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A recent history of the professionalisation of Australian applied anthropology and its relevance to native title practice




McGrath, Pamela

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Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)


This paper describes collective efforts over the past 30 years by Australian anthropologists towards achieving national representation and accreditation for applied practitioners. The intention is to better understand the viability of various strategies aimed at strengthening a community of practice for native title anthropologists today. The 'professionalisation' issue has recently re-emerged as a topic for discussion and debate in the context of an identified shortage of suitably qualified and experienced anthropologists in the area of native title research. This shortage is reportedly contributing to delays in the processing of native title claims and raises concerns about professional standards. The potential consequences for those Aboriginal groups seeking recognition of their native title are profound. Drawing on a range of historical sources, this paper documents the rise and fall of a number of professional networks, organisations and training programs for applied anthropologists established since the early 1980s, including the Professional Association for Applied Anthropology and Sociology, the Queensland Association of Professional Anthropologists and Archaeologists, and the Australian Association of Applied Anthropology. What this short history reveals is that past efforts to organise and accredit applied anthropologists coincided with significant changes to the political, legal and commercial frameworks in which they were required to work, with the uncertainties and anxieties that accompanied change driving the desire for a more robust and supportive community of professional practice. The ultimate failure of these organisations suggests that improving the professionalism of applied practice in native title anthropology cannot be achieved solely from within the discipline itself. Rather, it will require engagement with and the support of external stakeholders who also have interests in ensuring high quality native title research outcomes.





Australian Aboriginal Studies


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Open Access

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