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The Work of Shame in the Non-Writing of the Australian Constitution.

Psychoanalysis Across the Disciplines & The Social Theory Centre

Tuesday 23rd February. 5.00 to 7.00 in SO.08 (Social Sciences)

The Work of Shame in the Non-Writing of the Australian Constitution.

Juliet Brough Rogers, University of Melbourne

In 1993 discussion began on the changing of Australia’s Constitution to reflect the existence of Indigenous people. The discussion collapsed with the ‘no’ vote in the referendum on the possible move to a republic. In 2011 an expert panel of Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars sat and recommended change to occur in 2013. In 2015 Indigenous leaders wrote to the then Prime Minister, Tony Abbot, to say they wanted to advise on the terms of that change. Prime Minister Abbot refused the existence of a ‘black process’ in a mode, we could say, that any consultation with Indigenous people has been refused since invasion in 1788.
There is much to be ashamed of in Australia’s past. As Rai Gaita suggests:
Shame is as necessary for the lucid acknowledgment by Australians of the wrongs the Aborigines suffered at the hands of their political ancestors, and to the wrongs they continue to suffer, as pain is to mourning.
But there is little shame applied to the process of recognition of Indigenous people in Australia, and there is little capacity to mourn a Constitution for which one might be ashamed.
In this paper I argue that the non-act of re-writing the Australian Constitution reflects a melancholic relation to the Constitution, one which refuses the work of shame. Or in line with Freud’s and Lacan’s discussion of shame as the exposure of genitals, it is a refusal of the pain of being seen. The paper will briefly map the process toward constitutional change in Australia, and examine the many sites of exposure that appeared in this process. Using a psychoanalytic lens the paper will then consider the modes that shame, and a melancholia for the good of the Constitution, interact to foreclose on possibilities for consultation, for shame or indeed for mourning.

Dr Juliet Rogers is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology in the School of Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne, and Adjunct Professor at Griffith Law School, Queensland. She is currently an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow examining the ‘Quality of Remorse’ after periods of political and military conflict. She has recently been a Visiting Fellow at the European University Institute, Italy; Yale Law School, US; University of Cape Town Law School, South Africa and Queens University Law School. She is currently a visiting fellow at Scuola Superiore di Studi Umanistici, at the University of Bologna. She recently published Law’s Cut on the Body of Human Rights: Female Circumcision, Torture and Sacred Flesh (Routledge), and she is completing a monograph on Remorse.