In Dynamics of Difference in Australia, Francesca Merlan examines relations between indigenous and nonindigenous people from the events of early exploration and colonial endeavors to the present day. From face-to-face interactions to national and geopolitical affairs, the book illuminates the dimensions of difference that are revealed by these encounters: what indigenous and nonindigenous people pay attention to, what they value, what preconceived notions each possesses, and what their responses are to the Other. Basing her analysis on her extensive fieldwork in northern Australia, Merlan highlights the asymmetries in the exchanges between the settler majority and the indigenous minority, looking at everything from forms of violence and material transactions, to indigenous involvement in resource development, to governmental intervention in indigenous affairs.
Merlan frames the book within the current debate in Australian society concerning the constitutional recognition of indigenous people by the nation-state. Surveying the precursors to this question and its continuing and unresolved nature, she chronicles the ways in which an indigenous minority can remain culturally different while simultaneously experiencing the transformative forces of domination, constraint, and inequality. Conducting an investigation of long-term change against the backdrop of a highly salient and timely public debate surrounding indigenous issues, Dynamics of Difference has far-reaching implications both for public policy and for current theoretical debates about the nature of sociocultural continuity and change.