The keynote speakers for the 2011 Anthropology Symposium:

are Cindi Katz (City University of New York) and Gary Robinson (Menzies School of Health Research).

Cindi Katz

Graduate Center,

The City University of New York.

Accumulation, Excess, and Childhood:

Towards a Countertopography of Risk and Waste.

Neoliberal capitalism is in the throes of crisis–crises actually–associated with over-accumulation and several decades of privatization, commodification, and financialization, each sieved through the other.  These crises have profound consequences for the present and future that can be seen, among other places, in the shifting discourses and material social practices concerning children and childhood.  This paper builds upon my ongoing project, ‘childhood as spectacle,’ to reframe David Harvey’s analysis of the accumulation crisis around questions of social reproduction, and look at its relationship to contemporary childhood and selected configurations of the child.  I will pay particular attention to configurations of the child as waste, not only as the constitutive outside to those of the child as accumulation strategy, commodity, and ornament, but also as a means of managing the current political economic crisis discursively and materially.  I will point to some of the key strategies of ‘waste management,’ such as prisons and the juvenile justice system, the military, and panics around youth and childhood focused variously on education, drugs, sex, and violence, teasing out some of their sociospatial implications.  With a focus on social reproduction connecting disparate historical geographies, my project traces a ‘countertopography’ of childhood risk and waste from which current crises of accumulation might be re-imagined and redressed.

Gary Robinson,

Menzies School of Health Research, Centre for Child Development and Education

Charles Darwin University

The State, Cultural Competence and Child Development:

Perspectives on Intervention in the North of Australia

Policies to ameliorate Aboriginal disadvantage increasingly focus on early childhood and show a growing readiness to apply internationally well known evidence-based interventions to Australian conditions for Aboriginal families, children and youth. This trend has some important implications.

Firstly, capturing the place of young people in colonized societies is a difficult conceptual task that needs more than one disciplinary perspective. Socio-demographic trends form a powerful influence underlying ethnographically observable patterns of relationship. In the NT, the ratio of young Aboriginal people to older people was at its highest late in the 20th C, when there was a very large surplus of children with a much diminished cohort of people in their forties and older. Former hunter-gatherer societies are now ageing as cohorts of the period of very high fertility grow older. The competencies and vulnerabilities of today’s young parents and householders were acquired under conditions very different from those experienced by their parents and grandparents and are now being put to the test. Arguably a crucial challenge for anthropologically informed practice is to see that intervention is able to support, rather than undermine or further confound the development of those competencies among the young.

Secondly, the tendency to reduce complex issues of social change and development to single-focus interventions may be inherently problematic in communities where multiple stresses and pervasive social change overwhelm the effects of intervention on individuals. Against this, strategies aiming to build participation or control at the community level are unconvincing without culturally competent and professionally credible tools to help build needed competencies or address problems of risk and vulnerability in early childhood. If there is a case for increasing specificity of intervention anywhere, it may be here.

Thirdly, there are gaps in policy concerning the rationale for adopting early childhood interventions: there is a lack of clarity about just what is worth doing and about what evidence should guide implementation. Here, policy ambivalence is exacerbated by deficiencies of the sciences of child development in respect of Aboriginal peoples. The implicit cultural logic of many interventions may simply not sit with the cultural logic of child development and parent-child relationships in some contexts. Interventions are likely to be ineffective and unsustainable unless they are supported by proven systems of practice and unless they are capable of tapping into normative expectations about child development in a given context, backed by knowledge of different patterns of family functioning and, perhaps more importantly, a regard for the cultural life of families and their children. These principles can be illustrated with material from an early intervention program adapted for implementation in NT remote communities.