Disrecognized Space

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Disciplines and disciplining: Plagiarism in a Postmodern world

Plagiarism is undertaken for diverse reasons, though protecting commercial interests is either absent or of minimal importance in the way the concept is applied in Western societies. This essay discusses the meaning of plagiarism in Western societies as a Modern and Postmodern construct, investigates the reasons people plagiarise, and the reasons why it is punished. It will be shown that plagiarism is a multilayered concept that is culturally encoded as a disciplinary tool. A number of examples are given, as well as two complementary case studies, highlighting this aspect of plagiarism.

Just what plagiarism is, and what position it holds in Western societies, must first be addressed before reasons for it can be answered. Oxford Dictionaries defines plagiarism as “taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own”, relating the word to a Latin derivation meaning a “kidnapper”. The word is first noted, however, only in the early Seventeenth Century, at the rise of the Modern era.

Plagiarism is closely tied up with the concept of copyright as it developed from the Eighteenth Century (Russikof, Fucaloro and Salkauskiene 109), and its underlying assumption that writers’ ideas and words, in contrast to previous generations, now had a tangible economic value which had to be protected. It thus develops from a commercial drive, but, as will be shown, its performance and punishment is undertaken for rather different reasons.

The new individuality and originality of ideas contrasts, however, with the much longer history of writing as an imitative art (Pennycook 206), which continues to remain problematic by its persistence (207). The Modernist notion of the author as privileged being (DeVoss and Rosati 194) is also now under threat by Postmodernist notions of the death of the author (Pennycook 210) and the notion that authorship has become less important on the internet, leading to the assumption that individual ideas can be freely taken and reused (DeVoss and Rosati 196). Spender goes so far as to claim that internet copying and pasting should be seen as the standard way of writing in a post-print medium (qtd in Samson 93). In this changing environment, plagiarism remains a concept primarily identified with maintaining a prescribed normative, Modernist, stance (Pennycook 227).

Plagiarism is far from universally defined or condemned. Von Grunebaum enumerates a huge number of distinctions within Arabic theory regarding plagiarism, a subject that changed and developed across time, but which always had a much finer-grained approach than the modern Western concept. Von Grunebaum relates the Arabic approach to classical Greek concepts, noting that both cultures considered creative works to be held in common (250-51). The points of judgement were not whether copying has occurred, but the quality of that copying.

Asian cultures consider direct quotations a mark of respect for scholarly statements (Russikof, Fucaloro and Salkauskiene 110), and a method of deepening learning (Pennycook 222). In India referencing is not expected at undergraduate study level, and unattributed quoting from textbooks is not considered plagiarism (Handa and Power 71-72). Martin Luther King, Jr did not plagiarise, Johannesen argues, but was following an oral cultural tradition (186). Even in Western cultures plagiarism is a tricky, mutable concept: artistic plagiarism is looked down on, yet artists learn by copying (Mullin 118), and in academic disciplines plagiarism is interpreted differently from faculty to faculty (Haviland and Mullin 16).

In Western societies, plagiarism describes a failure of a normative expectation to provide attribution to ideas (Green 174), though the norm is more enforced in some areas than others – politicians do not attribute their speechwriters but are not censured, for example (190) and journalists are unlikely to suffer if exposed as plagiarists (197). Furthermore, where common knowledge ends and plagiarising begins is ill-defined and reliant on individual interpretations (Chandrasoma, Thompson and Pennycook 181).

Plagiarism can be conceptualised as a means of establishing a person’s “network of power” (Maruca 87), though by what lens this is applied varies depending on what an authority chooses to emphasise: is it an issue of morals, of ethics, of citing correctly, of exhibiting textual knowledge, or an arbitrary social convention (89-90)? All of these can come under the term “plagiarism”.

