Constructing Cultural Identities
Discussion paper. 21 April 2005
Note: This is not and may never be a final document.
It is intended to be revised as the research strand evolves.
Constructing Cultural Identities
- Life Writing
research group grew out of an earlier grouping entitled "Constructing
Cultural Identities". The Life Writing group is in the process
of composing a definition document which reflects this change and
more explicitly addresses the research interests and concerns of
the group. In the meantime, please refer to the Constructing Cultural
Identities definition document.
“The expectation of this place (Adelaide) is as a centre of
excellence and not just as somewhere that you have to leave if you
want to succeed at the highest levels of your profession. After
all, if Shine proves nothing else, then it could stand
alone for this very reason: that it shows in its own way how it
is possible to take ideas of quality from Adelaide, and to astonish
the world with them”.
Culture has recently been defined as “a way of being, relating,
behaving, believing and acting which people live out in their lives
and which is in a constant process of change and exchange with other
Taken from another perspective, the notion of culture has also been
viewed in terms of “the application of intelligence to the
difficult imbroglio of not being able to live alone upon the earth”
(Powys, 1930: 274-275). As researchers from diverse cultural, linguistic
and educational backgrounds, we recognise that the path of solitary
research endeavours can sometimes be an onerous and lonely one.
As members of the Flinders Humanities Research Centre for Cultural
Heritage and Cultural Exchange, we have the opportunity to follow
collegial as well as individual research pathways.
In our discussions, we have embarked collectively on a course of
action to explore the interdependence of and create cooperative
models for our many and varied research activities. In so doing,
we acknowledge the need to communicate the interrelatedness of the
bodies of knowledge that we carry within ourselves and, through
our scholarly investigations, make provision for engaging in dynamic
collaborative practices and undertakings in the future.
The research theme, Constructing Cultural Identities,
recognises the vital and ongoing intercultural dialogue that exists
between colleagues across a variety of disciplines and aims to foster
new research partnerships and directions, encourage the development
of projects of international status and enhance the research strengths
and commitments of all stakeholders. As individuals we express our
sense of identity and heritage. As researchers we inhabit different
interdisciplinary spaces of teaching, learning and understanding.
Our domains of study are broad and constantly evolving: “Humanistic
disciplines overlap with the social sciences at some points and
at others have a greater affiliation with aesthetics and art; and
all are concerned centrally with beliefs and values. As foci of
research, they explore how we communicate; choose; make intellectual,
social and moral sense of our lives; learn to think critically and
creatively; and adapt to change” (National Research Priorities,
2003: 5). Thus our proposals will be shaped by the range and diversity
of perspectives that are found in our different fields, for example,
the creation and/or analysis of texts in a variety of media, including
the creative arts, drama, public performance, debate, historical
investigation, field-work, the study of both indigenous and introduced
cultures. While we accept that there is no such thing as a unitary
human identity, we work on the assumption that mutual and fluid
conceptions of identities provide a better model for understanding
humans in culture than the fully deconstructed notion of fragmented
To date, expressions of interest in the theme group Constructing
Cultural Identities have been made by twenty-seven researchers
from the following disciplines:
- Australian Studies
- Legal Studies
- Professional English
- Screen Studies
The value of this discussion paper will emerge from the way in
which we all engage with it in creating opportunities for coordinated
research activities, encouraging exchange, building new partnerships
and exploring potential projects as a focused thematic group.
Culture: A Global Perspective
The events of September 11 stressed the urgency for an ‘intercultural
dialogue’ (Matsuura, 2001:1) among nations. The Universal
Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001) was written as a first
step in UNESCO’s action plan to achieve this end. The Declaration
represents an attempt to reject the mounting scepticism evident
in the belief that the ultimate outcome for humanity will be a situation
in which cultures will clash and civilisations will be destroyed
(Matsuura, 2001). The Declaration emphasises culture as a shared
heritage in which ‘each individual must acknowledge ‘otherness
in all its forms’ and ‘the plurality of his or her own
identity, within societies that are themselves plural’ (Matsuura,
Critical and Visual Literacy
Cultural research in Australia emphasises this notion of ‘otherness’
(Lo Bianco, Liddicoat and Crozet, 1999) with one example notably
observed in the domain of critical literacy. Critical literacy supports
the view that literature, both visual and written, to be fully appreciated,
needs to be connected to the social and cultural generatives that
influenced the creators of the texts (McKay, 1999 cited in Browett,
Critical literacy likewise stresses that the many shades of meaning
to be found in text represent a ‘reading of cultures’,
with the reader exploring ‘around, behind, underneath, alongside,
after and within the text’ (Luke, Comber and O’Brien,
1996:3 cited in Browett, 1999:2). Each reader engages and interprets
text individually and ‘ “preferred” readings rely
on appropriate cultural knowledge’ whilst ‘ “alternative”
readings occur as a result of the differences in the cultural experience
of the creator and the reader (Curriculum Corporation, 1994: 8-9;
Lo Bianco, Liddicoat & Crozet, 1999:184-185).
