Australia harbours a diverse society and represents an amalgamation of ethnicities. Knowledge, in a multicultural society, is often debated due to subjective perceptions of the ideas, thoughts, and socio-cultural prejudices (Hislop et al., 2018). However, many theorists argue that there are forms of knowledge that exist in society in dominance and are normalized in their perception. This where the question arises, 'Whose knowledge counts? Who decides?' and also if there is a particular type of knowledge privileged in Australian society. It is an important discussion to consider the regime shifts of the knowledge base in society and ponder on how they arise and if there is an acknowledged dominance in this knowledge base and how it is established in the constantly evolving yet steady societies. This essay will argue about the existing notions that argue about the dominance and identification of a particular type of knowledge privileged in Australian society by the exploration of ontological significance and concepts of universality, othering, rationality, ethnocentrism, cultural hegemony, and colonialism.
Ontology can be described as a theory concerned with the “nature of a being”. The behavioural and social patterns of an individual can be classified and understood through an analysis of ontological aspects (Guion Akdağ & Swanson, 2018). The modern society or the contemporary world dwells within the dichotomy of mind and body and asserts the importance of rationalized and objective behaviour. Yet how the holistic view of knowledge and universality of its existence is not restricted to the schooled worldview. Examples of how worldviews are constructed with notions and how ideas are metamorphosed into “common knowledge” is how the narratives are developed. The limitation of this approach is that it marginalizes alternative ideas and knowledge acquisition (Zembylas, 2017). In the context of Australia, the indigenous population considers humankind to be an inseparable thread in the spool of nature and possess a holistic approach. This attribute is expressed in their song cycles, cultural practices, and other traditions. Most indigenous groups like aboriginals in Australia have been able to develop a strong understanding of nature and thus survived several cycles of climate change, anthropogenic disturbances, and other events.
The knowledge in these communities is descended in heritage in the form of folklores and possess significant cultural importance (Bonds & Inwood, 2016). Parallelly, western culture asserts basing the knowledge of experimentation and validation. Science and experimentation originate from observations and understanding the core cause off same. Both indigenous and western knowledge, therefore, forms niche of overlaps where the indigenous communities testify their knowledge with multiple cycles of observations and application, western science follows experimentation and application approach. Still, one view is moe acknowledged and prevalent than another. This is based on several factors. The western social systems and the concepts of modernity in every aspect has been considered to be superior and more accepted versions of knowledge and truth. The concept of “western idea” is used as a jargon for modernity, advanced ideas, and as versions of more accepted knowledge that requires generalization demonstrating power dynamics (Kennedy, 2017).
When one classifies a group or community as “backward” this is done in comparison to a set standard established largely by the modern beliefs and western influences. The backwardness of knowledge in these communities is regarded as lack of pacing with the western ideas that have been adopted in their community and ideas. This establishes supremacy within the communities and eventually underpins the epicentre of “privilege” (Sharples & Blair, 2020). It is crucial to consider how the core notion of privilege is closely associated with psychological supremacy of one idea over another. This develops a bias for judgement. Examples of this have flooded history where indigenous ideas have been discarded over modern notions that have been considered superior. This privilege eventually establishes racial supremacy and can be seen as both, a cause and a consequence of the same. Eventually, a dominant group is established that fails to value the means of communication with power dynamics and dictate the idea of knowledge by disregarding the indigenous information cultured through generations (Martin, 2017).
This can be most commonly associated with colonialism and lack of substantive equality in society post-colonial eras. The cultural hegemony of modernized ideas and power dynamics of dominant knowledge thus shape the normalization and establish it is a generalized and accepted fact. Foucault argues that we can understand perceive the world following the discourses in which we communicate with it (Guion Akdağ & Swanson, 2018). This implies that power dynamics and the concept of what knowledge is generalized is often present to us. The special schools for the indigenous Americans that asserted their acceptance into the world by modernization their very existence serves to be an example of similar power dynamics. Stolen generation in Australia where the young children were separated and were kept camps to be educated enough for acceptance in the colonial world of normal also demonstrates how privilege, power dynamics, and dominance alter the perception of knowledge and establishes a fact (Pybus & Moore, 2019).
