Dispelling the myths about Aborigines and alcohol
: the role of anthropology in defining a culturally appropriate approach to alcohol problems among Australia's indigenous people

  • Joanne Louise Harrison

    Student thesis: Other thesis - CDU

    Abstract

    The perception of Aboriginal Australians as 'drunks', is one which pervades much of general public thinking. Such attitudes are significant in that they pre-determine many of the interactions between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, as well as influencing the way policy makers and funding bodies approach the alcohol related problems of Aborigines. This thesis aims to dispel some of the myths regarding Aborigines and alcohol by questioning the foundations upon which these misconceptions are premised.

    Misconceptions regarding Aborigines and alcohol are based on two main modes of thought. The first is one which revolves around a 'dominant model' of alcohol theory. This focuses on 'disease' theory, genetic determinism and notions of culture breakdown as the underlying causes of alcohol problems among Aborigines. The second mode of thought is one based on popular opinion and perception. These popular notions are often influenced by aspects of the 'dominant model' of alcohol; but are also the result of ethnocentrici interpretations of Aboriginal drinking and related incidents. This study will aim to produce relevant evidence in the hope of demonstrating the ill-founded nature of such misconceptions.

    Anthropology as a discipline, and as a way of thinking has a role to play in this context, in terms of attempting an understanding of the realities of issues as they pertain to Aborigines and alcohol. An anthropological approach can not only provide a perspective which is ideally free from judgemental and subjective interpretations of events. It can also attempt to understand and convey to others the socio-cultural factors which influence Aboriginal attitudes to drinking and drinking practice. Such a perspective is useful for two main reasons. Firstly, it may serve to increase the understanding of non-Aboriginal Australians of the problems facing Aboriginal Australians. This may in turn serve to shatter the derogatory stereotypes which impede effective interaction and communication between the races.

    Another application for this 'perspective' is the creation of a more appropriate foundation for alcohol programs and relevant policies. To truly, objectively understand the context of a problem, is to be in a position to deal with this problem effectively. To place such problems within the realm of anthropological concern, ensures a progressive and continuously relevant role for anthropology in contemporary socio-cultural development. At the same time, it ensures a perspective on contemporary problems which values and identifies 'culture' as a valid influence on social problems. This thesis aims to highlight the role of anthropological enquiry in dispelling some of these misconceptions and creating a sound perspective on Aboriginal drinking cultures from which alcohol problems can be approached. This can be achieved by drawing upon the vast anthropological literature on the social organsiation of drinking and the nature of 'drunken comportment', among other things.
    Date of AwardNov 1995
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPatrick McConvell (Supervisor)

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