Comparative Political Theory and Indigenous-Settler Relations

Free Public Lecture

Comparative Political Theory and Indigenous-Settler Relations

Comparative Political Theory (CPT) has emerged in the 21st Century as a distinctive strand of contemporary thought focused on the neglect of non-Western traditions within the canon of Western political theory. This approach has been valuable in drawing attention to the work of many thinkers that have developed their ideas in different cultures and traditions from those that have dominated in the study of Western political thought. However, CPT has been rather weak methodologically in justifying the comparative label; it tends to deal in the revelation of parallel arguments rather than using comparative analysis to its fullest potential. In this lecture, Adrian Little argues that this approach overstates the coherence of traditions and the fact that many of the ideas studied within CPT actually emerged through a relationship and exchange between Western and non-Western traditions of thought.

From this theoretical-methodological foundation, this lecture argues that CPT works best where there is deep understanding of context embedded in the analysis of the emergence and development of the use of political concepts. Moreover, it suggests that for CPT to be comparative, it need not focus on the ‘non-West’ at all. In fact, some of the most significant applications of CPT could be within settler colonial societies like Australia. This argument pertains to Indigenous-settler relations in Australia – especially in the aftermath of the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017 - in two important ways. First, we can examine the key objectives of the Uluru statement in a comparative light by understanding the ways in which the objectives of truth, treaty and voice have been pursued in other conflictual and post-conflict environments. This approach allows for a sharing of experiences and highlights some of the pitfalls as well as the benefits that these approaches might engender in Australia. Second, the methodology of CPT can be used to shed light on the emergence of key concepts in the debate in Australia – such as makarrata – as a way of highlighting the problematic dynamics that continue to blight the politics of Indigenous-settler relations in Australia today.

Adrian Little is Professor of Political Theory in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

All Free Public Lectures