Skip to main content

The most recent addition to the Institute’s series Writing Past Colonialism is Paul Carter’s Decolonising Governance: Archipelagic Thinking.

Power may be globalised, but Westphalian notions of sovereignty continue to determine political and legal arrangements domestically and internationally: global issues—the legacy of colonialism expressed in continuing human displacement and environmental destruction—are thus treated “parochially” and ineffectually. Reform in this case is not simply operational but conceptual: political relationships need to be drawn differently; the cultural illiteracy that prevents the local knowledge invested in places made after their stories needs to be recognised as a major obstacle to decolonising governance.

Archipelagic thinking refers to neglected dimensions of the earth’s human geography but also to a geo-politics of relationality, where governance is understood performatively as the continuous establishment of exchange rates. Insisting on the poetic literacy that must inform a decolonising politics, Carter suggests a way out of the incommensurability impasse that dogs assertions of indigenous sovereignty. Discussing bicultural areal management strategies located in south-west Victoria, Maluco (Indonesia) and inter-regionally across the Arafura and Timor Seas, Carter argues for the existence of creative regions constituted archipelagically that can intervene to rewrite the theory and practice of decolonisation.

A book of great stylistic elegance and deftness of analysis, Decolonising Governance is an important intervention in the related fields of ecological, ecocritical and environmental humanities. Methodologically innovative in its foregrounding of relationality as the nexus between poetics and politics, it will also be of great interest to scholars in a range of areas, including communicational praxis, land/sea biodiversity design, bicultural resource management, and the constitution of post-Westphalian regional jurisdictions.

Paul Carter is a distinguished scholar, writer and artist, who works actively to promote new forms of dialogue across communities and between communities and their environments. Later this year, he will join a European Union-funded project ‘mobilising the spatial metaphor of the archipelago to address social and political exclusions’ in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Paul was recently part of the design team that delivered the multi-award winning urban design project, Yagan Square, Perth. He is currently working with Noongar colleagues in Western Australia on a new region-scale project exploring the relationship between recognition of Indigenous sovereignty, traditional law invested in story and the function of these in infrastructural provision and design. Paul also actively promotes pedagogical reform: his 2014 publication, Turbulence: climate change and the design of complexity was a call for the radical redirection of national research agendas. Paul is Professor of Design (Urbanism), School of Architecture and Urban Design, RMIT University. His independent design studio is called Material Thinking.

Back to top


Published: 2019
Publisher: Routledge
Author: Paul Carter