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Data politics and Indigenous representation in Australian statistics


Walter, M, Data politics and Indigenous representation in Australian statistics, Indigenous Data Sovereignty: Toward an Agenda, ANU Press, T Kukutai and J Taylor (ed), Australia, pp. 79-98. ISBN 9781760460303 (2016) [Research Book Chapter]

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Accepting the philosophical premise that numbers exist, as per Quine (1948), is ontologically different to accepting that numbers have a fixed reality. This differential is the essence of the reality of numbers as they are applied to indigenous populations. In First World colonised nations such as Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Canada and the United States, the question is not just 'are these numbers real', but also 'how are these numbers deployed and whom do they serve'. The reality query is not of the numbers themselves but of what they purport to portray.

Numbers, configured as population or population sample data, are not neutral entities. Rather, social and population statistics are better understood as human artefacts, imbued with meaning. And, in their current configurations, the meanings re.fleeted in statistics are primarily drawn from the dominant social norms, values and racial hierarchy of the society in which they are created. As such, in colonising nation-states, statistics applied to indigenous peoples have a raced reality that is perpetuated and normalised through their creation and re-creation (Walter 2010; Walter & Andersen 2013). The numerical format of these statistics and their seemingly neutral presentation, however, elide their social, cultural and racial dimensions. In a seemingly unbroken circle, dominant social norms, values and racial understandings determine statistical construction and interpretations, which then shape perceptions of data needs and purpose, which then determine statistical construction and interpretation, and so on. Just as important is that the accepted persona of statistics on indigenous people operates to conceal what is excluded: the culture, interests, perspectives and alternative narratives of those they purport to represent-indigenous peoples.

This chapter investigates how Australia's racial terrain permeates statistics on Indigenous Australians. I examine the shape and context of these statistics as currently 'done' in Australia (Walter & Andersen 2013) and also the absences-how they are 'not done'. Within this, I interrogate the construction and dissemination of the contemporary Australian statistical Indigene and its wider social and cultural contexts and consequences. The chapter also challenges researchers to consider how reversing the analytical lens to generate data conceptualised through an Indigenous methodological framework might alter the narrative, concepts, discourse and, ultimately, policy directions of Indigenous Australia.

Item Details

Item Type:Research Book Chapter
Research Division:Indigenous Studies
Research Group:Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing
Research Field:Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health policy
Objective Division:Indigenous
Objective Group:Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community services
Objective Field:Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community services not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Walter, M (Professor Maggie Walter)
ID Code:112589
Year Published:2016
Deposited By:School of Social Sciences
Deposited On:2016-11-17
Last Modified:2017-06-28

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