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Deficit discourse and Indigenous health

The Narrative Framing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Wellbeing: A Review

The Narrative Framing project aims to identify the discursive narrative that frames Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing. This discourse (i.e. language, statements and documents, and the rules and conditions that govern their production and circulation, and their socio-political and governmental contexts) is often framed as one of deficit. The project examines the range of discourse attributes, including the prevalence of deficit, to identify the broad ‘landscape’ of discursive formations. This project also provides a basis for a second project Reframing Discourse and Changing the Narrative of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Wellbeing: An Analysis. The Narrative Framing project is led by Professor Mick Dodson, Director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies (NCIS) at the Australian National University (ANU), and includes prominent Aboriginal researchers among key investigators, as well as Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal staff. The project will have significant benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in addressing a long overdue need to identify the formations and structures of deficit discourses that impact upon disadvantage and dependency, as a step towards changing the narrative and thus reducing its impact. The benefits and impact of this project will be able to be evaluated over time by a range of methods. These include identifying raised awareness of deficit discourse and its prevalence, increased scholarship and programs in this area, and whether there is greater reflection upon the nature of discourses on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing among policy- and decision-makers, health and allied practitioners, educators and other professionals.

This project employs theoretical approaches and methodologies drawn from the social sciences and humanities. It uses critical discourse analysis and other forms of textual critique to study a range of texts (including published, unpublished, policy documents, and on-line materials), and to map the types of discourses and their attributes.

The NCIS is a leading research, policy and advocacy centre based at one of Australia’s premier universities. With the leadership of Professor Mick Dodson, and sited within the NCIS, this project has powerful potential to build and develop skills and capacity among its Aboriginal leaders, participants and collaborators. The involvement in this project of early career and postgraduate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers also provides opportunities for their further skill development. As the project will involve engagement activity with a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing organisations and communities, there are potential opportunities for skills and capacity development among this wider group.

The project has been developed in close liaison with the Lowitja Institute, with whom the NCIS has ongoing collaborative and partnership arrangements through its key investigators. Project researchers also have high level partnerships and collaborative engagements with a range of institutions and organisations in academia, policy, advocacy, and community based sectors, and these will be mobilised for the duration of this project.

Project team

The Deficit Discourse Research Reference Group

Related resources:
Project leader

Professor Mick Dodson

Administering institution:

Australian National University

Completion date:

May 2018