The exercise of power is seen in Fish’s argument that plagiarism is not a philosophical or moral issue, or even related to whether a text is original or not, but a disciplinary practice, and it is within academic circles that the discipline is most strongly wielded (Martin 36), with Valentine noting that plagiarism is a method of controlling students’ identities (100). Indeed, a search for academic papers on plagiarism shows an overwhelming number dealing with the topic of academic plagiarism, rather than in other fields. Institutional definitions of plagiarism are authoritatively imposed on students, even though, as Ashworth, Bannister and Thorne found, students’ views on what constitutes cheating frequently differs from these (191). Education, of course, is one of the disciplines Foucault examined in the context of producing tractable workers through processes of surveillance and punishment. Plagiarism detection and sanctions are the example par excellence of this control (Zwagerman 686), especially since it imposes requirements on students that fail to correspond to the students’ own motivations. Gu and Brooks confirm that plagiarism is an intertextual activity that includes reader, text, and culture as a meaning-making process (339), but which eliminates the essential trust between educator and student (Zwagerman 703). The “disciplinary mechanism” which imposes hierarchical control is manifest in plagiarism (Foucault 197).

Pennycook provides a number of examples of plagiarism by academic authorities demonstrating that plagiarism is not, apparently, a crime to be eliminated, but a punishment to be meted out (for example, a paragraph forbidding plagiarism in a university handbook was plagiarised by another university) (213). Howard wryly notes the difficulty teachers have in defining plagiarism, while actively engaging in ongoing punishment of the activity (473). Sutherland-Smith and Saltmarsh note the multitude of punitive ways academic institutions attempt to deter plagiarism (2), often with little real effect (6). This becomes a fruitless effort since, by spending hours uncovering and punishing plagiarism in the name of academic integrity, by dividing students into a false binary of plagiarisers and non-plagiarisers (Zwagerman 681), the time spent on academic education is reduced (679).

Language is significant: we do not have a word for those who conform to the ethical dictates imposed on them, but rather identify those who do not comply as “non-plagiarisers”. Plagiarism, while viewed as a “crime” is not generally subject to legal sanctions (Green 241), but is punished through numerous social codes created and enforced, primarily, by professional and academic bodies (199). Plagiarism may, however, still be a rational choice when the punishments are balanced against the benefits to the plagiariser, such that Woessner strikingly demonstrates the disciplinary nature of plagiarism by claiming nothing but “the most aggressive plagiarism sanctions” can ever prevent plagiarism (313). De Ortego y Gasca describes plagiarism as a “modern ‘deadly sin’”, indicating its culturally situated culpability (35), and Valentine reports plagiarism is seen as a form of immorality (91).

The reasons people engage in plagiarism are diverse. Martin observes that those who plagiarise are often at least as capable as those from whom they plagiarise, so an economic imperative is highly unlikely (42). Cowan argues that the overriding ethical imperative is the implicit contract between a writer and a reader (156). The problem here, of course, is that an implicit contract is, ipso facto, not explicitly defined. Only an ill-defined set of expectations and boundaries exists, and transgressions are usually only defined and condemned on a case by case basis.

Ashworth, Bannister and Thorne argue that much research into student plagiarism has been hampered by failing to examine the views of students on the nature(s) of cheating, assuming that these echo how plagiarism is seen by academics (188). Their findings are based on only nineteen interviews but offer various reasons for plagiarism, including lack of understanding, time pressures, that published authors indulge in the practice, and “life is competitive” (194-95). They comment that students simply do not view plagiarism as such an important concept as their tutors, and have a lack of understanding of it (201). Russikof, Fucaloro and Salkauskiene, with a much larger sample size, also found students plagiarised for such mundane reasons as saving time and that it is easier (113), which are broadly similar to those noted by DeVoss and Rosati (195). Zwagerman comments that plagiarism is also a form of resistance that students can employ against the dominant surveillance and assumed guilt that monitoring can impose (696), and rewards the more efficient cheaters who are successful enough not to get discovered (698), again linking to the disciplinary basis of plagiarism.

