Translations, an autoethnography

Migration, colonial Australia and the creative encounter

By Paul Carter

Translations, an autoethnography


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-5804-8
  • Pages: 336
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £80.00
  • Published Date: December 2021
  • BIC Category: Society & social sciences / Anthropology, Humanities / Australasian & Pacific history, Historical Geography, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / Australian & Oceanian Studies, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Emigration & Immigration, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / General, HISTORY / Australia & New Zealand, Anthropology
  • Series: Anthropology, Creative Practice and Ethnography


Translations is a personal history written at the intersection of colonial anthropology, creative practice and migrant ethnography. Renowned postcolonial scholar, public artist and radio maker, UK-born Paul Carter documents and discusses a prodigiously varied and original trajectory of writing, sound installation and public space dramaturgy produced in Australia to present the phenomenon of contemporary migration in an entirely new light.

Rejecting linear conceptualisations of migrant space-time, Carter describes a distinctively migrant psychic topology: turbulent, vortical and opportunistic. He shows that the experience of self-becoming, when mediated through a creative practice that places the enigma of communication at the heart of its praxis, produces a coherent critique of colonial regimes still dominant in discourses of belonging. One expression of this is a radical reappraisal of the 'mirror state' relationship between England and Australia, whose structurally symmetrical histories of land theft and internal colonisation repress the appearance of new subjects and subject relations. Another is to embrace the precarity of the stranger-host relationship that shapes migrant destiny, to break down art's aesthetic conventions and elide creative practice with the poetics (and politics) of social production - what Carter calls 'dirty art'. Carter tackles the argument that immigrants to Australia recapitulate the original invasion.

Reflecting on collaborations with Aboriginal artists, he frames an argument for navigating incommensurable realities that profoundly reframes the discourse on sovereignty. Translations is a passionately eloquent argument for reframing borders as crossing-places: framing less murderous exchange rates, symbolic literacy, creative courage and, above all, the emergence of a resilient migrant poetics will be essential.


Prelude: Broken Relations, migrant destiny
1 Movement Forms, migrant prehistory
2 Native Informants, enigmas of communication
3 Walking the Line, the endless arrival
4 Flow Paths, topologies of coexistence
5 Dirty Art, decolonising public space
6 The Prodigal Son, parables of return
7 Story Lines, creative belonging
8 Silenced Relations, migrant poetics
Postlude: Human Symbols, doubled identities

Works discussed


Paul Carter is Professor of Design (Urbanism) at RMIT University, Melbourne

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