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White natures: Sydney's Royal Agricultural Show in post-humanist perspective

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Few events perform so ritualistically the triumphal narrative of human ingenuity and agency over the natural world, as the metropolitan displays of produce and machinery known as agricultural shows. The Royal Agricultural Show held in Sydney (Australia) is a case in point. Since the 1890s those liminal forms, of Herefords, hay, harvesters and the like that spill over the categories we think of as culture and nature, have been annually assembled. In the showground, they were made to stand as testimony to the successful march of ‘civilization’ to the colony of New South Wales – with civilization conceived, in European and humanist terms, as a spatialized progression out of an animal-baseline in nature, through an agrarian garden, to the evolved space of the City. This was the trajectory that had long since been presumed to mark out the life of humanity from all other life-forms that simply lived. Rather than reinscribe the privilege of that partial perspective, I use the New South Wales agricultural society and its Sydney show's ‘white natures’ to think across the referential categories of humanity and nature. By critically juxtaposing the Show's hybrid things with its dramatizations of human invention and ingenuity, the article opens cracks in the normativities of civilization that shaped the conviction of ‘the human’ as the being who transcends the merely natural. In so doing, the article also offers a fresh line of critique of those pernicious hierarchies that have, and continue to assign, premodern people and livelihoods to an anterior developmental space.

Keywords: Australia; civilization; colonialism; cultural; culture; geography; nature; race

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2003


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