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The Australian National University

Professor Francesca Merlan


Position: Professor of Anthropology


Phone: + 61 2 6125 8228

Research interests

I have done research over many years in Northern Australia, where I have been interested in changes in the lives of Aboriginal people who have moved into regional towns (Merlan 1998). A major emphasis in my work with people of Northern Australia has been their changing relations to what they consider their countries, or home territories, and to towns. Over this time I have been involved in the processes (land and native title claims) by which the state has sought to regulate and restore indigenous associations with land. It has been one of the bases of my theoretical interest in socio-cultural transformation and our attempts to model and understand it (Merlan 2005a).

My research in Northern Australia is also part of what informs my interest in the political culture of liberalism (e.g., the engagements of the Australian state with indigenous people). This has been the germ of wider comparative interest in different modes of landedness, and changes in association with land, in the context of differing political cultures.

I have done research in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea (Merlan and Rumsey 1991), where the lives of people have clearly changed under outside influence, but where relations to land largely remain outside the sphere of state regulation and the land itself under indigenous tenure.

My most recent field research has been in southern Germany in a region of Bavaria where farming remains very important, ideologically and as livelihood, and where many see themselves as having deep-rooted relations of indigeneity to specific local areas and villages; nevertheless, the long-term process of exit from agrarian occupation has continued apace. I have attempted to describe how people see and deal with this, and to theorise in terms of the notion of an `illiberal’ political culture the ways in which people here attempt to limit the effects of change (Merlan 2004 and current project). This of course has required engagement with an historically and culturally complex set of issues in relation to the wider German and European setting.

Going on from this most recent project, I intend to continue and widen my research into `post-agrarianism’, by which I mean the (widespread, differentiated) phenomenon of disengagement from landed and agrarian livelihoods and the consequences of this for our contemporary world.

Publications (referred to, recent, forthcoming)

Merlan, F. and A. Rumsey 1991. Ku Waru: Language and Segmentary Politics in the Western Nebilyer Valley, Papua New Guinea. Cambridge University Press.

Merlan, F. 1998. Caging the Rainbow: Places, Politics, and Aborigines in a North Australian Town. University of Hawai’I Press.

Merlan, F. 2004. Preserving the Farm in Southern Germany. Culture and Agriculture 26(1 &2): 124-36.

Merlan, 2005a. Explorations towards Intercultural Accounts of Socio-cultural Reproduction and Change. Oceania 75(3):167-82.(View full text as pdf)

2005b. Culture, Development and Social Theory. The Asia-Pacific Journal of Anthropology 6(1):120-9.

2005c. Indigenous Movements in Australia. Annual Reviews in Anthropology 34:471-94.

2005d. Do Places Appear? Pp. 115-29 in Aboriginal Religions in Australia: An Anthology of Recent Writings. Eds. Max Charlesworth, Françoise Dussart, Howard Morphy. Aldershot, Hants, England and Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Ltd. (reprinted from Merlan 1998)

2006a.. European Settlement and the Making and Unmaking of Aboriginal Identities. The Australian Journal of Anthropology 17(2):179-95.

2006b. Beyond Tradition. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 7(1):85-104.(View full text as pdf)

2007. Indigeneity as Relational Identity: The Construction of Australian Land Rights. Pp. 125-49 in Indigenous Experience Today, eds. Marisol de la Cadena and Orin Starn. London, NY: Berg.

2008. Reply to `Size and Place in the Construction of Indigeneity in the Russian Federation’, B. Donohoe et. al. Current Anthropology 49(6):1011-1012.

2009a. Indigeneity: Global and Local. Current Anthropology 50(3): 303-33.(View full text as pdf)

2009b. Introduction and Conclusion of Tracking Rural Change: Community, Policy and Technology in Australia, New Zealand and Europe. Co-editor and co-author (with David Raftery). Australian National University E-Press. Canberra.

2009c. Economic Anthropology: Transforming Economies, Changing States. Special Issue of The Australian Journal of Anthropology. Editor of issue and author of Introduction. (Resulting from plenary session of the Australian Anthropological Society, October 2007, on `Economy in Anthropology’; papers by Anna Tsing, Chris Gregory, Jon Altman, Deirdre Mackay and Diane Austin-Broos).

2009d. Introduction to Economic Anthropology: Transforming Economies, Changing States.(View full text as pdf)

2009e. Continued Crisis in Darfur alongside ICC Action against Sudanese President.
March 30, 2009.

2009f. More than Rights. 11 March 2009,

2010. Indigenous Models and Belonging: (southern) Germany in Transition. (The Einheimischenmodelle in Bavaria). (View full text as pdf)
Appears in A.J. Strathern and P. Stewart (eds). European Anthropology Series. Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press.

Current project, with publisher. Farm and Field: The Political Culture of Agrarian Exit in Southern Germany.

In Press/Forthcoming:

Ordinary Ethics and Changing Cosmologies: Exemplification from North Australia. In M. Lambek, ed. Ordinary Ethics: Anthropology, Language and Action. New York: Fordham University Press.

Child Sexual Abuse: The Intervention Trigger. In Culture in Crisis, M. Hinkson and J. Altman eds., University of New South Wales Press.

Courses currently taught

ANTH2057/ANTH6057 Culture and Person
ANTH2056/ANTH6056 Belonging, Identity and Nationalism 
 Explanation and Interpretation in the Analysis on Cultures
ANTH8034 Advanced Issues in Anthropology
ANTH8007 Key Concepts in Anthropology of Development
ANTH8006 Social Mapping and Community Politics
ANTH8019 Practical Studies in Social Analysis
ANTH8042 Migration, Refugees and Development

Updated: 17 November 2010/ Responsible Officer:  Head of School / Page Contact:  Web Publisher