Measuring the ‘gift’: epistemological and ontological differences between the academy and Indigenous Australia
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© 2017 HERDSA.This paper is drawn from our collective experience coordinating, and teaching in, a large common inter-professional unit on Indigenous cultures and health at an Australian university. Specifically, we use our lived experiences as Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal academics working interculturally to inform a theoretical discussion about how universities conceptualise ‘quality’ in learning and teaching for Indigenous studies and, more broadly, ‘Indigenising the curriculum’. Drawing primarily on the work of Rauna Kuokkanen and the ‘logic of the gift’, we argue that the application of Western ‘quality indicators’ to learning and teaching for Indigenous content demonstrates an innate lack of institutional understanding of the complexities of teaching interculturally and the ‘unlearning’ which needs to occur for students to become critically self-reflexive and develop capacity for ontological pluralism (essential for graduate intercultural capability). According to Kuokkanen, for Indigenous people social order is maintained through giving and recognising the gifts of others, including the land; the logic of the gift, therefore, represents a radical critique of the entrepreneurial and measured university, which relies on one narrow idea of the world and human relationships. The transactional approach typically used to embed Indigenous knowledges into university courses thus illustrates the prevailing epistemic violence enacted on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Importantly, in addition to Kuokkanen’s work, we also apply Martin Nakata’s notion of the ‘cultural interface’ to dissociate from essentialist notions of Indigeneity (and indeed the university) to imagine how Indigenous studies can open a dialogue about reciprocity, hospitality and the current limits of the academy’s conceptualisation of ‘quality’.
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