Accepted paper:

Traditions of Childhood and Normativity in Australia's Western Desert


Ute Eickelkamp (University of Sydney)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how Aboriginal children in a remote community create their own understandings of 'tradition'. Using phenomenological and psychoanalytical forms of interpretation, it is argued that an ethnography of children's experience of tradition illuminates the production of normativity.

Paper long abstract:

How do children in a remote Aboriginal community experience 'tradition'? Rather than focusing on knowledge transfer from the older to the younger generation, this paper explores how children create their own traditions and understandings of the term, especially in their play and through group dynamics ­ for themselves, in relation to their local community, and with a view to non-Aboriginal Australia. Brief consideration is also given to the memories and paradigmatic views of childhood held by adults, thus highlighting some aspects of continuity and change.

It is argued that an ethnographic analysis of children's experience of tradition in the context of their everyday life is of considerable epistemological value: it can shed light on the production of normativity. Specifically, and drawing on phenomenological and psychoanalytical techniques of interpretation, I outline how an analysis might proceed that shows how children perceive time and power, and generate history, authority and a collective identity. An understanding of children's normative practices ­ and by implication 'deviance' - seems especially needed at a time when the Australian Government has launched far-reaching 'crisis interventions' with the declared aim of combating child sexual abuse in remote Aboriginal communities. The discussion is based on an ethnographic study over three years of children in a remote Aboriginal community on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in the eastern part of Australia's Western Desert.

panel P05
Appropriating childhood: the current state of play