The post-colonial does not exist.
My undergraduate Psychology dissertation and thesis.
As I have previously written, 2021 saw me return to complete my undergraduate degree in Psychology. Even though it was a random allocation of the subject matter, I was given a topic I had a keen interest in researching (and felt quite conflicted about). A keen interest because there’s rarely a day that goes by in which I am not trying to unpacking or frequently in conversation about the impacts of the colonial project. Conflicted, because university institutions have a history of being so deeply entrenched in western imperialism and exist as colonial marks of power. I also remember leaving halfway through a thesis year almost a decade ago because I wasn’t particularly interested in research. Under the supervision of Dr. Peta Dzidic, who oversaw this project, and Mandy Downing (who is Yindjibardi and now Dean of Indigenous Futures at Curtin University), I was guided through the complexity and privilege of education and found purpose in this project (tuns out I’m also not too bad at research, and quite enjoy it).
In sum, my research thesis was a qualitative study interviewing young non-Indigenous people (to recast the white gaze of research) and explore their understanding and perspectives of colonisation in so-called Australia. This was part of a broader research project, exploring the shifting attitudes that young people hold.
Conducting this research required a decolonial research methodology (as pioneered by Dr. Linda Tuhiwai in her book Decolonizing Methodologies), as well as a consideration of my position as a settler-migrant on stolen land. Something to note is that as a settler migrant in the Australian colony, and I make a statement where I explain my work can only be of an anti-colonial approach and not decolonial, as decolonisation is inextricably linked to land back. Decolonization is not a metaphor (an aptly-named and brilliant article) by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang articulates this incredibly well;
decolonization in the settler colonial context must involve the repatriation of land simultaneous to the recognition of how land and relations to land have always already been differently understood and enacted; that is, all of the land, and not just symbolically.
Our participants were aged 18-25, who had completed schooling under the curriculum of the Australian colony and were currently attending a public tertiary institution. We conducted ten interviews, and used inductive thematic analysis to analyse the data. The findings suggested, that young people certainly acknowledged the structures of settler-colonial violence and the tension arising from competing historical accounts of the nation-state. This made it quite unclear as to what their thoughts around reconciliation in so-called Australia could look like. What was particularly interesting for me, is that despite people’s expanding knowledge of the history, legacy and ongoing impacts of colonisation, there was still a sense of pride in being Australian (even if they could not define what they was). Effectively in doing so, it allows them to preserve their position as beneficiaries of colonisation.
Since completing my thesis, I have been left thinking a lot about my position as a settler-migrant in this nation-state. For the most part, I identify as part of the South Vietnamese and Cantonese diaspora from refugee kinships living on unceded Whadjuck Country (my paternal grandmother was also French). For now, I do not claim or find pride in an holding an Australian identity. As long as the Australian nation-state exists, the violent colonial project remains. And there is no pride in that. Of course, it is different for my family who came to this continent as refugees after the Vietnam War as this is the place they consider home and relative safety (even given the racism in the colony). With this, comes so much tension. Especially when you find a home on lands that were, and still is, being violently taken from First Peoples across the continent. A tension that shows itself also when you are both a benefactor of the colony, but experience your own violence at the hands of it. In relation to climate change, Dr. Kyle White speaks to this quite eloquently where he details that some aspect of the lives and privileges of settlers relies on the “territorial dispossession of Indigenous peoples” making one very much question and think about our place as settlers in the context of environmental justice.
For me, to sit with this tension then is about being critical, in thought and in actuality, towards the colony, the nation-state, and deeply reflecting on our identity and place. Personally, to work against the colony requires the coalescing of grassroots networks of people at the margins, to be in genuine solidarity with each other’s respective causes and desire for fundamental rights. This demands each of us do the work of supporting sovereignty and repatriation for First Nation’s people. I have (hopefully) been achieving this by better understanding the stories of my kin, compassionate community-building, community organising and efforts of reciprocity via mutual aid.
I’m sure over time my thinking around this will change and evolve. For now, if you’re interested in reading the full dissertation, you can find the final copy that was submitted here. Like all good students, I 100% rushed parts of this thesis (which you can tell by some spelling mistakes). Nonetheless, I think it’s a good read if you’re in the mindset for some undergraduate academic writing.
Resources that informed reflections on this piece include;
Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World by Tyson Yunkaporta
Declonization is not a metaphor by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang.