More on Broinowski’s Asia hypotheses

My previous post about Alison Broinowski generated quite a bit of discussion. However, it’s apparent that most commenters haven’t actually read either her book or her thesis. I can’t really blame them for that. Although the thesis is freely available in PDF format, some people’s browsers don’t cope with it too well (apparently) and many don’t have the time or inclination to work their way through a document of 360 pages or so.

Because I think Broinowski’s ideas actually do merit wider attention and substantive discussion than they’ve received, I’ve taken the time to transcribe and post here an extensive extract from the conclusion to her thesis. I do so mostly without editorial comment, except to note that I don’t agree with Jack Strocchi’s scathing dismissal of her in a comment to the previous post. I essentially agree with Professor Bunyip’s assessment that her thesis had some value, but that her more recent quoted comments were excessive and unfortunate, and exhibit a cultural cringe that serves only to alienate most readers and deter them from examining her substantive ideas with the attention they deserve (that last bit is my view rather than Professor Bunyip’s – I suspect he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to be so charitable to an ideological opponent). Here’s the Broinowski extract:

As its title, About Face, implies, this thesis has sought to turn Australians’ usual perspective around to “face” the other way. Australian perceptions of Asia have been examined elsewhere. Instead, an attempt has been made here to trace the origins, development, and motivations of Asians’ representations of Australia, as far as they are revealed by opinion leaders in ten Asian societies. These have been shown to differ from what many Australians assume about themselves and from what Australian leaders suppose are others’ perceptions of them. They vary with time and country, but recurrent themes have been identified throughout the twentieth century. They reflect observable Australian reality, but are clearly shaped by the interests of opinion leaders in representing Australia, and themselves, in ways that emphasise superiority or inferiority, difference or similarity.

Australia is more exposed than distant or more powerful Western countries to double standards, scapegoating, and exclusion by its Asian observers, and yet its leaders have ignored warnings and many have shown little awareness of the need to improve the national reputation. Australia invites attack. Asian leaders have with increasing confidence and sophistication used cultural strategies, particularly since the 1990s, to Australia’s detriment. “Culture”, together with concepts like tradition, ethnicity, and nationalism, has become a “recognised idiom for self-definition, political negotiation, and international trade and diplomacy”. (Wu and others 1992) Cultural contestation can occur at times when Australia is economically stronger or weaker, politically conservative or reformist. Cultural language from the world’s margins is now said to be more clamorous than that from the centre, and it believes Australia out in the regional cold, neither master nor subaltern, metropolitan nor peripheral.

For this thesis, however, the most important function of “face” is as amour propre. This impels the Occidentalising agenda that has been shown to serve the common interests of opinion leaders in Asian societies through the twentieth century. It resonates when a Thai editor calls Howard’s “Deputy Sheriff” role (as reported) “a bit of a slap in the face”, and when Habibie says Australia has “pissed in Indonesia’s face”. Asian “loss of face” is claimed to be hurt of a different order from what Western societies know as personal embarrassment, or as damage to national self-esteem. The outrage felt by Indonesians, Indians, Japanese, and Malaysians when Australians fail to appreciate the civilisational hierarchies and cultural understandings summed up as “face” finds vengeful expression in marginalisation, hostility, condescension, and withdrawal. They identify Australians racially with the imperialists by invoking the bonding discourse of Occidentalism. So Australia, unable to shed its western identification, becomes the post-colonial scapegoat. Such Asian exceptionalism reverses the Orientalist discourse, and derives its force from proposing not only that Westerners are unacceptable in Asia, but that Australians are the least acceptable.

… Yet the desire to ensure that “face” is preserved is hardly confined to Asian societies. If this thesis work to endorse Asian exceptionalism about the West while deploring Western generalisations about Asia, it would adopt the very double standards and condescension that people in Asian countries so justifiably resent. A guiding approach… has been to deconstruct such exceptionalist arguments and to show how they serve the agendas of opinion leaders in the ten societies, if not always those of all their people. The well-worn litany of much literary/cultural commentary — issues of identity (national, social, sexual, personal) or post-coloniality (gender, class, ethnicity, race) — is said this unit in Occidentalist agenda of blame, responsibility, restitution, and culture wars. Occidentalism implicates Australia both as an individual society and as “Western”.

… [A]n historical survey reveals that Australia in various Asian communities is represented through what Jose (1993) calls “a mixed application of logic, fantasy, and extrapolation from what has already been established”. These understandings reflect factual reportage, reforming or cautionary agendas, and assertions of superiority, depending upon the agendas of opinion makers. Their repetitive patterns are sustained because Australia itself remains proximate and different, conveniently vulnerable, and an “easy enemy”. Often, Australians have failed to appreciate how enduring and potent is the conviction that Asian countries outrank Australia in civilisational terms, and how exasperating his Australia’s failure to appreciate it. “Proper place” in the civilisational hierarchy entitles opinion leaders in Asian countries to lecture at Australians in ways they would resent in others. The discourse of Asian regionalism makes them ten against one, and gives them the option of referring to themselves as nations or as “Asia”, thus including Asia or excluding it, punishing or rewarding it at will.

As a society that “has come about through mutual absorption of life-ideas, often in hostility, among people of many cultures” (Jose 1996), Australia is — and will remain — both like and unlike its neighbours, and they will continue to stress similarities or differences, whichever is in their interests at any time. So representations of Australia… depend on each Asian society’s self-representations. Opinion leaders hark back to familiar themes, and pick up discourse from each other. Reversing the insults of colonialism, complaining of Australian ignorance of Asia, and objecting to being told what to do are persistent responses, or negotiating strategies, that reappear in such crises. Often, as we have seen, Asian opinion leaders’ criticisms of Australia seem to coincide with unrest at home.

Australia’s image problem

The thesis has shown that familiar complaints about Australians as racist, ignorant, countries, lazy, hypocritical, confrontationist, and so on, constitute a serious image problem for Australia. Representations of Australia as lacking real independence, as a client state of the US and a subject state of the UK, and as ambivalent about Asia, are statements of fact. So are many of the representations, voiced particularly by Asian Australians, about the shortcomings of multiculturalism and Australia ignorance about Asia.

But deconstructing them has revealed that more complex agendas operate. Majority opinion in the region supports a continued US military presence; East Asian regionalists would not be much moved by a change to a Republic in Australia, racial discrimination is widespread in Asian societies and between them; any relevance, distance, and Westernness aren’t cited when observers in Asian countries seek the advantage of Australia’s education, health, tourism, investment, exports, and defence cooperation. Australians’ ambivalence about Asia is matched by the dilemmas of opinion leaders in countries. Some Asia-born critics of multiculturalism pursue in Australia the ideological, hegemonic, and racial agendas they bring with them. Double standards and displacement of blame are persistent face-saving strategies.

… The thesis concludes that representations of Australia in the ten countries are constructed by opinion leaders’ agendas of Occidentalism, racism, and regionalism in pursuit of their own domestic priorities and concerns. These representations are skilfully deployed as part of a complex game involving objective observation as well as deliberate manipulation and regional exclusion. In this game, Australia is particularly vulnerable as a result of its proximity, its policies, its difference, its lack of appreciation of its neighbours’ concerns, and its failure to deal appropriately with its own image problem. Much more sophisticated public diplomacy is required of Australia if it is to become, and be seen to become, more useful, interesting, and relevant to countries in the region.

Note that the only authority that Ms Broinowski cites for the assertions of unchallengeable fact highlighted above in bold text is a quote from Malcolm Fraser that “There is a perception that we are making the US, rather than Asia, and a number one priority”. Presumably her thesis supervisor and examiners regarded this as perfectly okay — you don’t need to prove facts that the left consensus regards as self-evidently true!

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2021 years ago

Ken

Once again you have twisted Broinowski’s words to make a political point.

