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Unsettling the Gap

Race, Politics and Indigenous Education


Sophie Rudolph

Unsettling the Gap: Race, Politics and Indigenous Education examines pressing issues of inequality in education. The notion of gap—and the need to close it—is used widely in public and policy debates to name the nature and scope of disadvantage. In the competitive world of education, gaps have become associated with students who are seen to be "falling behind," "failing" or "dropping out." A global deficit discourse is, therefore, mobilised and normalised. But this discourse has a history and is deeply political. Unsettling the Gap examines this history and how it is politically activated through an analysis of the "Australian Closing the Gap in Indigenous Disadvantage" policy. In this policy discourse the notion of gap serves as a complex and multiple signifier, attached to individuals, communities and to national history.

In unravelling these diverse modalities of gap, the text illuminates the types of ruling binaries that tend to direct dynamics of power and knowledge in a settler colonial context. This reveals not only the features of the crisis of "Indigenous educational disadvantage" that the policy seeks to address, but the undercurrents of a different type of crisis, namely the authority of the settler colonial state. By unsettling the normalised functions of gap discourse the book urges critical reflections on the problem of settler colonial authority and how it constrains the possibilities of Indigenous educational justice.

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Chapter 1. A Future with No More Gaps?


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Image 1.1. Tracey Moffatt, Pioneer Dreaming, 2013, From the series ‘Spirit Landscapes’, Digital print on handmade paper, hand coloured in ochre, Edition of 8. Image 27 × 61 cm. ©Tracey Moffatt. Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney. ← 1 | 2 →



Indigenous educational disadvantage emerged as a contemporary policy problem in Australia in the late 1960s (Gray & Beresford 2008). This coincided with a national referendum in 1967 that gave the Commonwealth government power and mandate to include Indigenous peoples in the national census. This in turn generated increased formal statistical comparison between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations (Lingard et al. 2012, Altman 2009, Rowse 2012). While policy attention to Indigenous educational disadvantage has increased over the ensuing decades, it has consistently failed to adequately address the policy problem (see for example, Prime Minister’s Office [PMO] 2018, Gray & Beresford 2008, Malin & Maidment 2003). The national, bipartisan policy of Closing the Gap in Indigenous Disadvantage, developed in 2008, is the current policy configuration for addressing ‘Indigenous disadvantage’, with four of the seven targets focused on educational participation, achievement and attainment.1

Education, in this situation, is paradoxical. On the one hand colonial education has contributed to present-day disadvantage. For instance, Jeannie Herbert argues that state-provided education, as a destructive tool of the colonisers, had the effect of relegating Indigenous peoples and cultures to the periphery:

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