What’s in a label: social factors and health issues for a small group of Aboriginal people born in Brisbane, Australia

Hickey, Sophie (2016). What’s in a label: social factors and health issues for a small group of Aboriginal people born in Brisbane, Australia PhD Thesis, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland. doi:10.14264/uql.2016.149

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Author Hickey, Sophie
Thesis Title What’s in a label: social factors and health issues for a small group of Aboriginal people born in Brisbane, Australia
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Science
Institution The University of Queensland
DOI 10.14264/uql.2016.149
Publication date 2016-03-24
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor David Trigger
Chelsea Bond
Jon Willis
Total pages 210
Language eng
Subjects 1608 Sociology
1117 Public Health and Health Services
Formatted abstract
The health disparity between Aboriginal people and other Australians is well documented. However, little is known how this is experienced over the life course in an urban setting. This study explores the social determinants of health and wellbeing over the early life course among a small group of Aboriginal people living in an urban setting. This was done in two parts: first, by statistically analysing differences in social risk factors between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people who were part of the longitudinal birth cohort study, the Mater-University Study of Pregnancy (MUSP) based in Brisbane, Australia (Chapters 2 and 3); and second, by following-up eleven of the same MUSP participants who self-identify as Aboriginal to explore what they believe have been important influences on their lives and wellbeing within their life narratives (Chapters 5 to 7).

Across a series of empirical sub-studies, this thesis quantitatively and qualitatively demonstrates the importance of context in attempting to understand the complex and interrelated nature of social factors and wellbeing. It also challenges some underlying assumptions about the way Aboriginal identity is imagined, constructed, and treated within current public health research. Having two epistemologically different research questions led to not only contrasting ways of doing research with Aboriginal people but also revealed significant limitations in attempts to ‘know’ Aboriginal people through epidemiological research. Epidemiology positions Aboriginality as a risk factor for disease favouring a deficits-based approach, while Indigenous perspectives emphasise the complexity and diversity of identity, as well as the strength and resilience of Aboriginal people.

This thesis highlights the following challenges regarding the nexus between identity and health: a) identity is not easy to measure or define, and changes over time and space; b) not all people experience identity in the same way, even if they have been labelled under the same identity category; and c) identity plays a significant role in people’s wellbeing narratives, even if this differs to the way it is represented by public health research. These points represent important considerations for any future epidemiological studies that use identity categories to determine health disparities. These findings suggest the need for more nuanced understanding of Aboriginal identities within public health, and also bring into question the use of Aboriginal status as an epidemiological variable more broadly.
Keyword Aboriginal people
Longitudinal studies
Life history interviews
Social determinants of health
Public health
Mixed methods

Document type: Thesis
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Created: Fri, 18 Mar 2016, 00:32:11 EST by Miss Sophie Hickey on behalf of Learning and Research Services (UQ Library)