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Inventing cultural heroes : a critical exploration of the discursive role of culture, nationalism and hegemony in the Australian rural and remote health sector

Queensland University of Technology
Publication Date
  • Rural And Remote Health
  • Australia
  • Culture
  • Nationalism
  • Hegemony
  • Discursive Linguistic Strategies
  • Identity Formulation
  • Identity Politics
  • Special Interest Groups
  • Rural Medicine
  • Rural Doctors
  • Health Professions
  • Policy Development
  • Health Sector Reform
  • Economics
  • Linguistics
  • Medicine
  • Political Science
  • Religious Science
  • Social Sciences


Rural and remote areas of Australia remain the last bastion of health disadvantage in a developed nation with an enviable health score-card. During the last ten years, rural and remote health has emerged as a significant issue in the media and the political arena. This thesis examines print media, policy documents and interviews from selected informants to ascertain how they represent medical practitioners and health services in rural and remote areas of Australia, why they do so, and the consequences of such positions. In many of these representations, rural and remote medical practitioners are aligned with national and cultural mythologies, while health services are characterised as dysfunctional and at crisis point. Ostensibly, the representations and identity formulations are aimed at redressing the health inequities in remote rural and Australia. They define and elaborate debates and contestations about needs and claims and how they should be addressed; a process that is crucial in the development of professional identity and power (Fraser; 1989). The research involves an analysis and critical reading of the entwined discourses of culture, power, and the politics of need. Following Wodak and others (1999), these dynamics are explored by examining documents that are part of the discursive constitution of the field. In particular, the research examines how prevailing cultural concepts are used to configure the Australian rural and remote medical practitioner in ways that reflect and advance socio-cultural hegemony. The conceptual tools used to explore these dynamics are drawn from critical and post-structural theory, and draw upon the work of Nancy Fraser (1989; 1997) and Ruth Wodak (1999). Both theorists developed approaches that enable investigation into the effects of language use in order to understand how the cultural framing of particular work can influence power relations in a professional field. The research follows a cultural studies approach, focussing on texts as objects of research and acknowledging the importance of discourse in the development of cultural meaning (Nightingale, 1993). The methodological approach employs Critical Discourse Analysis, specifically the Discourse Historical Method (Wodak, 1999). It is used to explore the linguistic hallmarks of social and cultural processes and structures, and to identify the ways in which political control and dominance are advanced through language-based strategies. An analytical tool developed by Ruth Wodak, Rudolf de Cillia, Martin Reisigl and Karin Leibhart (1999) was adapted and used to identify nationalistic identity formulations and related linguistic manoeuvres in the texts. The dissertation argues that the textual linguistic manoeuvres and identity formulations produce and privilege a particular identity for rural and remote medical practitioners, and that cultural myth is used to popularise, shore up and advance the goals of rural doctors during a period of crisis and change. Important in this process is the differentiation of rural and remote medicine from other disciplines in order to define and advance its political needs and claims (Fraser, 1989). This activity has unexpected legacies for the rural and remote health sector. In developing a strong identity for rural doctors, discursive rules have been established by the discipline regarding roles, personal and professional characteristics, and practice style; rules which hold confounding factors for the sustainability of remote and rural medical practice and health care generally. These factors include: the professional fragmentation of the discipline of primary medical care into general practice and rural medicine; and identity formulations that do not accommodate an ageing workforce characterised by cultural diversity, decreasing engagement in full time work, and a higher proportion of women participants. Both of these factors have repercussions for the recruitment and retention of rural and remote health professionals and the maintenance of a sustainable health workforce. The dissertation argues that the formulated identities of rural and remote medical practitioners in the texts maintain and reproduce relationships of cultural, political and social power. They have also influenced the ways in which rural and remote health services have been developed and funded. They selectively represent and value particular roles and approaches to health care. In doing so, they misrepresent the breadth and complexities of rural and remote health issues, and reinforce a reputational economy built on differential professional and cultural respect, and political and economic advantage. This disadvantages the community, professions and interest groups of lower value and esteem, and other groups whose voices are often not heard. Thus, regardless of their altruistic motivations, the politics of identity and differentiation employed in the formulated identities in the texts are based on an approach that undermines the redistributive goals of justice and equity (Fraser 1997), and works primarily to develop and advantage the discipline of rural medicine.

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