Both with and against the state? Thinking participation through Aboriginal fire management in southeast Australia

Dr Timothy Neale1

1Deakin University, Burwood, Australia


Established framings of collaborative or partnership relationships between Indigenous and (settler) state agencies typically position them as predetermined expressions of something innate rather than, as they are sometimes experienced by those involved, an emergent and pragmatic exploration of the bounds of what is possible. While we are apt to be suspicious of the institutions of settler governments, and the motives of different actors, such summary analyses can obscure the pragmatics and unexpected transformations that emerge through doing collaborative or participatory work. In this presentation, I will reflect on scenes of revitalised Aboriginal bushfire management practices in Victoria and elsewhere, drawing upon recent critiques of participation to think through their tensions and potentialities. While these initiatives are not decolonising in the sense of restoring full autonomy to Aboriginal peoples over their Country, I will suggest that the participatory governance of bushfire is a site of emerging experiments in the redistribution of legal and political authority over Country.


Timothy Neale is a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology and Geography at Deakin University. He is the author of ‘Wild articulations: indigeniety and environmentalism in northern Australia’, published in 2017 by University of Hawaii Press, and you can reach him at or @tdneale

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