This disciplinary nature of academic plagiarism can be illustrated by two case studies. While reactions to plagiarism vary from case to case, and it is difficult to make direct comparisons between specific cases, that of Ian McEwan in a non-academic work, and the reaction to it, contrasts strongly with a case of academic plagiarism at RMIT.

Novelist Ian McEwan was accused of plagiarising passages in his novel Atonement. An issue of Critical Quarterly devoted itself to this matter, not to attack but to defend McEwan. While McCrum noted accusations of plagiarism against McEwan dated back to his first novel, he claimed that the most serious crime McEwan could be accused of was only negligence, that it was simply “homage”. McEwan justifies himself by stating he “drew on the scenes she (Lucilla Andrews) described” as a form of inspiration, and that he acknowledged her as a source in the novel. Yet, as Roberts demonstrates through quotations from both authors’ works, McEwan’s book does indeed contain writing that would probably qualify, in an academic context, as plagiarism, and his credit to Andrews is in the ”smallprint of his acknowledgements”. Critical Quarterly also published a response from McEwan’s publisher, Random House, quoting nine major authors supporting McEwan. Their arguments range from varying definitions of plagiarism, to arguing that all writers do the same, or that it is just “factual research”. None of the arguments (including McEwan’s) effectively deny plagiarism, but frame it as a justifiable practice for novelists.

In case this might be seen as censure after the fact, more recently Helene Hegemann was not only accused of plagiarism, but considered for a prestigious literary prize despite this (Kulish 1). One of the judges described the book as not “completely clean” but dismissed this as a concern, while the author claimed “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity” (2). After the accusations, sales of the novel increased. In the literary world, claims of plagiarism may be a cause célèbre for a time, but they appear to have no long-lasting damage, and are subject to vigorous defence.

In contrast to this, a case of plagiarism at RMIT (and exam fraud) demonstrates the much more strongly coded disciplinary nature of how these actions are handled within academia. Zobel, while ostensibly dispassionately describing how the plagiarism was discovered and handled, nonetheless uses strongly charged words such as “high stakes”, “cheating” and “policing”. The case involved an external tutor who offered to write assignments for students for a fee, and to sit exams posing as them. Rather than the informal arguments regarding literary plagiarism in the previous example, students suspected of plagiarism were “invited to hearings” (Zobel 3). After zealously trawling through university email logs, previous student assignments, and 5,000 exam papers, some students were “charged”. Zobel comments that some students were thought so “menacing” at these hearings that calling security personnel had been considered (4). As a result of these investigations, four students were expelled (5). Again, in contrast to the previous case study, the media and public reaction to this incident was strongly negative and condemnatory of the university and students (8). It should not go without mention that Zobel describes himself as “discipline coordinator” – a truly ambiguous description in this context, but a revealing one (3).

The point of these case studies is not to claim one approach is right or wrong, but to delineate the vastly differing ways cases of plagiarism are approached and, especially, the specifically disciplinary academic handling of it, with its legalistic terms and Inquisitorial-like investigations, and where every word is subject to the panoptic gaze of machines through services such as Turnitin.com (Green 194-95), as well as the differing “punishments” meted out in each case.

It is clear that “plagiarism” is a catchall term that covers a vast territory of different interpretations and meanings, temporally, geographically, and culturally (Bergmann 130). In its development in the West as part of Modernism, plagiarism had an economic origin based on capitalist notions of ownership, extending into aspects of reputation and authenticity, but its implementation was primarily disciplinary, framing plagiarism as a transgressive crime to be punished, rather than for economic reasons or claims such as credibility or authenticity – all of which are part of the concept but not the primary explanations. This remains the situation, particularly in academic environments, even while the Enlightenment/Modernist narrative of plagiarism now seems seriously under threat and outmoded by a Postmodernist resumption of a situation echoing the pre-Enlightenment model.

