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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 7. The Right Side of the Gap: School, Nation, Inclusion, History


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School, Nation, Inclusion, History

Image 7.1. Fiona Foley, Annihilation of the Blacks, 1986, wood, paint, plant fibre, hair, adhesive, feather, 2670 mm × 2045 mm × 857 mm. National Museum of Australia, Canberra. ©Fiona Foley. Courtesy the artist and National Museum of Australia. Photograph: George Serras, National Museum of Australia. ← 141 | 142 →



The artwork that introduces this chapter is by Fiona Foley, a descendant of the Badtjala people of Fraser Island, and is titled Annihilation of the Blacks. It depicts a scene in which black bodies hang by their necks from a pole and is representative of the numerous massacres of Indigenous peoples by settlers that occurred across the Australian continent during the 19th and early 20th centuries. One white figure stands beside the black bodies. It is unclear if this figure is a perpetrator of the massacre or an onlooker. This invites reflection on the role of white people in the destruction of Aboriginal life and concurrently culture and knowledge. This artwork documents some of the brutal history that the Closing the Gap policy attempts to address but also importantly, attempts to distance itself from. I place it here, therefore, to set the scene for this chapter, which seeks to examine the purpose and effects of the discourse of equality and the way in which history has been used and understood to generate current perspectives on...

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