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Deficit discourse is a mode of language which consistently frames Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity in a narrative of negativity, deficiency and disempowerment (Fforde et al. 2013). Although there are studies indicating the impact of deficit discourse on health and wellbeing outcomes, it is a complex and little-researched area.
Reframing Discourse seeks to identify methods and approaches in Australia and overseas that have had success in changing the deficit narrative. By documenting and critically analysing existing interventions to reframe Indigenous health towards a strengths-based approach, this project is a significant step in understanding how deficit discourse operates in the health and wellbeing setting. Building this evidence base is critical, as discourse is a complex and multi-faceted challenge. We note that discourse does not simply equate to language use. Rather, language use can be analysed to understanding underlying perceptions and ‘regimes of truth’, by which people create meaning. There is increasing acknowledgment that how Indigenous people are represented and choose to represent themselves may have significant impact on outcomes.
A first project, The Narrative Framing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Wellbeing: A Review, provided the necessary first step by establishing the nature and prevalence of deficit discourse in the health and wellbeing context. The current project takes the analysis of this field to the next stage, which is to understand best practice internationally that effects change in discourse, and to identify and synthesise scholarship which considers the benefits of doing so.
The Deficit Discourse Research Reference Group
Professor Mick Dodson
Australian National University