One particular focus of attention for research that brings together
many of the members of this group is an on-going interest in postcolonial
approaches that not only help us understand the crucially shaping
effects of Australian culture’s colonial origins but also
“signals an activist engagement with positive political positions
and new forms of political identity” (Young 2001: 58).
Such postcolonial approaches help us theorise many contemporary
discursive traditions: linguistics; fiction; film; dramatic writing;
life writing; political journalism; environmental writing; food
writing; history; literary criticism and ethnography. Such eclecticism
is one of the strengths of the perspectives informed by postcolonial
studies, bringing together research interests that deal with many
issues of concern in a globalising world: social justice; neo-colonialism;
indigenousness; representation; ethnicity; multiculturalism; centres
and margins; migration; transculturation; displacement; diaspora;
authenticity; environmentalism; racism; ethnic nationalism and cultural
The Role of CCI
The group offers a unique mix of research talents and multilingual
versatility across fields of interest that are of local and international
significance. The ongoing dialogue generated by the group and its
“declaration of existence” marks a first step in the
creation of a structured forum for tempering discipline-based barriers
and focusing energies on the development of new and meaningful collaborative
The way forward for members of CCI is to identify potential
areas of interest that will lead to the development of significant
projects. Life Writing themes could include the following:
1. The role of literature and creative writing in the construction
of cultural identity.
2. Postcolonial approaches and the construction of cultural identity.
3. The exploration of language and cultural identity.
4. Indigenous and introduced cultures and the construction of cultural
5. The role of film and the creative arts in creating cultural
Members of lw could also consider self-descriptions of
groups and projects, for example, life writing, migration studies,
Anglo-Australian identity, twentieth-century hispanophone literature,
literary genre studies. This list would be empirical rather than
synoptic in scope, and subject to constant revision depending on
what particular projects were underway.
Research interests of CCI participants
The research interests of participants in Constructing Cultural
Identities are very distinctive. Giselle Bastin is examining
gendered discourses, Gothic and Australian literature and contemporary
literary theory. Kate Douglas is also interested in Australian literature,
as well as contemporary modes of self-representation and life narrative
studies, twentieth and twenty-first century literatures in English
and post-colonial literature and theory. Rick Hosking is engaged
in research in South Australian literary and cultural history, the
literature of Empire, contact history, contemporary historical fictions
and nineteenth century popular fiction (both British and Australian).
He is also interested in postcolonial studies, Indian writing in
English in particular, and travel writing, especially nineteenth
century Australian writing.
Creative writing is an area of special focus for Jeri Kroll, who
is also active in the pedagogy of creative writing, creative work
as research, contemporary poetry and prose (primarily Australian
and American) and Australian children's literature. Maria Elena
Lorenzin writes fiction and is conducting research in fast fiction,
microfiction, humour, parody and eroticism in Spanish American literature,
distance learning technology and interactive online teaching. Steve
Evans is exploring contemporary poetry and prose and is an active
creative writer and teacher of writing (creative and professional),
as well as a consultant in creative and professional writing.
Robert Phiddian’s research interests include Jonathan Swift,
late seventeenth and early eighteenth century literature and culture,
the theory and practice of literary parody, deconstruction and Australian
political satire. Graham Tulloch’s many research interests
include Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg, nineteenth century Scottish
literature, the history of the Scots language, Scots Bible translation,
Scottish writers in Australia and South Australian writing. Graham
also edits Scottish and Australian texts.
Mike Walsh writes and researches in the areas of Asian cinema, the
political economy of Australian cinema and the history of film style.
He is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia, and is currently
a Programming Consultant for the Adelaide International Film Festival.
Ruth Vasey is a specialist in American cinema and has published
widely in this area. She is also interested in systems of regulation
and censorship, Japanese cinema, and the globalisation of screen
media. Julia Erhart’s research includes feminist, gender,
sexuality studies in media and culture, documentary, independent,
and experimental media, and cross-cultural and Indigenous media.
Maria Luz Long has an interest in Spanish language, contemporary
Spanish literature, the Spanish Civil War in Spanish literature
and contemporary Spanish women writers. Her specialisation is the
fiction of Miguel Delibes. Philip Martin-Clark’s work has
examined gender and sexuality in the work of Luis Cernuda, and currently
focuses on the work of his fellow poet, Luis López Anglada.
In particular, his work examines López Anglada’s portrayal
of Spanish society in the 1940s and early 1950s, his relationship
to his contemporaries and to Spanish poetry of that and earlier
periods, and his expression of personal identity.
