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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 5. Tracing the Gap: Constructions of Deficiency and Potential


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Constructions of Deficiency and Potential

Image 5.1. Gordon Bennett, untitled, 1989, oil and acrylic on canvas, six panels each 30 × 30 cm. © The Estate of Gordon Bennett. Courtesy The Estate of Gordon Bennett and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, gift of Doug Hall 1993. Photo: Richard Stringer. ← 85 | 86 →



Investigation of policy and educational debates over time gives insight into the political relationships between those governing and those being governed. This chapter offers an analysis of how state authorities and public and professional debates have constructed the ‘problem’ of Indigenous educational disadvantage in Australia throughout the 20th century and into the present period. This ‘problem’ in Australia is connected to the global flow of ideas, influenced particularly by debates in the United States, the Pacific region and England. Debates across these contexts, throughout history and into the present, have centred on ideas of ‘racial capacity’ and historical discrimination. The ways in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are positioned in the discourses generated through these debates enables a greater understanding of the workings of power and the types of challenges that remain when addressing issues of disadvantage in the present. There are two dominant constructions of Indigenous people in the policy discourse of educational disadvantage: as deficient and with potential. These constructions are explored in this chapter, drawing on evidence from archival and current policy documents, to illustrate...

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