Works cited
Ashworth, Peter, Philip Bannister, and Pauline Thorne. “Guilty in Whose Eyes? University Students’ Perceptions of Cheating and Plagiarism in Academic Work and Assessment.” Studies in Higher Education 22.2 (1997): 187–203. Web. 1 July 2013.
Bergmann, Linda. “Higher Education Administration Ownership, Collaboration, and Publication: Connecting or Separating the Writing of Administrators, Faculty, and Students?” Who Owns This Text?: Plagiarism, Authorship, and Disciplinary Cultures. Ed. Carol Haviland & Joan Mullin. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 2009. 129–155. Web. 27 June 2013.
Chandrasoma, Ranamukalage, Celia Thompson, and Alastair Pennycook. “Beyond Plagiarism: Transgressive and Nontransgressive Intertextuality.” Journal of Language, Identity & Education 3.3 (2004): 171–193. Web. 26 June 2013.
Cowan, Geoffrey. “The Legal and Ethical Limitations of Factual Misrepresentation.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 560 (1998): 155–164. Web. 1 July 2013.
De Ortego y Gasca, Felipe. “Lies Like Truth: Discourse Issues in Language.” Plagiary 1.1 (2006): 33–42. Web. 1 July 2013.
DeVoss, Dànielle, and Annette Rosati. “‘It Wasn’t Me, Was It?’ Plagiarism and the Web.” Computers and Composition 19.2 (2002): 191–203. Web. 1 July 2013.
Fish, Stanley. “Plagiarism Is Not a Big Moral Deal.” The New York Times 9 Aug. 2010. Web. 20 June 2013.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish : the Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Print.
Green, Stuart. “Plagiarism, Norms, and the Limits of Theft Law: Some Observations on the Use of Criminal Sanctions in Enforcing Intellectual Property Rights.” Hastings Law Journal 54 (2002): 167–242. Web. 1 July 2013.
Gu, Qing, and Jane Brooks. “Beyond the Accusation of Plagiarism.” System 36.3 (2008): 337–352. Web. 23 June 2013.
Handa, Neera, and Clare Power. “Land and Discover! A Case Study Investigating the Cultural Context of Plagiarism.” Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice 2.3 (2005): 64–84. Web. 1 July 2013.
Haviland, Carol, and Joan Mullin. “Introduction: Connecting Plagiarism, Intellectual Property, and Disciplinary Habits.” Who Owns This Text?: Plagiarism, Authorship, and Disciplinary Cultures. Ed. Carol Haviland & Joan Mullin. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 2009. 20–48. Web. 27 June 2013.
Howard, Rebecca. “Sexuality, Textuality: The Cultural Work of Plagiarism.” College English 62.4 (2000): 473–491. Web. 1 July 2013.
Johannesen, Richard. “The Ethics of Plagiarism Reconsidered: The Oratory of Martin Luther King, Jr.” The Southern Communication Journal 60.3 (1995): 185–194. Web. 1 July 2013.
Kulish, Nicholas. “Author, 17, Says It’s ‘Mixing,’ Not Plagiarism.” The New York Times 12 Feb. 2010 : 1–2. Web. 3 July 2013.
Martin, Brian. “Plagiarism: A Misplaced Emphasis.” Journal of Information Ethics 3.2 (1994): 36–47. Web. 3 July 2013.
