Helen Verran


Helen Verran, Charles Darwin University, Australia; University of the Arctic, Norway

Helen Verran is a professor of the reach team of Contemporary Indigenous Knowledge and Governance. In the past, her research focus involved working with Yolngu Aboriginal Australians in Arnhem Land as they endeavored to engage with science and scientists. The turn of the century saw Helen turn the focus of her attention away from science and education and begin to focus more directly on policy and politics in the areas of environmentalism and indigeneity. As the Australian state adopted neoliberal policy frameworks, Helen discerned that a major shift in the workings of modern knowledge practices was occurring, and she felt that in Australia this was most fully developed in environmental and Indigenous policy. Her approach to analysis in these areas can be understood as a form of empirical philosophy. Her research interests include: Indigenous and environmental policy in Australia, knowledge practices and governance practices in contemporary government, and ethnography as method in empirical philosophy.

Indigenous Governance and Modern Nation State Governance. What Can Thinking Through STS Contribute?

All governance traditions, including modern technocratic systems, must yoke knowledge practices and politics, involving compromise in both arenas. Governance is institutional mediation of continually (re)negotiated steerage through the intermeshed force-fields of epistemics and politics. STS thinking about governance of nation states in this way goes back to the origins of this field of study in early twentieth century Europe in the aftermath of the first world war. This lecture begins with a brisk history of STS approaches to analysing governance as intersections of epistemics and politics. Indigenous governance traditions, like all others, yoke epistemic and political practices, but indigenous political norms and epistemic practices are likely to differ profoundly from governance in institutions of the modern nation state within which Indigenous polities exist. Continuing negotiation between indigenous organisations and institutions, and those of the nation state, the government, in devising and operationalising policy is required if governance there is to be effective and fair. In the era when nation states marketise the delivery of government services in indigenous communities—including disaster response services, pursuing indigenous governance that is both effective and fair is further complexified.