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Governing indigenous peoples: a history of accounting interventions in the New South Wales Aborigines Protection and Welfare Boards 1883-1969

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posted on 2023-11-29, 01:06 authored by Susan Greer

This is an historical study, however it is written from the standpoint of the present, that is it is 'a history of the present', which seeks to understand the past in order to further our understanding of the present. As such, it seeks to illuminate systems of formation of present problems of government in relation to the Australian Aboriginal people, in particular the role of accounting in the discourses and technologies of government.

This study draws on Michel Foucault's definition of government as the 'conduct of conduct' to analyse how the predecessors to the current bureaucratic structures and mentalities of government in New South Wales (Australia), the Aborigines Protection and Welfare Boards, 1883-1969 attempted to govern the conduct of the Indigenous peoples of that state. In particular, it traces how the Boards constructed stereotypes of Aboriginal incapacities and then attempted to produce an improved population that transcended such incapacities. Moreover, it investigates the range of disciplinary practices employed to formulate specific norms of behaviour within the Indigenous population. The study shows that accounting language and techniques were integral to these processes of government and lays bare how accounting became embedded within these particular bureaucratic authorities, assuming a powerful and influential role in the administrations.

The study employs concepts drawn from the work of Foucault and the literature on govemmentality, together with the literatures on colonialism, race, stereotypes and representation to interpret the operations of the Boards as particular sites of governmentality. Specifically, it uses several key Foucauldian and governmentality concepts, including: the problematic nature of government; power, especially disciplinary power; discourse; and the rationalities, programmes and technologies of government to analyse the operations of the Boards. What is revealed is a complex and contested domain of government in which financial and accounting activities were important to the ability of the Boards to both envisage the Aboriginal people as a population for government and to constitute programmes for the management and control the Indigenous population.

The analysis paints a much more complex and messy picture of how authorities imagined and attempted to implement the government of Indigenous peoples than previous accounts in the accounting literature. It expands on aspects of governmentality that have to date been under theorised in the literature, such as the importance of heterogenous agents to the ability of authorities such as the Boards to account for their operations. In doing so, it affirms the centrality of accounting as an essential factor in the processes of colonial (and modem) governance of Aboriginal people. Moreover, the observations contained within the thesis challenge current government rhetoric about a 'new' mentality for the government of 'the Aboriginal problem'. The study shows that the mentalities and practices that structure the present day 'initiatives' of the Australian government are not new but originated in the mentalities and practices of past regimes.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Indigenous Visibility in Accounting Literature -- Chapter 3. Theoretical Framework -- Chapter 4. History Methodology and Method -- Chapter 5. The Emergence of State Intervention -- Chapter 6. The Aborigines Protection Board 1883-1909 -- Chapter 7. The Aborigines Protection Board, 1910-1939 -- Chapter 8. The Aborigines Welfare Board, 1940-1969 -- Chapter 9. Concluding Discussion -- References -- Appendices

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Doctor of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

Division of Economic and Financial Studies

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Dean Neu


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388 pages

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