Maruca, Lisa. “Plagiarism and Its (disciplinary) Discontents: Towards an Interdisciplinary Theory and Pedagogy.” Issues in Integrative Studies 21 (2003): 74–97. Web. 1 July 2013.
McCrum, Robert. “Warning: The Words You Are About to Read May Be Stolen.” Critical Quarterly 49.2 (2007): 49–51. Web. 26 June 2013.
McEwan, Ian. “An Inspiration, Yes. Did I Copy from Another Author? No.” Critical Quarterly 49.2 (2007): 46–48. Web. 26 June 2013.
Mullin, Joan. “Appropriation, Homage, and Pastiche: Using Artistic Tradition to Reconsider and Redefine Plagiarism.” Who Owns This Text?: Plagiarism, Authorship, and Disciplinary Cultures. Ed. Carol Haviland & Joan Mullin. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 2009. 105–128. Web. 27 June 2013.
Oxford Dictionaries. “Plagiarism.” Oxford Dictionaries. Web. 19 June 2013.
Pennycook, Alastair. “Borrowing Others’ Words: Text, Ownership, Memory and Plagiarism.” TESOL Quarterly 30.2 (1996): 201–230. Web. 1 July 2013.
Random House. “Authors Rally to Support Booker Prize Winning Author, Ian McEwan.” Critical Quarterly 49.2 (2007): 57–60. Web. 26 June 2013.
Roberts, Glenys. “Plagiarism (or Why I Need Atonement) by Ian McEwan.” Critical Quarterly 49.2 (2007): 52–56. Web. 26 June 2013.
Russikof, Karen, Liliane Fucaloro, and Dalia Salkauskiene. “Plagiarism as a Cross-cultural Phenomenon.” The CAL Poly Pomona Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 16 (2003): 109–120. Web. 3 July 2013.
Samson, Alan. “Plagiarism and Fabulism: Dishonesty in the Newsroom.” Pacific Journalism Review 11.2 (2005): 84–100. Web. 1 July 2013.
Sutherland-Smith, Wendy, and Sue Saltmarsh. “Plagiarism, Ethics and Education: Where to Now?”. 4th Asia Pacific Conference on Educational Integrity, University of Wollongong NSW Australia, 28–30 September 2009. Unpublished conference proceedings. University of Wollongong NSW Australia, 2009. Web. 29 June 2013.
Valentine, Kathryn. “Plagiarism as Literacy Practice: Recognizing and Rethinking Ethical Binaries.” College Composition and Communication 58.1 (2006): 89–109. Web. 27 June 2013.
Von Grunebaum, Gustave. “The Concept of Plagiarism in Arabic Theory.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 3.4 (1944): 234–253. Web. 1 July 2013.
Woesnner, Matthew. “Beating the House: How Inadequate Penalties for Cheating Make Plagiarism an Excellent Gamble.” PS: Political Science and Politics 37.2 (2004): 313–320. Web. 4 July 2013.
Zobel, Justin. “‘Uni Cheats Racket’: A Case Study in Plagiarism Investigation.” Conferences in Research and Practice in Information Technology. Vol. 30. Dunedin, NZ: Australian Computer Society, Inc, 2004. 1–9. Web. 26 June 2013.
Zwagerman, Sean. “The Scarlet P: Plagiarism, Panopticism, and the Rhetoric of Academic Integrity.” College Composition and Communication 59.4 (2008): 676–710. Web. 2 July 2013.

