So Much I Don’t Know
These past few months I’ve been teaching again for the first time in three years, and loving it. I have always enjoyed teaching, but a three-year research contract meant not doing any for a while. The course I’ve been teaching in is a first-year communication course. I love first years.
Two things struck me: first, how few people knew anything about the historical and political issues that I raised in classes (and not just because there was a high number of international students); and second, how little I knew about the issues.
Created Communities: Caboolture Historical Village
[Department of blatant self-promotion]
My latest paper has just been published in Altitude. Please cite repeatedly in prestigious journals…
Abstract: Following Zygmunt Bauman’s provocation that times of physical and ideological insecurity lead to an appeal to the ideals of community, this paper considers the way in which history and community are reconstructed at the Caboolture Historical Village, an open-air museum north of Brisbane. The village privileges the region’s pioneer past and the period evoked is rural, late nineteenth century, largely excluding any references to Caboolture’s modern, urban history. An analysis of the site reveals that the version of community on display is narrowly constructed around the ideals of hard work, individualism, and piety, and reveals an emphasis on technological progress and innovation to the exclusion of the lives of the people whose lives are ostensibly commemorated. This paper contends that this idealised construction of an homogeneous, unified past that excludes problematic figures such as aborigines and migrants serves a conservative fantasy of the “good old days” where issues were black and white, community consensus was assumed, and external threats were easily identified and repelled. It argues that in a postmodern world of cosmopolitanism, international migration, and global terror, places like the Caboolture Historical Village increase their appeal in an uncertain world.
Gunders, John. “Created Communities: Caboolture Historical Village.” Altitude 10 (2012).
Available here [pdf 184kb]
Remember the SIEV X
Tuesday 19 October marks 10 years since the SIEV X sank and 352 asylum seekers, mostly women and children, drowned. We should remember this day. A nation should remember its shame with the solemnity that it usually reserves for its sacrifices and victories. In theory, remembering should help us to avoid the patterns of decisions that led to the tragedy that is being commemorated.
Narrating Communities: Invented Traditions and Values
It’s the CSAA conference next week, and this is the paper that I will be delivering. It’s an early investigation into a larger project that I’m starting to work on, so any comments or suggestions are welcome.
All I have to do now is write the paper…
Zygmunt Bauman describes the way that the quest for the ‘perfect community’ is always a search for the unobtainable: it is either an unrecoverable past, or an idealised future. Worse, community—which is an image of both security and freedom—can offer us only one of these goals: we can have security from the dangerous forces outside only by giving up some, or most, of our freedoms. We can have freedom, but only by sacrificing most of what distinguishes the community. As an abstract ideal, the ‘real’ community can only ever be, to use Benedict Anderson’s term, ‘imagined.’
But the beauty of an imagined community is that it doesn’t need to worry too much about the practicalities of balancing those contradictory tensions at the core of the concept. Assumptions can be made, prejudices elided, and, as Hobsbawm notes, traditions can be invented. In this way, the image of a community is constructed, drawing on the values and beliefs of the dominant group, and threatening expulsion to anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the dominant ideology.
In this paper I look at a number of imagined historical communities that in varying ways create an image of the ideal that Bauman described. From examples of cookbooks that try to create the impression of a community where none really existed, to historical reconstructions that literalise a particular political or historical view, I will consider the assumptions, the exclusions, and the inventions behind these attempts at community in order to examine the underlying values that motivate the constructions of these imagined communities. In this way, I hope to start an exploration of the way in which values are already encoded in material productions that form a significant part of our cultural memory.