation between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous Australians is a process of understanding of the issues underlying current conflict, improving relationships, and supporting an infrastructure of programs and projects that increase social justice.

In the final section, conclusions are drawn regarding the inadequacies of Western conflict problem solving models of conflict resolution in conflicts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in colonised societies. Links are made between Western conflict transformation and the ethnopraxis illuminated within this research. The findings of this research refer directly to the Australian context, yet may have implications for other Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples seeking to transform conflict within deeply divided societies.
Keyword Aboriginal Australians -- Relations with Europeans
Conflict management -- Australia
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