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John Hopkins University

Publication Date

Spring 2009

Program Name

Australia: Natural and Cultural Ecology


This study demonstrates that Aboriginal Australian time philosophy has survived the impact of European colonization through applying anthropological inquiry into time perception to functional attitudes towards work ethic. By doing so I highlight time perception as one of the “root causes” of Aboriginal socio-economic disadvantage in the barrier it poses to Aboriginal labor force participation. The Native Title Act put pressure on the mining industry to set high targets for Indigenous employment and in the process has given Aboriginal communities the opportunity to become “active initiators” of their relationship to time by forcing industrial compromise through resistance to adopt the “capitalist temporal order” within which industry operates. This is reflected in the demands of Aboriginal employment strategy and the adaptations to industrial culture which are beneficial to promoting Aboriginal recruitment, retention, and progression through the workforce. Data collection consisted of a series of intensive interviews and two surveys intended to put quantitative values behind trends observed throughout the intensive interviews. Interview subjects were chosen on the basis of their personal experience with Aboriginal employment or in order to provide insight into contemporary employment issues, the traditional time perceptions of Aboriginal Australians, and the historical interplay of the two cultures within the labor force. I drew parallels between subjective time, flexible work schedules and work-readiness programs, notions of time as circular and the under-representation of Aboriginal Australians in managerial positions, and time bound to obligation with job retention. If fundamental cultural differences are recognized as a barrier to Aboriginal integration into the workforce it can help to dispel misconceptions about work ethic and promote policy which allows Aboriginal employees to maintain an attachment to traditional culture in coexistence with a steady job.


Anthropology | Social and Cultural Anthropology


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