Settler colonialism, multiculturalism and the politics of postcolonial identity




Lovell, Melissa

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Australian Political Studies Association, Monash University


The twentieth century saw the development of nationalism and the construction of postcolonial identities in many newly independent nations. Formerly colonised peoples have struggled to restore and adapt their customs and to construct postcolonial national identities. Settler colonial nations face a distinctive challenge in the construction of postcolonial national identities. These nations are founded on the dispossession and assimilation of indigenous peoples and the impulse to build an autonomous settler nation. They are, therefore, caught in a limbo between an ambivalent relationship to the ‘mother-country’ and an unwillingness to acknowledge brutal and colonial aspects of their nation’s foundations. The Australian situation is a powerful example of the difficulty of constructing postcolonial national identities in settler colonial nations. In Australia, multicultural discourses have sought to distance Australian identity from its settler colonial foundations. These discourses have the potential to contribute to a more postcolonial form of national identity. Many Australians, however, have seemed indifferent to multicultural descriptions of Australian identity. Multiculturalism’s failure to capture the Australian imagination can be attributed to the difficulty of overcoming settler colonial forms of identity. The settler colonial ambivalence regarding Australia’s British and colonial heritage has resulted in the adoption of liberal democratic ‘universalist’ values as a form of surrogate cultural and national identity. The culture of Australians of British heritage is normalised and these Australians frequently regard themselves to be without a true cultural heritage. This has serious implications for multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is interpreted as applicable only to Australians of ‘ethnic’ background, irrelevant to Australians with British heritage and unable to provide a sense of belonging to all Australians. Settler colonial discourses of Australian identity continue to be influential. However, multicultural discourses have broadened Australian public debate to include a search for innovative identities in a postcolonial world.



settler colonialism, colonialism, identity, multiculturalism, ideology, australia, politics, postcolonial


Lovell, M.(2007). Settler colonialism, multiculturalism and the politics of postcolonial Identity. Paper presented at Australasian Political Studies Association Conference, 23-26 September 2007. Melbourne: Monash University.


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