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The Political Constitution of Islandness: The 'Tasmanian Problem' and Ten Days on the Island.

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Harwood, A (2011) The Political Constitution of Islandness: The 'Tasmanian Problem' and Ten Days on the Island. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

This thesis investigates the political constitution of Tasmanian islandness. Ever since colonisation by the British in the early years of the nineteenth century, island status has been at the heart of Tasmanian collective life. However, many scholarly and public discourses of Tasmania treat islandness as an inviolate social condition resulting from the seemingly fixed geographical fact of being an island. Tasmania’s encircling boundedness, much smaller areal size in comparison to the Australian continent, and modern geographical position at the end-of-the-earth, sustain judgements that Tasmania is isolated and peripheral to national and global affairs and that Tasmanians are insular and backward, recalcitrant moderns. The social conditions that are taken to flow from islandness are theorised within the scholarly field of island studies as ‘the island effect’. However, many conceptualisations of islandness are deeply invested in modern dualism, and view the agency of islands in terms of pre-given, objective ontological opposites, chief among which are mutually exclusive categories of nature and culture. Actor-network theory provides an alternative to monolithic constructions of islandness as an apolitical determinant in social life, presenting islandness as a performative achievement arising from agency borne of heterogeneous entities. Rather than approach islandness as a topographical form, the distinctive spatiality of islands is conceived of as being constituted from three obdurate topological relations: those of land-water, island-continent, and island-island. The empirical investigation into the political constitution of Tasmanian islandness reported in this study begins with discourse analysis of three twentieth century governmental inquiries into the aetiology of the ‘Tasmanian problem’. These inquiries, covering a period of 70 years, propose that Tasmania’s island status and distinctive island community are characteristic of Tasmania, but a problem for Tasmanians and, therefore, need to be overcome if Tasmania is to progress. Given the impossibility of overcoming a characteristic which is constituted as an inviolate social fact of nature, these acts of governance are met with repeated resistance and interference from Tasmanians. The uncanny success of the governmental framing of Tasmania as an impossible object of governance is to cement islandness as an authentic, though essentially backward, feature of Tasmanian life. At the end of the twentieth century governmental ambitions are increasingly organised around appeals to ‘culture’. In Tasmania, the history of resistance to governance in the name of society and from the perspective of the nation-state seem to pre-dispose the island to novel forms of governance that work through island culture. A major international cultural festival, Ten Days on the Island, intended as a celebration and affirmation of Tasmania’s worldly islandness, is the prime site through which to re-articulate solutions to the Tasmanian problem. This study reports on an empirical investigation of the workings of the first two Ten Days on the Island festivals, in 2001 and 2003. In the inaugural festival, a mix of participant observation and ethnographic description prepare the ground for analysis of how the festival re-positioned Tasmania’s island status and the identities of Tasmanians. While the first festival was hailed by many as an unparalleled governmental success in its ability to bring Tasmanians together as a member of the world of island cultures, the second festival in 2003 was beset by patterns of acrimony and bitterness long familiar in Tasmanian politics. An environmental controversy erupted in the lead up to the 2003 festival when the State Government business enterprise, Forestry Tasmania, was named as a major sponsor of Ten Days on the Island. The governmental dream of uniting Tasmanians as islanders provided new means for reasserting the fractured form of Tasmanian islandness. The multiplicity of peoples, practices and places complicit in the varied constitutions of islandness suggests that governmental projects are destined to invariably fall short of their ambitions. Rather than the Tasmanian problem being a problem of Tasmanians, the source of the problem resides in the dream of governance to fully-encompass Tasmania as an island.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: islands, islandness, Tasmania, ten days on the island, festivals, actor-network theory, government, culture
Date Deposited: 22 Sep 2011 02:22
Last Modified: 18 Nov 2014 04:22
URI: http://eprints.utas.edu.au/id/eprint/11855
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