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Hunter-gatherers and the state : the economic anthropology of the Gunwinggu of North Australia

Altman, Jon

Description

This thesis is an account of the economic system of the eastern Gunwinggu of North-Central Arnhem Land, Australia , during the period 1979-80. In the Introduction, I set out to examine how the fa c t that there are hunter-gatherer societies encapsulated within the modern Australian National State can be explained. For such a resilience is counter to the predictions of three important theoretical approaches - modernisation, dependency, and articulation of modes of production - that...[Show more]

dc.contributor.authorAltman, Jon
dc.date.accessioned2017-05-08T06:57:26Z
dc.date.available2017-05-08T06:57:26Z
dc.date.copyright1982
dc.identifier.otherb1313320
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/1885/116808
dc.description.abstractThis thesis is an account of the economic system of the eastern Gunwinggu of North-Central Arnhem Land, Australia , during the period 1979-80. In the Introduction, I set out to examine how the fa c t that there are hunter-gatherer societies encapsulated within the modern Australian National State can be explained. For such a resilience is counter to the predictions of three important theoretical approaches - modernisation, dependency, and articulation of modes of production - that contact between pre -capitalist and capitalist economies inevitably results in the demise of the former. A combination of factors including the geographic isolation of the study region, the flexibility and strength of traditional economic structures, and the fact that the first intensive contact was with a benign and affluent welfare State, explain this . The last factor is particularly important in explaining the inadequacy of theoretical prognoses and the resilience of the Gunwinggu subsistence economy, for the State protected the Aboriginal land base and restricted the penetration of private sector capitalism in to the region since 1931. In the major part of the thesis, from Chapters 1 to 11, I quantify and analyse transformations in the traditional economy that have resulted from twenty-five years of continuous contact with the market economy and the welfare State. I focus on examining the structure of the contemporary economic system, via a detailed study of one small bush community, or outstation , called Momega, where I resided from October 1979 to November 1980. I begin my analysis with a formal examination of the parameters of the Momega economy, to ascertain the significance of hunting and gathering (subsistence production), production of artefacts for market exchange, and other production; and to gauge the extent of external dependence on market foodstuffs and goods. I found that while subsistence production remains the mainstay of the outstation's economy, there exists a limited dependence on market commodities, purchased primarily by cash transfer payments from the welfare State. I then turn to an examination of the rules and regulations that govern production, distribution , consumption and exchange in this society. I found that despite the adoption and adaption of market technology, production is still organised along traditional lines, and is still oriented to meet domestic needs. There has been a definite preservation of traditional sharing practices, most of which have been transposed from the subsistence to the cash nexus. This preservation has made the domestic accumulation of goods, and even of cash earned via production for market exchange, most difficult. I conclude that as Sahlins (1972:1-43) noted in his depiction of the 'original affluent society', the Gunwinggu economy is one based on limited material (including in the current context, market) wants. Rules and regulations that embody traditional values and that remain strictly adhered to, ensure that despite contact with capitalism and the State, and despite the availability of means for material accumulation and wealth differentials, this society remains egalitarian in the economic domain. For eastern Gunwinggu both traditionally and today, stress non-material prerogatives; power and prestige in this society is not based on the accumulation of material wealth, but primarily on the accumulation of esoteric knowledge Finally, I examine what conditions must exist for the economic system that I described and analysed to be maintained in the future. Continuity appears dependent on a future Gunwinggu adherence to an economy of limited market wants; and constancy in external relations with the State. Change may be precipitated by increased Gunwinggu material aspirations, resulting from internal pressures within this society; but it appears more likely to result from changes in the nature of the State, that up until 1982 has remained relatively benevolent or the possibility of the development of external relations with private sector capitalism.
dc.format.extent522p
dc.language.isoen
dc.subject.lcshGunwinggu (Australian people)
dc.subject.lcshAboriginal Australians Australia Northern Territory
dc.subject.lcshEthnology Australia Northern Territory
dc.titleHunter-gatherers and the state : the economic anthropology of the Gunwinggu of North Australia
dc.typeThesis (PhD)
local.contributor.supervisorPeterson, Nicolas
local.contributor.supervisorMorphy, Howard
dcterms.valid1982
local.description.notesThis thesis has been made available through exception 200AB to the Copyright Act.
local.type.degreeDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
dc.date.issued1982
local.contributor.affiliationDepartment of Prehistory and Anthropology, The Australian National University
local.identifier.doi10.25911/5d74e10e0f470
dc.date.updated2017-05-05T12:00:00Z
local.mintdoimint
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