Aboriginal professionals: work, class and culture

Aboriginal Australians Employment Australia


This paper considers the increasing representation of Indigenous people in professional occupations. While the predominant focus in Australian scholarship remains contexts of Aboriginal disadvantage, there is a steadily increasing number of Indigenous professionals in Australia among whom many reside in urban locales. In 2006, Indigenous professionals totalled more than 14,000 people, equivalent to 13 per cent of the Indigenous workforce in Australia. Despite being largely overlooked, Aboriginal people themselves are aware of this trend with some debating its relation to emerging ideas of a new Aboriginal 'middle class'.

This paper begins by summarising data concerning Aboriginal professionals: their fields of work, education levels and location. It then considers Aboriginal discussion of the term 'middle class', reflecting on attitudes to this expression as a mode of self-description and/or ascription, and its implications within narratives of Aboriginal culture and identity. The paper suggests that greater research engagement with Aboriginal professionals is needed to enlarge understandings of occupational aspirations and social mobility as envisaged among Aboriginal people, in addition to contributing a more complete picture of Aboriginal engagements with work and a clearer appreciation of the diverse shapes of contemporary Aboriginal lives.

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