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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
Authors/Creators:Miller, LM
Keywords: identity, belonging, ontology, place, Aborigine, Australia
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Copyright 2006 the author

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