Any objective readier of the passage you have highlighted would realise that what she meant was that

“Representations of Australia as lacking real independence, as a client state of the US and a subject state of the UK, and as ambivalent about Asia, are PRESENTED AS statements of fact.”

This is obvious from her previous sentence where she writes about an “image problem”. She is not saying that it is true that Australia is a client state of the US etc. She is saying that this is presented as being true in Asia, hence the image problem.

By the way, Ken, it is not possible to “prove” a fact. Facts exist independently of any analysis. It is theorems that get proved. I know you’re only a lawyer, and so untrained in scientific method, but since you’ve attached youself to the rigorous scientists at Bizarre Science, I thought this is something that you should know.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Dave,

I guess readers can decide for themselves whose interpretation of Broinowski’s bolded words is correct. I read her as juxtaposing Asian perceptions about Australians as lazy, racist etc (about whose correctness or otherwise she expresses no personal view) with perceptions about Australia as a client state of the US etc (which she expressly agrees are objectively correct). I suppose it’s possible to read it your way, but I don’t think it’s what she meant.

As for your gratuitous comment about scientific method and my imagined ignorance about it, we’re dealing here with the soft humanities rather than hard science where fact/theorem would be important to distinguish. However, even if we accept that it’s a relevant distinction for present purposes, my point was that (if you accept my interpretation of what Broinowski is actually saying) Broinowski has neither propounded nor tested any theorem at all. She’s simply made totally unsupported factual assertions and claimed them to be manifestly correct. Clearly, you’re perfectly comfortable with that because you share her ideological prejudice. I don’t have a problem with that because all of us have prejudices. But please don’t try to confuse the issue by throwing in irrelevant nonsense about scientific method and Bizarre Science. You might recall that it was Geoff Honnor who threw in that reference, in relation to my DDT post several days ago. I don’t recall your making any attempt to engage with any of the substantive issues in that post either. Instead you chuck in a snide reference several days later in a comment to a completely unrelated post, presumably believing you’re being terribly clever. Again, I guess readers can make their own assessments.

Rex
Rex
2021 years ago

Ken,

I applaud your attempt to bring some balance and depth to the discussion of Brionowski. The Bunyip, Blair Bolt theme about taxpayers funding of leftists is a complete distraction from the vital message of her book.

Her message, that we are faced by a cluster of nations, and peoples who look on us disdainfully, and who deliberately misrepresent us so as to maintain political power and exclude us economically is one of vital significance to this nation.

Her counterveiling arguments, that it is also our own behavior that aggravates the situation (the arguments that offend the Bolt,Blair Bunyip’s), Is also vital to understand if we want to do something about it.

The choice is stark. We can either continue to put our head in the sand and demomonise the messenger as has been done to Brionowski , or we can start thinking intellegently about the problem, and maybe, make things better for ourselves.

Rex

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2021 years ago

Ken

1. you know perfectly well I don’t share Broinowski’s prejudices.

2. Which theorem hasn’t she tested?

(a) That Australia is a client state etc
(b) That Asians believe Australia is a client state etc

She might believe (a), but her thesis was about (b). Are you saying that she simply asserted (b) without presenting any supporting evidence? If so, her thesis wouldn’t have got passed.

Anthony
Anthony
2021 years ago

I agree with Ken that the bolded passage is a badly supported assertion, and if she meant it to be read in a different way, well, she should have written it a different way. But on the whole I found there was a lot of interesting stuff in the thesis, and it’s much more balanced then I’d expected, based on her public remarks post-Bali, which seem to have been deliberately chosen to offend. “Jagged with Strine” indeed!

