Representation, discourse and identity research

Deficit Discourse and Indigenous Education: mapping the discursive environment, assessing impact, and changing the conversation

This ARC-funded project investigates the prevalence of deficit discourse and its influence on Indigenous education. Deficit discourse frames Indigenous identity in a narrative of negativity and deficiency. Recent work indicates that deficit discourse is active in policy, public debate, pedagogy and practice and its prevalence in Indigenous education influences student performance. By mapping the discursive environment and analysing education programs that reject the deficit model, this project assesses whether its removal improves outcomes for Indigenous students. This project provides an original approach to challenge entrenched perceptions, resulting in tangible benefits for the Australian education system and the communities that it serves.

The project is significant for Indigenous communities and wider Australian society. Comprehensive assessment of deficit discourse and its influence is of direct relevance to key stakeholders in the Indigenous education system. Findings inform education policy, pedagogy and practice to optimise learning for Indigenous students. Results provide critical evidence to address how Indigenous education is understood and represented in forums of influence, particularly politics and the media.

The Chief Investigators on this project are Professor Mick Dodson, Mr Scott Gorringe, Dr Bill Fogarty, Adjunct Professor Patrick Sullivan, Associate Professor Kerry McCallum, Dr Lisa Waller and Associate Professor Cressida Fforde.

Key NCIS researchers: Professor Mick Dodson, Associate Professor Cressida Fforde, Dr Bill Fogarty, , Adjunct Professor Patrick Sullivan.

Project timeline: 2014 to 2016.

Improving Indigenous education outcomes in Victoria

This project is funded by the Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation and explores whether and how deficit discourse surrounding Aboriginality affects educational outcomes for Indigenous youth in Victoria. To do so, the project focusses on two case study schools in Melbourne, investigating what happens to Indigenous educational achievement after the implementation of a professional development program for teachers which results in deficit discourse no longer being the dominant frame in the school environment. This innovative project will establish a baseline in each site and measure the practical outcomes achieved at the end of the 12-month program.

The research team is Dr Bill Fogarty, Mr Scott Gorringe, Professor Mick Dodson and Associate Professor Cressida Fforde.

Key NCIS researchers: Professor Mick Dodson, Associate Professor Cressida Fforde, Dr Bill Fogarty.

Project timeline: 2014 to 2015.

Changing the conversation

This research group has a shared interest in issues surrounding the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity, today and in the past. It is particularly interested in the language of representation (ie the underlying discourse) and its influence on perceptions, relations, policy and practice, and how to invoke change for a positive outcome.

The group's work derives from an increasing awareness and concern that current modes of representation (articulated and managed through language) continue to act as significant constraints, and that invoking a shift in discourse is fundamental to facilitating factors which help to enable sustained development, well-being and social justice. Part of the research group's initiative will therefore be to investigate this premise and the methods that can be used to 'change the conversation'. In doing so, research may consider both the negative impact of discourse as well as the success of programs which have adopted, for example, a strength-based approach.

Key NCIS researchers: Professor Mick Dodson, Associate Professor Cressida Fforde, Dr Lawrence Bamblett.

Project timeline: 2011 – ongoing.

Updated:  7 January 2016/ Responsible Officer:  NCIS Project Coordinator/ Page Contact:  NCIS Administrative Officer