and the social sciences


Over the past decade, an increasing number of social science organisations have been implementing formal processes to learn about and improve their relationships with First Nations Australians. The Academy, has recently started this journey with its inaugural Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan. However, the more general reconciliation of social science disciplines with First Nations Australia is yet to occur in a systematic way.

Required is the coming together of institutions and researchers to understand the damage that Western knowledge in various fields has done to Indigenous Australians over centuries. This piece outlines potential components of a reconciliation process led by Australia’s social science disciplines (Figure 7).

Some of this work is already taking place in Australian universities, prompted and driven by the unwavering effort of thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous academics, students, and organisations. But more needs to be done.

Over the past decade, an increasing number of social science organisations have been implementing formal processes to learn about

In places like New Zealand, the reconciliation process has led to the establishment of Wānanga, described as a Māori learning environment, which effectively functions as an alternative to universities and VET, awarding tertiary qualifications all the way up to doctorate degrees. In South Africa, reconciliation is taking shape through a critical, and often radical review of university curricula and research agendas, with the aim of putting Africa and African issues at the front and centre. Australia clearly has some way to go in its reconciliation journey.

The steps proposed here are not the result of a formal research process, but of face-to-face discussions with a small number of passionate First Nations academics in the social science sector. It is offered as a starting point for future conversations about what it could mean to genuinely and respectfully integrate Indigenous peoples and knowledges in Australian social science.

Building blocks for reconciliation in the Social Sciences



Research can, and has been, harmful to Indigenous peoples, for example:

  • When conducted without their involvement or consent.
  • When Indigenous knowledge or practices are misunderstood, or portrayed as inferior or negative.
  • When research outputs have fuelled policies harmful to Indigenous peoples.

These issues vary across disciplines, and specific reconciliation approaches are required. As a first step, the acknowledgment of instances of past and present wrongdoing in various disciplines might include a formal apology for past and present harm, and a commitment to do better.



A second step might include the exploration of Indigenous knowledges, from a place of respect. That includes learning and valuing Indigenous knowledges on their own terms, as opposed to by comparison to, or against traditional Western scientific standards.



Developing the hard and soft infrastructures required for the preservation and dissemination of Indigenous knowledges.

Identifying and removing barriers for greater participation and inclusion of Indigenous Australians in the social sciences.


Holding Space

… for Indigenous self-determination: Nothing about us, without us.

Reconciliation processes are best led by Indigenous Australians. Self-determination, in this case, is about building processes and structures that guarantee Indigenous leadership and sovereignty over First Nations knowledges, data planning and policy.