Cover of Wild Policy by Tess Lea
Wild Policy
Indigeneity and the Unruly Logics of Intervention
Tess Lea


224 pages.
from $26.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503612655
Paperback ISBN: 9781503612662
Ebook ISBN: 9781503612679

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Can there be good social policy? This book describes what happens to Indigenous policy when it targets the supposedly 'wild people' of regional and remote Australia. Tess Lea explores naturalized policy: policy unplugged, gone live, ramifying in everyday life, to show that it is policies that are wild, not the people being targeted. Lea turns the notion of unruliness on its head to reveal a policy-driven world dominated by short term political interests and their erratic, irrational effects, and by the less obvious protection of long-term interests in resource extraction and the liberal settler lifestyles this sustains. Wild Policy argues policies are not about undoing the big causes of enduring inequality, and do not ameliorate harms terribly well either—without yielding all hope.

Drawing on efforts across housing and infrastructure, resistant media-making, health, governance and land tenure battles in regional and remote Australia, Wild Policy looks at how the logics of intervention are formulated and what this reveals in answer to the question: why is it all so hard? Lea offers readers a layered, multi-relational approach called policy ecology to probe the related question, 'what is to be done?' Lea's case material will resonate with analysts across the world who deal with infrastructures, policy, technologies, mining, militarization, enduring colonial legacies, and the Anthropocene.

About the author

Tess Lea is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Sydney. She is the author of Bureaucrats and Bleeding Hearts: Indigenous Health in Northern Australia (2008) and Darwin (2014).

"By naming the arbitrary, anarchic nature of policy, Tess Lea turns the notion of unruliness on its head. The sheer effectiveness of the writing speaks to her ethnographic skill in delineating bureaucratic purpose: the result is a stunning re-visioning whose implications will reach far beyond what stimulated it."

—Marilyn Strathern, University of Cambridge

"Wild Policy offers an extraordinary contribution to the anthropology of policy, settler colonialism, and infrastructural inequality. Tess Lea's profound accomplishment rests on her sharp, ethnographically innovative account of policy as a milieu, its attention to the uneven ground of policy's materiality, and its appreciation for the work involved in wresting some good from policy's consequential detritus."

—Daniel Fisher, University of California, Berkeley

"Lea is an acute observer of the everyday practices that characterise the wild, disorderly, and strange cultural world of the interventionist settler-colonial state....this is courageous scholarship. Wild Policy's blast of originality compelled me."

—Eve Vincent, Sydney Review of Books

"[There] is a poetics in Lea's anthologising of policies, one that is profoundly moored in land and relations. The efficacy and power of Lea's work, be [it] destabilising or advocating, lies in their specific and relational mode of engagement with human and more-than-human worlds."

—Jamie Wang, Sydney Environment Institute

"Wild Policy provides a nuanced take on how policy is formulated and implemented in ways that exclude Indigenous experience, and seeks to rectify this through the interludes that present Indigenous knowledge apart from scholarly theorization."

—Claire Ross and Alexander Howes, Political and Legal Anthropology Review