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Aboriginal Business
Alliances in a Remote Australian Town

Kimberly Christen
From the vantage point of the remote Northern Territory town of Tennant Creek in Australia, this book examines the practical partnerships and awkward alliances that constitute Indigenous modernities. It is an ethnographic snapshot of the Warumungu people as they engage with a range of interlocutors, including transnational railroad companies, national mining groups, international tourists, and regional businesses. Although the Warumungu are the traditional owners of the country in and around present day Tennant Creek, the history of white settlement and Aboriginal displacement has made this town, for better and worse, a site for the ongoing process of interdependent community-making. Anthropologist Kimberly Christen examines both the colonial past and the contemporary practices of alliance-making that set the stage for an alternative future, rerouting the national and global narratives that still seek to confine Indigenous people to the margins. Warumungu “mobs”—variously connected and shifting sets of kin—actively seek to carve out a space within a nation that both condemns and celebrates them.

Contributors:Kimberly Christen

View the Table of Contents

  1. Alliance-Making: Introduction
  2. Claiming Country
  3. Managing Mobs
  4. Constrained Collaborations
  5. Practical Partnerships
  6. Negotiated Networks
  7. Culture Work

Download an excerpt (PDF, 84 KB).

Read Reviews

“This smart and timely book explores the relationships between the Warumungu society of north-central Australia and their non-Aboriginal neighbors in the region of Tennant Creek. Using the concept of business, which in Aboriginal English usually refers to ritual activity, Christen discusses Aboriginal formal organizations, railroads, mining, tourism, and cultural production to establish the point that indigenous people do not live in isolation and the modern and traditional are not mutually exclusive identities…. [This] is quite a brilliant piece of anthropological research…. Kimberly Christen appreciates and clearly depicts that the authentic Aboriginal experience includes the foreign and the modern…. The days of cultural isolation are over for indigenous peoples, and anthropology must accommodate, and has accommodated, this fact.”
—Jack David Eller, Metropolitan State College, Denver, CO, Anthropology Review Database, March 2010
“An ethnography of Aboriginal people that places forms of intercultural partnership and Aboriginal corporate activity at its center. [Christen] has crafted a novel and rich perspective on cultural reproduction and Aboriginal social life and provided a much-needed ethnographic window onto Tennant Creek, a small, popularly maligned town in the Northern Territory…. This is an important book that has much to offer a wide range of readers.”
—Daniel Fisher, Museum Anthropology Review
“Engaging book…. An achievement that will speak to a broad audience of scholars, activitsts, and general readers.”
—Deborah Breen, Boston University, Indigenous Peoples Issues and Resources
“Aboriginal Business offers welcome and timely insights into both historical issues and contemporary social concerns….Kim Christen offers an analysis that is at once timely and timeless.”
—Will Owen, Aboriginal Art & Culture: an American eye
“Kimberly Christen’s book provides considerable insight into the significance of [business] meetings to Warumungu people as part of a broader field of business they conduct in and around the town of Tennant Creek…. An impressive achievement…. Will be of value to a wide readership, including those interested in Aboriginal politics, applied anthropology, cultural studies, museum studies, and Australian history.”
—Petronella Vaarzon-Morel, Aboriginal History
“Aboriginal Business explores the relationships and alliances that have emerged over time between people in the relatively small and remote outback town of Tennant Creek…. In her well-written account, Kimberly Christen skillfully details how such relationships are played out amidst political maneuvering and social experimentation by various levels of government as they attempt to gain the upper hand in Aboriginal policy rationalisation. This book makes very effective use of accounts of history, colonisation, and an ongoing struggle for rights to weave a story about survival, endurance, and social prosperity.”
—Bill Ivory, Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin, Anthropological Forum
“Explores the ways in which Warumungu people from the Tennant Creek region go about the business of engaging with and building alliances with others. Christen’s book is a welcome contribution which offers both new material on, and fresh conceptual insights into, contemporary Indigenous Australian experiences.”
—Jackie Gould, Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, Australian Journal of Anthropology
“A richly textured portrait of Aboriginal business in central Australia that warrants close reading by scholars and students of indigenous settler relations around the globe. Christen’s fine monograph illustrates that beautiful writing and thoughtful analysis serve anthropology well. All graduate students of indigenous settler relations should read this book as a model to emulate.”
—Jeff Collmann, Georgetown University, American Anthropologist
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