Changing Narratives: Colonised Peoples, Criminology and Social Work

  • The Cairns Institute and School of Law James Cook University
  • James Cook University; Cairns Institute


There is growing recognition in criminology and social work of the importance of Indigenous knowledges and methodologies. Yet to date there have been limited attempts (particularly in criminology and criminal justice social work) to consider the theoretical and practice implications of Indigenous understandings and approaches to these disciplines. Both disciplines have also been slow to recognise the importance of understanding the way in which colonial effects are perpetuated through knowledge control, particularly in the operation of criminal justice systems.


Our paper thus begins by examining the historical and institutional factors that have contributed to the continuing subjugation of Indigenous knowledges and methodologies. A discussion of the connections between the hegemony of Western science, the construction of race, and the colonial project follows. While herein Western and Indigenous approaches are conceptualised broadly, the dangers of over-simplifying these categories is also acknowledged. The paper proceeds by examining the distinctive character of each approach through a consideration of their ontological, epistemological, axiological, and methodological differences. Whilst acknowledging the considerable challenges which arise in any attempt to develop connections between these differing worldviews, a pathway forward for understanding both theoretically and methodologically the relationship between Western and Indigenous approaches is proposed.

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Published: 2014-04-02
Pages:49 to 67
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How to Cite
Cunneen, C. and Rowe, S. (2014) “Changing Narratives: Colonised Peoples, Criminology and Social Work”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 3(1), pp. 49-67. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.v3i1.138.

Author Biographies

The Cairns Institute and School of Law James Cook University

Professor Cunneen has a national and international reputation as a leading criminologist specialising in Indigenous people and the law, juvenile justice, restorative justice, policing, prison issues and human rights. Chris has participated with a number of Australian Royal Commissions and Inquiries (including the Stolen Generations Inquiry, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the National Inquiry into Racist Violence), and with the federal Australian Human Rights Commission. He taught criminology at Sydney Law School (1990-2005) where he was appointed as Professor in 2004. He was also the Director of the Institute of Criminology (1999-2005) at the University of Sydney.


Professor Cunneen has held research positions with the Indigenous Law Centre, University of New South Wales (UNSW), and the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. Between 2006 and 2010 he was the NewSouth Global Chair in Criminology at UNSW and continues as a Conjoint Professor at UNSW Law Faculty. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the Institute of Criminology, University of Victoria, Wellington, NZ.

James Cook University; Cairns Institute

Researcher (The Cairns Institute)

Casual Lecturer (Department of Arts and Social Sciences, James Cook University)