The modern society has established rationality as a premise of its truth. While the idea has prevailed in the social and cultural norms, it has close roots from ethnocentrism where the colonial mindset and superior notion so knowledge has been used to discard the indigenous beliefs, cultural knowledge, and the primary local practices as “irrational”, subvert, and backward. The circumference of what is considered as knowledge is rather restricted to what has been documented in modern society (Mitchell, 2017). The economics, social values, science, and environmental laws of the indigenous groups have been discarded or classified non-existent because they fail to comply to the primary acceptance criteria of consideration in the modern world, that is written or published. Only written form of documentation is mandated as a proof of existence for practice or idea that has been existent since the dawn of inception in the community and is still practised in its core centres. Documentation can be verbal and passed to the generations and practised in its cultural essence (Oliver, 2019). Yet, modern beliefs fail to acknowledge this knowledge as it fails to fit the stencil of its validity.
This generates a paradox within itself. The modern society asserts the acceptance n exploration of new ideas and facts with rigorous research and advanced methodology and yet fails to acknowledge the information existing within the indigenous societies where they wish to dominate through cultural hegemony making this a highly restrictive approach masqueraded as an accepting and open idea (Walter & Baltra-Ulloa, 2019). The displacement of a culture of one society by a dominant group largely prevalent by the colonization by Europeans demonstrates how the conception of native ideas was disregarded instead of power. Power brings privilege, and this privilege helps dictate what is normalized as a fact and what information is discredited as a backward practice. The indigenous population of Australia has been stigmatized, stereotyped, and has been extensively ignored for their beliefs that have affected their position in society. Prominent Australian politicians and figures of authority continue to claim that indigenous people here did not have valid laws (Scheman, 2014). The colonial occupancy established that the ideas of the European settlers were universal and there was no absolute alternate knowledge that could exist about the same. And this idea has prevailed even in the contemporary world in a post-colonial society.
This essay discusses how power dynamics, privilege, and cultural supremacy established in the societies can dictate and normalize the course of what is perceived as knowledge. The idea of knowledge emerges as a complex phenomenon that has been associated with cultural hegemony, ethnocentrism, and a colonial approach for dictating what is perceived as a fact. This essay also discusses how the dominant groups in society exert superiority in terms of power that is translated to privilege. The modern society that is influenced by the pace of growth of west and has strong imprints of the colonial mindset fails to acknowledge the knowledge shared by native groups and indigenous populations my classifying it to backward simply by their failure of understanding. This essay therefore asserts and establishes how privilege is dominant in society and a significant factor to describe what is perceived as an informative knowledge and what is classified as an orthodox practice.
Bonds, A., & Inwood, J. (2016). Beyond white privilege: Geographies of white supremacy and settler colonialism. Progress in Human Geography, 40(6), 715-733.
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Hislop, D., Bosua, R., & Helms, R. (2018). Knowledge management in organizations: A critical introduction. United Kingdom: Oxford university press.
Kennedy, K. J. (2018). Equality, citizenship and belonging: Why is developing an inclusive and caring society so hard?. In Interrogating belonging for young people in schools (pp. 187-199). United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
Martin, B. (2017). Methodology is content: Indigenous approaches to research and knowledge. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 49(14), 1392-1400.
Mitchell, J. (2017). Nietzsche on taste: epistemic privilege and anti-realism. Inquiry, 60(1-2), 31-65.
Oliver, P. (2019). Engaged Academics as Activist Professionals: Privilege and Humility in Addressing Knowledge Divides. Bringing Down Divides (Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change, 43, 213-232.
Pybus, C., & Moore, T. (2019). White Guilt, Aboriginal Culturalism and the Impoverishment of Tertiary Education in Australia. Journal of the European Association for Studies on Australia, 10(1).
Scheman, N. (2014). Engenderings: Constructions of knowledge, authority, and privilege. United Kingdom: Routledge.
Sharples, R., & Blair, K. (2020). Claiming ‘anti-white racism’in Australia: Victimhood, identity, and privilege. Journal of Sociology, 1440783320934184.
Walter, M. M., & Baltra-Ulloa, A. J. (2019). Australian social work is white. Our voices, 65-85.
Zembylas, M. (2017). Re-contextualising human rights education: Some decolonial strategies and pedagogical/curricular possibilities. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 25(4), 487-499.
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