Dan
Dan
2021 years ago

The bolded sentence is poorly worded, but I agree with Dave about what it’s trying to say. If she really saw it as factual that Australians are “racist, ignorant, countries[?], lazy, hypocritical, confrontationist, and so on”, then she’d be talking about a cultural problem or a behavioural problem, not an image problem. An image problem occurs as a result of (misplaced, by implication) perceptions. It seems fair to me to accept that that was what she was talking about. She seems to have made the mistake of relying on the context to identify the meaning, which of course plays into the hands of anyone inclined to remove the words from that context and so change the meaning completely.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Dan,

I didn’t suggest that Broinowski was saying it’s a fact that Australians are racist etc. In fact I specifically said she WASN’T saying that. however, my reading is that she WAS saying positively that Australia is a US client state etc. The bolded words don’t include the sentence about Australians being racist etc.

John Quiggin
John Quiggin
2021 years ago

I agree with Ken on the question of interpretation.

I read Broinowski as asserting as a matter of fact that Australia is, in formal terms, a subject state of the United Kingdom and, in substantive terms, a client state of the United States. But where is the problem with this?

Leaving aside constitutional quibbles that would surely not impress Asian observers, the formal claim is factually correct. And while the term ‘client state’ might be considered loaded, the substantive claim is also fairly accurate. You might prefer “reliable ally”, but the difference is semantic. In practice, if the US tells us we have to do something, we generally do it.

I agree though that, in a thesis, it’s necessary to provide evidence for claims of this kind.

Dan
Dan
2021 years ago

Ken –

Yes, quite right, sorry.

In terms of us lacking “real independence, as a client state of the US and a subject state of the UK, and as ambivalent about Asia”, evidence should have been forthcoming. I suspect it would not have been difficult to find.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

John,

I shouldn’t be churlish in view of your qualified agreement with me. However, this seems to be a morning for people unconsciously exemplifying points I’ve just made. The points Broinowski treats as self-evidently correct aren’t self-evident at all, except to someone who shares her ideological mindset. Nor are they matters of mere semantics.

First, Australia is not a “subject” state of the UK, either formally or in fact. In a formal sense, the High Court has ruled quite specifically that Britain is a foreign country (Heather Hill case). No British institution has any authority in Australia. The only residual connection is that the Queen of Australia and the Queen of Britain are the same person (albeit in totally different legal capacities). Moreover, the monarch has a minimal real role in our system (the only real function being a minor delaying power in acceding to “advice” from a Prime Minister to sack a Governor-General). The most one can say, and in a strictly formal sense, is that Australians (but not Australia) are “subjects” of the Queen of Australia, and that she is the same person as the Queen of England. No doubt it’s true that most Asians (and more than a few Australians) don’t understand these arcane distinctions and DO have a perception that Australia is a subject state of the UK. But that doesn’t make it a true statement, and that’s what Broinowski baldly asserted as self-evidently the case.

Turning to the “client state of the US” point, I agree that many on the left (including, it seems, yourself) regard this as a self-evident truth. but that doesn’t make it so. There is a major distinction between being a “reliable ally”, as you put it, and a “client state”. The latter expression carries overtones of unthinking subservient dependence that many (me included) would dispute. Obviously Howard is more of an “all the way with GBW” person than our more recent previous PMs, but I don’t think that allows a conclusion that even Howard would always and necessarily take the US position on all issues (which is clearly what Broinowski seeks to convey). At most this statement is a contestable proposition.

The other points that Broinowski asserts are self-evidently true (which you didn’t expressly deal with) concern Asian-Australian perceptions about shortcomings in multi-culturalism and Australians’ understanding of Asia. Without canvassing those issues in detail, I suggest it’s misleading to baldly assert that such perceptions are accurate, without also noting:
(1) Despite its faults, there are few if any other countries with better or more successful multicultural policies than Australia;
(2) While many (perhaps most) Australians may indeed be quite ignorant of many aspects of Asian cultures and sensibilities, it’s by no means self-evident that we’re more ignorant on average than Americans, Britons etc. Indeed, I strongly suspect that the average Australian is less insular and ignorant about Asia (and the rest of the world) than the average American.

Broinowski might even agree with some of the above propositions (indeed there are some observations elsewhere in the thesis that tend in that direction), but her bald statement here suggests otherwise.