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Book retailing Australia: Rethinking the Models

The internet is a disruptive technology, and one area where this disruption is most noticeable, particularly due to its economic impacts, is retailing. The internet makes it an easy matter to bypass local retailers and order from overseas suppliers and, as internet penetration becomes almost universal in Australia, this becomes more significant for Australian retailers. More recently, for book retailers, the phenomenon of e-books is changing the way books are consumed.

Despite the calls from Gerry Harvey to add GST to overseas purchases (Ramli), it is clear that recourse to traditional methods of controlling retail trade, such as pricing and taxing, would be ineffective, not least because price differentials would still exist. Size, also, is no clear protection against these challenges, as evidenced by the recent collapse of REDGroup’s Borders and Angus & Robertson stores (Crikey). What then are book retailers to do if they are to survive in Australia in this environment? In an analysis at the time, Keane notes that shoppers want price and convenience, but retailers tend to respond with denial of the changing marketplace. Holtzer also notes that Australian retailers have historically resisted change and fallen prey to the short term view in making business decisions (20-21).

While retail book sales in Australia occur in businesses as diverse as newsagents to department stores, the Australian Bureau of Statistics states 78% of sales by value are through specialist bookstores (Canadian Heritage). E-book sales are increasing and, in some genres such as romance and crime it can be up to 50% of sales in Australia (Page).

Clearly, retailers need to be innovative rather than reactive. Page recommends embracing the e-book market, as well as actively offering online ordering. E-books utilise new publishing formats, and actively use the internet for sales and marketing, becoming a network-based economy, rather than a hierarchical one (Hillesund). An Australian retailer that is not online is losing sales, since it appears buyers still prefer purchasing from local suppliers online (Productivity Commission 100).

Li finds that the situation is less dire for specialist retailers as opposed to larger retailers (257). Specialist bookshops offer a number of factors which are missing from online transactions, such as welcoming spaces to sit and read, and specialised knowledge targeted to the local audience.

In addition to this differentiation, local booksellers can also leverage the advantages of online selling by developing a (potentially) worldwide market. While small retailers might be isolated on the internet, cooperative sites can overcome this challenge (Ahlert, Blut and Evanschitzky 307). This can be seen, for example, with Abebooks. Small secondhand retailers can list their stock on this centralised site and, while they are also competing against other sellers, can make their stock list available to a vastly larger number of people than would visit their physical stores.

Retail sellers have always had to adapt to changing circumstances. The technological pressures of the internet, while occurring rapidly, represent both challenges as well as opportunities, especially for smaller, more specialised, retailers. Those who succeed in this environment will be those who actively embrace the technology, and those who are in the forefront of these changes.

Works cited
Ahlert, Dieter, Blut, Markus, and Evanschiztky, Heiner. “Current Status and Future Evolution of Retail Formats.” Ed. Manfred Krafft and Murali K Mantrala. Retailing in the 21st Century. Berlin: Springer, 2006. 289-308 Print.
Canadian Heritage. Appendices: The Book Retail Sectors in Australia, France and Scotland. Candian Heritage. 22 Sep. 2009. Web. 12 Aug. 2013.
Crikey. Last Page for Book Buying? Carr, Cunningham, Rosenbloom on REDgroup. Crikey. 18 Feb. 2011. Web. 12 Aug. 2013.
Hillesund, Terje. “Will E-books Change the World?” First Monday 6.10 (October 2001). Web. 13 Aug. 2013.
Holtzer, Michael. “Australia’s Retail Challenge.” Inside Retailing Magazine (Feb/Mar 2011). Web. 13 Aug. 2013.
Keane, Bernard. The Threat of the Internet to Retail. Crikey. 27 Jul. 2011. Web. 12 Aug. 2013.
Li, Jen. “Choosing the Right Battles: How Independent Bookshops in Sydney, Australia Compete with Chains and Online Retailers.” Australian Geographer 41:2 (2010): 247-262. Taylor & Francis Journals Complete. Web. 14 Aug. 2013.
Page, Jon. The Challenges of Book Retail. Collaboration. n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2013.
Productivity Commission. Economic Structure and Performance of the Australian Retail Industry. Australian Government Productivity Commission. 9 Dec. 2011. Web. 14 Aug. 2013.
Ramli, David. Gerry Harvey: Retailers Will Perish Unless Online Sales are Equally Taxed. ARN. 4 Jan. 2011. Web. 12 Aug. 2013.


Copyright, technology, and Open Access

Copyright, as originally conceived, has been legally altered in a process that subverts those original aims in favour of corporations and at the expense of artists. This process was possible until the advent of the internet. The internet provides a technological threat to rigidly defined legal constraints and borders. Digital reproduction, aided by the internet, actively subverts the concept of copyright. These technological challenges, however, also provide an opportunity to redefine how the work of individuals should be controlled and disseminated. The concept of Open Access scientific journals is one example of this.

