Cornell University

Anthropology Colloquium with Jon Altman

Friday, September 22, 2017 at 3:00pm to 4:30pm

McGraw Hall, 215
740-750 University Ave, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA

Contestation over the environmental governance of Indigenous lands in Australia in the age of ‘punitive neoliberalism’

In the last 40 years Indigenous Australians have gained legal title under settler colonial law to over 40 per cent of the Continent through statutory land rights and native title mechanisms. But lands that are returned are invariably in very remote regions, and are often in degraded condition or facing a range of threats (invasive species, climate change, land clearing, uncontrolled fires, marine and terrestrial pollution etc) to their environmental and cultural values.

In this seminar, I aim to do three things. First I want to provide a brief introduction for a North American audience to what I have termed elsewhere a ‘land titling revolution’ and say a little about the environmental condition of Indigenous lands returned. Second, at the macro-policy scale I want to say a little about the financial assistance provided by the state under the Indigenous Protected Areas and Working on Country programs and the Emissions Reduction Fund to land owners to manage threats; these are invariably treated as forms of market transaction and government subsidy rather than compensation for damage resulting from European invasion by people and other species. Third, at the regional and ethnographic scale I focus on western Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory’s tropical savanna where I have worked with Kuninjku-speaking people since 1979; and where two Indigenous Protected Areas have been declared in 2009. Here I explore emerging political conflict around environmental governance at a time when the Australian state is looking to depopulate remote regions as in the colonial past and deploy a suite of paternalistic measures, what William Davies refers to as ‘punitive neoliberalism’, to fundamentally recalibrate the subjectivity of remote living Indigenous peoples to better align with the mainstream. I end by asking what legal or political mechanisms might be mobilised to ensure environmental compensation for Indigenous land owners to assist the restoration and/or maintenance of their degraded lands.

Jon Altman is a research professor at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University and an emeritus professor at the School of Regulation and Global Governance at the ANU. He has an academic background in economics and anthropology and was the foundation Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy at ANU 1990–2010. In 2003 he was elected a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and in 2012 an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. His research focuses on issues around economic plurality or hybridity and development alterity as a viable option for Indigenous peoples focusing on remote Australia.

Co-sponsored by the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program.




Event Type





cascal, Anthropology, anthro-colloquium, cashum, aip


Contact E-Mail

Contact Name

Liz Kirk

Contact Phone



Jon Altman

Speaker Affiliation

Deakin University


A reception will follow the talk

Open To

free and open to the public.

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