Conditions of Recognition: Social Aesthetics and Aboriginal Australian Performance

Maryrose Casey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the context of colonisation, social aesthetics often reveal the
boundaries between cultures, demonstrating differences in
understandings, experience, and expectations. Humorous
performances in particular expose different social aesthetics. This
article examines Aboriginal Australian comedies performed for
cross-cultural audiences. The examples date from the 1880s through
to the 1990s. There are accounts of numerous performance texts
from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries created by Aboriginal
people that engage with their experiences of colonialism. The
documented accounts are from the position of European settlers or
early amateur and professional European and Euro-Australian
ethnographers in relation to the early performances. Newspaper
critics are the main source of responses for the later shows. The performances were satirical and represented many traumatic sides of race relations in Australia with humour and laughter. These performers expressed the social aesthetics that they shared with their communities, but these expressions were (and are) not always understood by outsiders or interpreted in the same way. The
Aboriginal audiences are documented as laughing uproariously at these performances. In contrast, the reaction of non-Aboriginal audiences has ranged from patronage through to confusion or anger. This article will engage with the competing social aesthetics revealed
by these performances.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-109
Number of pages18
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Conditions of Recognition
  • Social Asthetics
  • Aboriginal Performance


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