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Being and Belonging


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Miller, LM (2006) Being and Belonging. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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The subject of this work is the nature and significance of belonging and its intersection with human identity and being in the world. Its main impetus is towards addressing the
question of belonging as it arises in present day Australia, where, in connection with
national identity, it remains a highly politicized and contested issue. The telling of stories
about Australian belongings not only provides insights into the shape and complexity of
the contemporary Australian debate, but also serves to illustrate how, in the presentation
of belonging as having multiple and competing manifestations, what it is to belong per se
is rendered indistinct. This exemplifies the key problem where belonging is concerned.
While belonging is invoked as an issue of crucial existential concern in public discourse
and across a broad range of disciplines, there is an apparent and troubling lack of
conceptual or linguistic apparatus according to which the notion can be grasped and
critically analysed. The object of this work is to explore and redress this problematic
situation. Clearly, consideration of belonging also involves identity and consideration of
how these two concepts are articulated together in theory. This latter question is explored
by surveying the theoretical and conceptual frameworks from which ‘senses’ of identity
and belonging commonly articulated in Australian discourses (and elsewhere) appear to
have evolved. What is discovered, however, is the inability of these models, which
operate on the assumption that belonging is a product of the relation of a person, or
people, to something else (society, history or environment) to encapsulate logic capable
of supporting the key premise. If we accept that what is at stake in the question of
belonging is our identity as persons (and this is also what almost all theoretical models
suggest), then looking outside of the self to something else for belonging will not do.
What is needed to properly articulate belonging is a model that presents a relational
account of being in the world and an ontological structure that allows us to see belonging
from the inside, so to speak. Although humanistic geography (what is referred to here as
the ‘geographical school’ of phenomenological inquiry) promises both, it is shown how
research of this genre is necessarily constrained by its methodology. There is more to
being ‘inside’ a place than knowing it. The phenomenological account must be folded
back in order to disclose its ontological core. It is here that the work of a small number of
key figures developing a Philosophy of ‘Place’ (and the Heideggerian notions it brings
with it) has been crucial. Place in these terms is understood as a primary ontological
structure that gathers and holds together those things—social, historical and physical—
that belong to it. By turning the ontology of place inside-out, we are able to see clearly
that people are also gatherers and holders of place. The belonging relation that pertains
within place is somehow also within the self. The belonging self can now be understood
in its own terms—as an ontological structure that is capable of drawing together and
unifying the different elements that belong properly to it. Such an ontology of the self is
found in the work of Kierkegaard, and from that is drawn the theory of belonging qua
correct relation. Belonging qua correct relation represents an entirely new way of
understanding, in existential terms, what it is to belong (or not), not only in the Australian
context, but wherever and whenever the question arises.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: identity, belonging, ontology, place, Aborigine, Australia
Date Deposited: 05 Dec 2008 03:29
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:54
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