5 - Welfare Colonialism and Citizenship: Politics, Economics and Agency  pp. 101-117

Welfare Colonialism and Citizenship: Politics, Economics and Agency

By Nicolas Peterson

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Although the social rights of citizenship lie at the heart of the state's relationship with most Aboriginal people, nowhere are they more important than in the Aboriginal communities of remote Australia. Yet despite full citizenship, the expenditure of much money and effort and twenty-five years of benign government policies, these entitlements and policies have had disproportionately little effect on the material circumstances of the people in such communities. Their life circumstances are a shock to anyone seeing them for the first time; and for those familiar with them, the problems can seem intractable. They raise the question as to why the granting of citizenship has had so little effect.

One concept that both addresses this problem directly and proposes an explanation is that of welfare colonialism. The central proposition of welfare colonialism is that the granting of the social rights of citizenship to indigenous people in first world nation–states is, unintentionally, as debilitating as it is beneficial because of the social and political dependencies it creates.

I want to argue that this view is only a first step in developing an understanding of the problems of social policy in relation to remote Aboriginal citizens and that, if the analysis is to be taken further, it has to incorporate a more situated and complex account of the conjunction, compatibilities and consequences of the two ways of life for each other. In particular, those using a welfare colonialism framework tend to privilege the political to the neglect of the economic and cultural.