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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 2. Racing the Gap: Concepts of Race in the (Settler) Colonial World


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Concepts of Race in the (Settler) Colonial World

Image 2.1. Vernon Ah Kee, austracism, 2003, ink on polypropylene board, satin laminated, edition of 3. Image 120 × 180 cm. © Vernon Edward Ah Kee/Copyright Agency, 2018. Courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery. Photo: Carl Warner. ← 21 | 22 →



The Closing the Gap policy represents the most recent political and governing attempt to address Indigenous disadvantage in Australia. While the policy has a range of targets, the area of interest in this book is those related to education (which make up the majority of the targets). Over the past four and a half decades there has been an almost exponential proliferation of policy, reports and strategies produced by Australian State and Commonwealth governments seeking to address the stubborn problem described as Indigenous educational disadvantage. Contemporary engagement with issues of educational disadvantage, however, is frequently cited as originating in the early 1970s, following the 1967 Referendum that gave the Commonwealth power to legislate on issues directly effecting Indigenous peoples (Mellor & Corrigan 2004, Gray & Beresford 2008, Malin & Maidment 2003).

The policy is preoccupied with concerns about disadvantage and can appear to be a neutral and beneficent bipartisan political response to a long-standing and urgent problem. However, researchers such as Carol Bacchi have suggested that the way in which policies are produced to respond to a particular kind of problem...

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