University of Tasmania
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The more things change, the more they stay the same : representations of whiteness in Australian history narratives 1950-2010

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posted on 2023-05-27, 10:38 authored by Robyn MooreRobyn Moore
This thesis examines representations of whiteness and otherness in Australian secondary school social science textbooks from 1950-2010. Using textbooks as records of dominant narratives, I identify continuities and changes to the visibility and substantive nature of whiteness and otherness over this period. In particular, I analyse the discursive shifts which facilitated the transition in whiteness from a symbol of overt superiority to one of normality, characterised by 'unknowing'. Utilising a theoretical framework comprising critical whiteness studies and ignorance theory, I employ content and critical discourse analysis to investigate how dominant discourses produce and maintain categories of belonging and exclusion. I focus on the role of ignorance in the perpetuation of these categories despite substantial legislative and social change during the research period, signified by the transition from the White Australia era to multiculturalism. Textbooks reflect the shift in the broader polity over the research period: White dominance persists by becoming unmarked. Although representations of whiteness and otherness in textbooks become less visible, the constructs themselves endure. Similarly, Whites' position at the centre of the nation and non-Whites' at the margins persists despite changes to the substantive nature of these constructs: less overt assertions of White superiority and constructions of others as different rather than deficient. Even the increased representation of non-Whites fails to unsettle this dynamic; by siloing this content, dominant whiteness is not disrupted. Continuities despite apparent change are enabled by White ignorance. The absence of overt assertions of White superiority and non-White deficiency in the multicultural era maintains White racial dominance while engendering White ignorance by rendering constructions of whiteness and otherness less explicit. In conjunction with the reduced visibility of these constructs, these less overt formulations shield the racialised nature of the polity from critique, ensuring that White ignorance is reproduced rather than interrupted. These discursive strategies (re)construct Australianness as White, irrespective of the racial diversity of the contemporary Australian population.


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