Copyright law varies from country to country, but is broadly, and increasingly, based on US law, where it is intended as a balancing act between a monopoly for creators, and intended to “promote the progress of the sciences and useful arts” (Copyright 101). Changes to extend the duration of copyright have, however, firmly pushed the balance in the direction of the monopolists as Berry notes. Legal changes, Berry also notes, lag technological changes and it is technology that creates a constantly shifting border challenging the law.

Digital technology creates what Ku calls a “digital dilemma” since it simultaneously make it trivial to make perfect digital copies of data, but also enables that same technology to be used to enforce restrictions on access to data (274). It also, however, provides for the possibility of making copyright redundant, since it can directly connect artist and audience, eliminating the concepts of “consumer” and “property” (Ku 323).

Previously, access to scientific journals was usually on a user-pays basis, and subscriptions were often prohibitively expensive. The concept that the internet is free, while certainly wrong in totality and open to debate in particulars, has nonetheless led to a movement to make scientific research freely available as a public good. Governments are now making it a condition of providing grants that the research be published under an open access model, while the number of journals adopting this model continues to increase (Free-for-all). Scholars and researchers usually want their papers published and read as widely as possible, but this conflicts with publishers’ desire to restrict access for economic reasons. This situation was sustainable, if not ideal, until the emergence of the internet offering novel publishing mediums (Willinsky). Open access also is one of the fronts of the democratisation of knowledge that the internet enables (Yiotis 160).

Open access, and the best way to implement it, is still a developing field however, and perhaps the greatest challenge (as in many interfaces between economics and society on the internet) is how to fund it. While traditional journals are funded by subscriptions, advertising and reprints, most open access journals charge the author for publication. Fees averaged $660 in 2011, but could be as high as $3,900, while others operate with grants or government subsidies (Van Noorden).

Digital reproduction and networked communications represent technological challenges to copyright. While traditional sources of power, such as publishers, seem to retreat to increasing legal constraints, society is redefining its own concepts of copyright and freedom of knowledge in a complex and changing conflict of ethics, technology and cultural expectations.

Works cited
Berry, John N, III. The Real Purpose of Copyright. Library Journal, 1 Jul. 2000. Web. 23 Jun. 2013.
Copyright 101. Module 1 Copyright Basics & Requesting Information. Brigham Young University, n.d. Web. 24 Jun. 2013.
Free-for-all. 4 May. 2013. The Economist. Web. 24 Jun. 2013.
Ku, Raymond Shih Ray. “The Creative Destruction of Copyright: Napster and the New Economics of Digital Technology.” The University of Chicago Law Review 69.1 (Winter, 2002): 263-324. Print.
Van Noorden, Richard. “Open Access: The True Cost of Science Publishing”. Nature. 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 23 Jun. 2013.
Willinsky, John. “Copyright Contradictions in Scholarly Publishing.” First Monday 7.11 (4. Nov. 2002). Web. 23 Jun. 2013.
Yiotis, Kristin. “The Open Access Initiative: A New Paradigm for Scholarly Communications.” Information Technology and Libraries Dec, 2005: 157-162. Web. 24 Jun. 2013.


Aboriginality in writing: diatribes and discussions

Aboriginal identity in Australia is a contentious issue. Though legally equal with other Australians, the reality is far different. Like many debates in Australian society recently on the issues of sexism and race, the ethics of how Aboriginal people are presented by writers needs a nuanced approach, yet it is constantly being pushed back to a black and white (pun very deliberately intended) binary of separation and denigration, particularly by rightwing critics such as Andrew Bolt.