Do these points matter? Probably not in themselves, in that the thesis remains a valuable work IMO. But they provide minor textual indications of a rigid ideological mindset and cultural cringe, which later grew into full flower in Broinowski’s interview in the Age, which has in turn set the Right in full Death Beast mode and prevented Broinowski’s substantive ideas (which, as I say, have merit) from getting the serious attention they deserve.

Jack Strocchi
2021 years ago

To Ld Ken,
I think that my post ought fairly to be characterised as a qualified “scathing dismissal” of Broinowski’s thesis, hence the reference to the ball-busting job of digging out the “diamond in the mouth of [that] corpse”.
TO Broinowski believers: this is the Earth calling.
If Australia’s dependent and derivative relation to the hegemonial Anglospheric powers was a critical factor in causing Asia to have harsh words towards Australia then it should have been reflected in correspondent deeds over the relevant time periods:
advantageous Asian behaviour towards Australia under Asian-engaging Keating
adverse Asian behaviour against Australia under Anglo-worshiping Howard
In fact, the political situation is the reverse of what our hand-wringing, nose-downlooking, Howard bashing cultural elites suppose. Tight security relations with the Anglosphere actually complement, rather than contradict, growing prosperity relations with Asia.
Mahattir was able to play to the anti-Australian grand stand in Malaysia with the “recalitrant” issue against Keating. And significant elements in the TNI flouted Australia’s security pact with Indoneseia when E. Timor cracked up.
Conversely, under the UK monarchy-respecting, US client-state serving Howard, Australian relations with the hegemonial powers of Asia have never been better. Under Howard, Australia has:
sealed massive trade deals with PRC
secured military co-op with S Korea & Japan
managed security crises in Melanesia
sorted out our poltical differences with Indonesia
increased Asian legal migration ratios
maintained Asian tourism
restored Asian & trade & investment in Australia to (pre-emerging markets) sanity levels
The trouble with B’s kind of intellectual work is that it relies on her reporting a selective sample of subjective attitudes which are infected with B’s considerable partisan ideological biases. She would have made better use of the tax-payers money by citing, and sticking to, the objective behavioural facts.
Just because the Asian equivalents of Pauline Hanson, Alan Jones and Osama Bin Laden like to let off a little steam in Australia’s direction now and again doesn’t mean our regional relations are in crisis.
The Indonesian regional one solution to the Islamacist terrorist problem is the same as Howard-Bush’s global solution: hunt ’em down, tie ’em up and then kill them.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2021 years ago

“I don’t think that allows a conclusion that even Howard would always and necessarily take the US position on all issues (which is clearly what Broinowski seeks to convey). At most this statement is a contestable proposition.”

You’re right Ken, it is a contestable position. Here is the contest.

On what issues has Howard taken a different position to Bush?

(Hint: supporting Mark Phillipoussos against Andre Agassi at this year’s Wimbledon doesn’t count)

John
John
2021 years ago

Ken, I agree with you on Broinowski’s second sentence. The proposition is too vague to be assessed as factual or otherwise, and to claim it as fact is misleading.

On the first point, I think we’re all in agreement that, with high probability (close to 1 under Howard, and above 90 per cent under Labor) Australian governments will do what the US government wants as regards foreign policy issues, and that the converse is not true of the US. As I said before, whether you call this the position of a ‘reliable ally’ or a ‘client state’ is basically semantic.

Gareth
2021 years ago

Dave: two that come off the top of my head are steel tariffs and the International Criminal Court. I’m sure there’s more.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

I took your advice Ken and read Broinowski’s thesis. I take your point entirely about her use of ‘client state’ and ‘subject state’ in relation to our relationships with the US and the UK respectively. She’s indeed unequivocal in stating each, as fact. In the latter case she’s completely wrong as you’ve pointed out – I suspect she was channelling “Republic Lost” at the time. In the former case, we’d probably need to know what she understands “client state” to mean. Possibly – OK, probably – Chomsky’s definition? “Client states are also called ‘allies’ in polite terms, and they are defined by their obedience, not their values.” Who knows?

