Cultural encounters with sporting organization: ethico-politics at the interface of Indigenous culture and organization

Butcher, Tim and Judd, Barry (2015). Cultural encounters with sporting organization: ethico-politics at the interface of Indigenous culture and organization. In: Pullen, Alison and Rhodes, Carl eds. The Routledge Companion to Ethics, Politics and Organizations. Routledge Companions in Business, Management and Accounting. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 162–178.



In this chapter we set out to problematise the organisation-community interface of Australian football in the Alice Springs region of the Northern Territory. We find this to be a cross-cultural interface that exemplifies the entangled narratives of Western progress and Indigenous self-determination. We first identify the histories that inform this contemporary interface and the consequent pluralistic meanings of what it is to organise and participate in this sport today. We then focus on the participation of a team from the remote Indigenous community of Papunya who play in an Australian football league in Alice Springs. We do so in order to understand how Indigenous people who live in remote Australian contexts ‘must’ engage in this sport, and their ethico-political resistance to its Eurocentric organisation. By challenging the Eurocentric meta-narratives of the sport and exposing their influence on its organisation today, we highlight how this sport, held up by many as a champion of Indigenous engagement, constrains participation by remote communities, undermines Indigenous struggle for self-determination and perpetuates their status at the very margins of contemporary Australian society.

We propose the need to reconceptualise this interface by recognising alternate ‘modernities’ identified by Papunya Elders and discussed here. Finally we reflexively examine this proposition to assess its appeal to the discipline (Alvesson and Sandberg, 2011) as a move towards decolonising this and other organisation-community interfaces. We might then begin to answer an organisational question posed by Rhodes and Wray-Bliss (2013, p.46) – “how do we live (and work) together in a world beset by difference?”

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