We are all stakeholders now: The influence of western discourses of "community engagement" in an Australian Aboriginal community

Parsons, R. (2008) We are all stakeholders now: The influence of western discourses of "community engagement" in an Australian Aboriginal community. Critical Perspectives on International Business, 4 2-3: 99-126. doi:10.1108/17422040810869972

Author Parsons, R.
Title We are all stakeholders now: The influence of western discourses of "community engagement" in an Australian Aboriginal community
Formatted title
We are all stakeholders now: The influence of western discourses of “community engagement” in an Australian Aboriginal community
Journal name Critical Perspectives on International Business   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1742-2043
Publication date 2008-01-01
Year available 2008
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1108/17422040810869972
Open Access Status DOI
Volume 4
Issue 2-3
Start page 99
End page 126
Total pages 28
Editor Roberts, J.
Cairns, G.
Place of publication United Kingdom
Publisher Emerald Group Publishing
Language eng
Subject C1
150303 Corporate Governance and Stakeholder Engagement
950201 Communication Across Languages and Culture
Formatted abstract
In recent years, Australian minerals companies have increasingly considered Aboriginal communities to be “stakeholders”, suggesting that new practices of respect have superseded past colonial practices of dispossession, and apparently challenging neoliberal ideology. The increasing pervasiveness of the term “community engagement” exemplifies this apparent transformation. However, in common with the similar interdiscursive notions, “sustainable development” and “corporate social responsibility” (CSR), the meaning of “community engagement” may be contestable. In this case study of a minerals-processing site in eastern Australia, discourses of “community engagement” among company staff and local indigenous community members are critically compared. The overall aim is to illuminate discursive tensions and multiple subjectivities among participants' assumptions and worldviews.

Broadly speaking, the paper uses a discourse analytic approach to demonstrate how apparently rational processes are contestable, unstable and discursively constructed. Using transcripts of interviews with 12 indigenous community members, and five company staff, the study firstly describes participants' conceptual relationships and identifies the discursive formations from which participants draw. Using closer textual analysis, it then investigates how participants' meanings and worldviews are constituted through discursively produced texts.

The paper finds that both company and community participants interdiscursively draw on competing discourses, but sometimes they do so in different ways. Most notably, company participants implicitly see indigeneity as static, non-negotiable and non-problematic, while community participants view indigeneity as inextricably bound up in identity, land and respect. Furthermore, participants have competing understandings of notions such as development, industry and money.

Concepts such as “sustainable development”, “CSR” and now “community engagement” are often cited as evidence that corporations are responding adequately to criticisms regarding their historical misdemeanours. The implicit assumption is that the contemporary capitalism can satisfactorily address social concerns. Yet, this study suggests that it does so by internalising antithetical discourses, thereby neutralising opposition, and maintaining both capitalism's legitimacy and colonialism's power relations. Thus, the capacity to challenge assumptions underlying the colonial-capitalist project may be constrained by historical relations of power.
Keyword Australian aboriginals
Community relations
Stakeholder analysis
Corporate social responsibility
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: 2009 Higher Education Research Data Collection
UQ Business School Publications
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Created: Thu, 19 Mar 2009, 22:31:01 EST by Karen Morgan on behalf of UQ Business School