I’d probably be more comfortable confining the use of ‘client state’ to the kind of relationship that existed between the USSR and it’s Eastern European satellites prior to 1989 – and I’m sure she doesn’t have that in mind.

It was an interesting and thought provoking piece of work though, for me, it was much more engaging around the uses (and abuses) to which Asian political opinion assessment is hostage – and why: which wasn’t of course the focus of her thesis.

John
John
2021 years ago

Steel tariffs don’t work, Gareth. Australia refused to join the WTO action against the US on this issue, instead securing a partial exemption for our own exports. This is a pretty classic example of client state behavior.

The ICC is a genuine example. Having taken a leading role in pushing the Court when it had US backing, Downer was unwilling to accept the humiliation of a backflip, despite a fair bit of pressure from within the government. So there are limits to the extent to which the ‘client’ idea can be pushed.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

I suspect that the case being made out for the ‘client state’ argument has nothing whatsoever to do with quantifiable fact and everything to do with politically expedient perception.

I don’t recall the pro client case lobby screeching “client state”! at the Howard government during Clinton’s final term. Pourquoi pas? Has our entire geopolitical focus changed so seismically in two years? Could that drooling, rich boy idiot in the White House really have lured our entire foreign affairs infrastructure into client state subservience with his siren song?

John
John
2021 years ago

Geoff, your memory is at fault. The “deputy sheriff” fuss was in 1999.

And I don’t think it’s particularly controversial to say that our entire geopolitical focus has changed drastically in the last two years i.e. since September 2001

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

John, I accept your point that the journalist-coined “deputy-sherriff” comment was made at the time of East Timor, towards the end of the Clinton Presidency, but I think you’d agree that it’s currency took flight with the arrival of Bush.

Accepting that global or macro geopolitical focus has obviously shifted since 9/11 does not, IMO, necessarily mean that our national or micro geopolitical focus has shifted to that of an appendage of the US.

John
John
2021 years ago

Geoff, your memory is at fault here. The ‘deputy sheriff’ fuss, which is fairly central to the debate, was in 1999.

In any case it’s not that controversial to say that our geopolitical focus has changed seismically in the last two years, that is, since September 2001.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2021 years ago

Ah..John, are you on auto-repeat?

cs
cs
2021 years ago

It might help to get some definition of a patron/client relationship here, and test it against the record, where I suspect John will be found to be correct in this new but still unfolding era of homo imperiosus … as unpalatable as that may be to those who still harbour some residual nationalism.

biggles jr.
biggles jr.
2021 years ago

To all: All these words about this woman overlook the basic question — She can’t write clearly because she can’t think clearly. If she could, two of Ken’s posts wouldn’t have to have been devoted to trying to figure what she’s really trying to say.

Why is such a chaotic thinker working at a university?

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2021 years ago

Gareth, John

I’m not convinced about the ICC. The contest was about Howard, not the Howard government. The ICC only got up because, for once, Downer and Williams showed a bit of backbone and argued for their briefs in Cabinet. There was a lot of division in the Liberal Party on this and I think that, for tactical reasons, Howard allowed Downer and Williams to have a win. I don’t recall at the time of the debate Howard personally defending the ICC or Australia’s participation in it.

And since then, Downer has said that, of course, Australia would never hand over a US serviceman to the ICC, blah blah blah.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Well, she may have not written clearly because she was a bit careless or presumptuous at the end of her pretty good thesis, which is why she is working in a university. Has anyone checked to see if the conclusion is merely a resume of a substantive points made in chapters?

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Futher re my above comment on the need for a workable definition of a patron/client relationship … this will not be the same as a principal/agent relationship, which appears to be the de facto standard currently being applied.

Anthony
Anthony
2021 years ago

Since this seems to have fizzled out (at last), I’d just like to say thanks to Ken for bringing this stuff up, alerting me to the link to the thesis, and for being an all round reasonable guy.
Woo hoo to you!