Indigenous Diaspora and the Prospects for Cosmopolitan 'Orbiting': The Warlpiri Case

Paul Burke*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    16 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper introduces one of the first attempts in anthropology to apply the notion of diaspora to Fourth World circumstances-namely, the Warlpiri of central Australia, many of whom have permanently migrated to towns and cities, but retain strong connections to their home settlements. Coincidently, the research project on the Warlpiri diaspora (2009-12) overlapped with an intensified public policy debate about the decline in social conditions on remote Aboriginal settlements and controversial governmental responses. Prior to those responses, Aboriginal public intellectual Noel Pearson had already proposed 'orbiting' as a solution to some of the social problems in remote settlements. These conjunctures set the scene for a comparison to be made between the results of ethnographic enquiry and policy advocacy covering similar ground. Results from the Warlpiri diaspora project indicate that some Warlpiri women have acted well in advance of any official endorsement of orbiting to move permanently to distant locations. But the success or otherwise of such a venture seems to depend on intimate factors that fall outside the usual purview of government policymaking. While the Warlpiri diaspora research is supportive of some of the assumptions of the orbiting policy, it also suggests other kinds of successful orbiting outside of workplace careers and the understating of the cultural implications of orbiting. Ultimately, experience-near ethnography, including that which is orientated to the intercultural, as necessitated by the realities of diaspora, stands in a critical relationship to the oversimplifying tendencies of policy advocacy.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)304-322
    Number of pages19
    JournalAsia Pacific Journal of Anthropology
    Issue number4
    Early online date23 Jul 2013
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


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