Notorious now for his breaching of the Racial Discrimination Act (ABC), Bolt’s reactionary view of a rigidly defined eugenicist categorisation fails to engage with Aboriginal people directly and seek their views on how they are presented. He formalises his own views of colour and associated ‘benefit’ based on inaccurate research and a decidedly politicised viewpoint (Summers). Yet Bolt has his supporters: “being an Aborigine is a positive benefit” (Windschuttle), a fact many disadvantaged Aboriginals would be pleased to learn. Of course, these claims seem to emanate exclusively from white, privileged males. In the trial of Bolt, Justice Bromberg commented that the issue was not what Bolt said, but how he said it – not suppression of freedom of speech, but more akin to defamation action due to the way he said it (Joseph).

Identity, as Clarke points out, is a performative act that moves beyond clichéd signifiers (107). The forced fitting by Bolt and others of Aboriginal identity into a rigid nineteenth-century framework does nothing to explore the meanings of Aboriginal experiences today. Furthermore, it attempts to impose a hegemonic authority to pronounce on these matters from those outside the experience of being Aboriginal, silencing dissenting voices.

What should we as non-indigenous writers do? The Australia Council for the Arts guidelines are certainly a good start but even with the best intentions mistakes can be made, cultural boundaries transgressed, and harm done (as evidenced recently by the confusion over the presentation of Yothu Yindi’s recently deceased lead singer in the media (Holmes)). The Australia Council for the Arts lists a number of principles to follow of which the first three are perhaps most important: respect; indigenous control; and communication, consultation and consent (11). The significance of these three principles is that writing should be undertaken utilising the wishes and knowledge of the people being written about – principles which, of course, extend far beyond Aboriginal writing. Certainly, the more individuals that can speak (or have their words heard) in their own voices, the fuller the conversation can become.

This doesn’t mean that writing about Aboriginal people can’t be critical, but it does mean that we as writers attempt to understand the views of others as well, something Peters-Little urges as a fundamental starting point to any discussion (4). It is the ability to imagine ourselves into the Other so that we write from a position of understanding (not necessarily agreement) rather than prejudice or stereotype (Cole 215). It is the ability, as McDonnell urges, to write not just text but context so that what we write has depth of meaning and resonance for everyone (85).

Works Cited

ABC. Bolt Breached Discrimination Act, Judge Rules. ABC News, 29 Sep. 2011. Web. 21 Jun, 2013.
Australia Council for the Arts. Writing: Protocols for Producing Indigenous Australian Writing. 2nd ed. Surry Hills, NSW: Australia Council for the Arts, 2007. Print.
Clarke, Maureen. 2004. “Mudrooroo: Crafty Imposter or Rebel with a Cause?” Australian Literary Studies 21.4, 101-110 (2004). Web. 20 Jun. 2013.
Cole, Anna.” Making a Debut: Myths, Memories and Mimesis.” Ed. Frances Peters-Little, Ann Curthoys and John Docker. Passionate Histories: Myth, Memory and Indigenous Australia. Canberra: ANU E Press. 205-218. 2010. Web. 20 Jun. 2013.
Holmes, Jonathan. The passing of Mr Yunupingu. Mediawatch, 10 Jun. 2013. Web. 18 Jun. 2013.
Joseph, Sarah. Andrew Bolt, Free Speech, and Racial Intolerance. Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, 29 Sep. 2011. Web. 19 Jun. 2013.
McDonnell, Margaret. 2005. “Locating the Text: Genre and Indigenous Australian women’s life writing.” Life Writing 2:2, 71-90 (2005). Taylor and Francis Online. Web. 20 Jun. 2013.
Peters-Little, Frances. “Introduction.” Ed. Frances Peters-Little, Ann Curthoys and John Docker. Passionate Histories: Myth, Memory and Indigenous Australia. Canberra: ANU E Press. 1-6. 2010. Web. 20 Jun. 2013.
Summers, Anne. The Bolt Factor: Andrew Bolt and the Making of an Opportunist. The Monthly, October 2011, No. 72. Web. 19 Jun. 2013.
Windschuttle, Keith. “The Trial of Andrew Bolt (II): Real Aborigines versus Phoneys.” Quadrant Online 54.12 (2010). Web. 19 Jun. 2013.