Representation, discourse and identity research

The Narrative Framing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Wellbeing: A Review

The Narrative Framing project aims to identify the discursive narrative that frames Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing. This discourse (that is – language, statements and documents, and the rules and conditions that govern their production and circulation, and their socio-political and governmental contexts) is often framed as one of deficit. The project examines the range of attributes of the discourse, including the prevalence of deficit discourses, to identify the broad ‘landscape’ of discursive formations. This project also provides a basis for a second project entitled Reframing Discourse and Changing the Narrative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Wellbeing: An Analysis (detailed below). The Narrative Framing project is led by Professor Mick Dodson, Director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies (NCIS) at The Australian National University (ANU), and includes other prominent Aboriginal researchers among key investigators, as well as other Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal staff. The project will have significant benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in addressing a long-overdue need to identify the formations and structures of deficit discourses that impact upon disadvantage and dependency, as a step towards changing the narrative and thus reducing its impact. The benefits and impact of this project will be able to be evaluated over time by a range of methods. These include identifying raised awareness of deficit discourse and its prevalence, increased scholarship and programs in this area, and whether there is a growth in reflection about the nature of discourses on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing among policy and decision-makers, health and allied practitioners, educators and other professionals.

This project employs theoretical approaches and methodologies drawn from the social sciences and humanities. It uses critical discourse analysis and other forms of textual critique to study a range of texts (including published, unpublished, policy documents, and on-line materials) and to map the types of discourses and their attributes. The NCIS is a leading research, policy and advocacy Centre based at one of Australia’s premier universities. With the leadership of Professor Mick Dodson, and sited within the NCIS, this project has powerful potential to build and develop skills and capacity among its Aboriginal leaders, participants and collaborators. The involvement in this project of early-career and post-graduate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers also provides opportunities for their further skill development. As the project will involve engagement activity with a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing organisations and communities, there are potential opportunities for skills and capacity development among this wider group.

The project has been developed in close liaison with the Lowitja Institute, with whom the NCIS has ongoing collaborative and partnership arrangements through its key investigators. Project researchers also have high-level partnerships and collaborative engagements with a range of institutions and organisations in academia, policy, advocacy, and community-based sectors, and these will be mobilised for the duration of this project.

The project, which will conclude in June 2017, will produce a report/review identifying the types of discourses prevalent in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing sector.

Project team:

Deficit Discourse Research Reference Group:

Project timeline: 2017

Reframing Discourse and Changing the Narrative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Wellbeing: An Analysis

This project flows on from, and complements, the Lowitja-funded project: The Narrative Framing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Wellbeing: A Review.

Reframing Discourse aims to identify national and international methods and approaches that have been effective in changing the narrative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing, from one based on deficit and ill-health, to one of strength and resilience. It will make recommendations for best-practice approaches and future actions to reframe the discourse and narrative in the Australian context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing.

This project is led by Professor Mick Dodson, Director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies (NCIS) at The Australian National University (ANU), and includes other prominent Aboriginal researchers among key investigators, as well as other non-Aboriginal staff. The project will have significant benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in addressing a long-overdue need to identify a range of best-practice models, techniques and programs that are effective in changing the narrative in health discourse from deficit-based, to strength- and resilience-based. The benefits and impact of this project will be able to be evaluated over time by examining the effectiveness of programs, policies and models for changing the narrative on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing among policy and decision-makers, health and allied practitioners, educators and other professionals.

This project employs theoretical approaches and methodologies drawn from the social sciences and humanities. A review of literature and data will form the basis for an analysis of the relationships between discourses and their outcomes, and the benefits of changing the narrative (or ‘conversation’) to a strength-based discourse. The project will identify existing projects that seek to change deficit narratives in the health sector, noting commonalities and differences towards compiling a guide to best-practice approaches.

The NCIS is a leading research, policy and advocacy Centre based at one of Australia’s premier universities. With the leadership of Professor Mick Dodson, and sited within the NCIS, this project has powerful potential to build and develop skills and capacity among its Aboriginal leaders, participants and collaborators. The involvement in this project of early-career and post-graduate Aboriginal researchers also provides opportunities for their further skill development and employment. Further, as the project will involve engagement activity with a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing organisations and communities, there are potential opportunities for skills and capacity development among this wider group.

The project has been developed in close liaison with the Lowitja Institute, with whom the NCIS has ongoing collaborative and partnership arrangements through its key investigators. Project researchers also have high-level partnerships and collaborative engagements with a range of institutions and organisations in academia, policy, advocacy, and community-based sectors, and these will be mobilised for the duration of this project.

Project team:

Deficit Discourse Research Reference Group:

Project timeline: 2017

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:  9 February 2017/ Responsible Officer:  NCIS Project Coordinator/ Page Contact:  NCIS Administrative Officer