What’s in a label: Towards critical understandings of Aboriginal identities within public health
A plethora of government reports and academic papers continue to conclude that the Aboriginal people experience higher proportions of illness and socioeconomic disadvantage. However, what is less frequently acknowledged is that to create the statistics that inform these research products, researchers must reify vastly different and dynamic identities into a box to be ticked on a form. They then must largely rely on their own assumptions to interpret and report the data. In this seminar, Sophie will explore some of the tensions arising from her PhD study of using Aboriginal status as an administrative label and statistical variable within public health. Her study started as a quantitative exploration of social determinants of health among a small group of Aboriginal people part of a longitudinal birth cohort study based in Brisbane. Qualitative life history interviews with these participants as well as a series of methodological and epistemological challenges later revealed limitations in attempts to ‘measure’ or ‘define’ identity and differences in experiencing Aboriginality. They also highlighted the perceived impact of these co-created or imposed identities on one’s life narratives and wellbeing. Supported by previous critiques by Aboriginal scholars (e.g. Bond 2005; Fredericks 2010; Sherwood 2010; Walter 2010), it was apparent that public health largely positions Aboriginality as a risk factor for disease, favouring a deficits-based approach, while in contrast Indigenous perspectives emphasise the complexity and diversity of identities, as well as the strength and resilience of Aboriginal people. These findings invite the broader question: if we did ‘Aboriginal health’ differently, would we be getting different results?
About the Presenter
Sophie Hickey is a mixed-methods researcher with a strong research interest in social inequalities in health. Trained in the discipline of sociology, Sophie has worked in the public health arena for the last 8 years across the fields of drug and alcohol and Aboriginal heath. She currently works at the Mater Research Institute on an NHMRC funded partnership project between the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH), the Mater Health Service (MHS), and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service (ATSICHS), Brisbane. This project aims to evaluate best practice maternity care services in South East Queensland for women having Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies.