The work of forgetting: Germs, aborigines and postcolonial expertise in the Northern Territory of Australia

Tess Lea

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Based on anthropological field research (1997-2000) within the Department of Health and Community Services in the Northern Territory in Australia, this paper explores the lingering features of colonial logic in the pastoral work of public health workers in the Northern Territory of Australia. The public health professionals drawn to work in this space are determined to remedy what is wrong with culturally acceptable solutions. But viewed from an anthropological perspective, the way in which health professionals conceptualise the problems they need to solve ultimately serves to reinforce the reality of the need for their continued tutelary presence. This paper aims to draw out the complex ways in which this interventionary effect is secured, concentrating in particular on the role played by progressive ideologies of participatory development and information sharing. It argues that through a complex process of forgetting, the otherwise innocuous gestures of public health goodwill recreate a mandate for more public health intervention. This is not a simple moral tale where analysts can easily identify good and bad practices and thus distance themselves from the difficulties involved. Rather, by emphasising the honest commitments to improvement in situations of mass illness and preventable disease that health professionals bring to their work, and the burden they bear in being conscious of the recent colonial past, the paper aims to avoid the judgement that this sort of work is easy to get right. � 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1310-1319
    Number of pages10
    JournalSocial Science and Medicine
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2005


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