Flavia Coassin and Diana Glenn are active researchers in Dante
Studies. Flavia has explored, among other things, the function of
music and musicality in the Comedy, and thirteenth and
fourteenth century Italian poetry and poetics, in addition to twentieth
century Italian literature, in particular Sicilian writers. Diana
has concentrated on eighteenth century criticism of Dante and the
role of women in the Comedy, but is also engaged in research
on contemporary Italian narrative and Italian migration studies.
Margaret Baker’s research is concerned with the ways in which
Italian narrative, in particular that of the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries, reflects the country’s evolving cultural identity.
As this narrative also draws upon earlier Italian literature, she
takes an interest in Dante’s Comedy from a contemporary
Des O’Connor is an expert on the history of Italian settlement
in Australia, with special reference to South Australia. Des’
other research interests include Italian and English bilingual lexicography,
nineteenth and twentieth century Italian poetry, Italian migrant
poetry and Italian language teaching. Eric Bouvet has been focusing
on French migration to Australia but his interests also comprise
second language acquisition, foreign language reading research and
instruction, learning styles, and the methodology of literature
instruction. Migrant cultural and linguacultural issues are the
focus of Marietta Rossetto’s research interests, more specifically,
the lived experiences of minority groups as they influence identity,
acculturation and social justice. Her other research interests include
language maintenance, second language learning and ESL.
Jenny Burley’s research is focused on the Irish who emigrated
to Australia in the early part of the twentieth century. She is
primarily interested in the experience of the women who came, their
lives in Australia and what, if any, cultural heritage they passed
on to their descendants. Dymphna Lonergan’s research interests
include Business English, Plain English, Australian English, Hiberno
English, Irish language words in English, Anglo-Irish literature,
Irish Australian literature and Irish place names in Australia.
Jane Haggis and Susanne Schech’s research is on the social
construction of whiteness in contemporary Australia. They are engaged
in a joint project, Travelling Whitenesses, exploring racialised
constructions of identity amongst overseas born Australians. Pam
Smith is an ARC Post-Doctoral Research Fellow and Chief Investigator
of the Adelaide Hills Face Zone Cultural Heritage Project
funded by a number of industry partners and the ARC.
Steve Hemming is an anthropologist/historian with a museum curator
background who is interested in the power relations involved in
the ongoing colonial relationships between Indigenous people and
Pacific Rim settler democracies. His research applies cultural theory
to the practical processes of 'reconciliation' and community change.
Shannon Dowling’s research interests lie broadly in the field
of memory studies, for example, understanding collective memory
and how it shapes identities. Shannon’s research thus far
has focused on Jewish identities and the Holocaust in Australia,
and in the wider diaspora, exploring the sites of/for remembering
such as literature, life writing, film, television, museums and
monuments. George Couvalis’ primary research interests include
Philosophy of Science, Epistemology and Political Philosophy. One
of his long standing research interests is perceptions of identity
and their importance. Recently, he has been investigating the meaning
of ‘Greekness’ (and ‘romanness’) at various
periods in the history of Greek-speaking peoples.
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1 Excerpt from a speech given
at Flinders University, April 15 1997, on the occasion of Scott
Hicks receiving a Doctor of Letters honoris causa.
2 United Nations Decade of
Education for Sustainable Development 2005-2014 (Draft International
Implementation Scheme, October 2004), p. 4.
Browett, J. (1999). Critical Literacy and Visual
Texts: Windows on Culture.
Date accessed 2/02/05
Web address: www.cdesign.com.au
(Browett: Lecturer, School of Education, University of Tasmania,
Curriculum Corporation, (1994). A Curriculum Profile for Australian
Schools, Curriculum Corporation, Victoria.
Lo Bianco, J., Liddicoat, A. & Crozet, C. (eds) (1999). Striving
for Third Place: Intercultural Competence through Language Education,
Language Australia, Melbourne.
Matsuura, K. (2001). Opening Address at the 31st Session of the
General Conference of UNESCO on Cultural Diversity, Paris,
2nd November, 2001.
Powys, J. C. (1930) The Meaning of Culture, London, Jonathan
Smolicz, J.J., Nical, I., and Secombe, M.J. (2002). Assimilation
or Pluralism? Changing Policies for Minority Languages Education
in Australia and the Philippines. Paper given at the World
Congress on Languages Policies, Barcelona, 16-20th April, 2002.
The Humanities and Australia’s National Research Priorities.
Report by the Australian Academy of the Humanities for the Commonwealth
Department of Education, Science and Training, April, 2003.
United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development
2005-2014 (Draft International Implementation Scheme, October 2004).
Young, R. (2001). Postcolonialism. London, Routledge.
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