On gravel – socio-material objects of northern development

LCJ 26 cover

Kirsty Howey

LCJ: Special Issue:

Collaborative knowledge work in northern Australia, 26, pp. 40-49

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Howey, K. (2020). On gravel – socio-material objects of northern development. Learning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts [Special Issue: Collaborative knowledge work in northern Australia], 26, 40-49. https://doi.org/10.18793/lcj2020.26.07



Wealth from extractive development has been at the forefront of political aspirations for the Northern Territory of Australia (NT), and of northern Australia more broadly, for many decades. According to political, bureaucratic and industry rhetoric, the north is insufficiently developed to reach its full potential. The most recent iteration of this development agenda has been catalysed by the Commonwealth Government’s White Paper on “Developing the North”. Eschewing the usual frames for analysing ‘development,’ this paper proposes that northern development can be seen as a going on together doing differences with development “objects.’ It mobilises a ground-up STS to understand what such objects are in an unorthodox way, as socio-material entities.

The entities the paper focuses on are gravelly; gravelly roads, and legal contracts that concern gravel. Northern development certainly requires that these two entities, very different though they are, must go on together. But seeing that necessity, we also see that a third gravelly entity, often obscured, needs to be foregrounded to understand what is also at stake in northern development projects. The ‘people-places’ that are gravel pits need to be explicitly involved as objects if northern development is to be inclusive, and is to disrupt the dominant power relations within which it is enmeshed.

As socio-material entities, the places that are the gravel pits, intimately involved with gravelly roads and legal contracts, are about gravel supply. Yet they are owned by Indigenous landowners. These places are constituted in quite different institutions, alternative and diverse languages, and in disparate knowledge traditions, compared with those that constitute the gravelly roads, and the legal contracts concerning gravel. The paper argues that all three are ‘northern development objects,’ and all need to be involved in northern development policy.


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