Jon Altman

Professor Emeritus


BA, University of Auckland, MA (Hons), University of Auckland; PhD (Anthropology), Australian National University

Contact details
Room: 2.40
Building: Coombs Extension, #8

Jon Altman has a disciplinary background in economics and anthropology. From 1983­–90 he was a postdoctoral fellow, research fellow and senior research fellow in the Department of Political and Social Change in the HC Coombs Building. From 1990–2010 he was Foundation Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR) when it was a university centre and then a research professor there till 2015. Since 2001 he has also been an adjunct Professorial Fellow at the Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods at Charles Darwin University in Darwin.

In 2003, Professor Altman was elected a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. He held an ARC Australian Professorial Fellowship between 2008 and 2013 focusing his research efforts on the project ‘Hybrid Economic Futures for Remote Indigenous Australia’. In October 2012, Professor Altman was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand; and in 2013 took up a Visiting Research Fellowship with the Native Title Research Unit at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, where he has been a member since 1978.

In 1979 and 1980 he undertook fieldwork for his doctorate in the Maningrida region, central Arnhem Land. Since then Professor Altman has maintained vibrant and diverse research relations with people in this region that he has visited on o0ver 50 occasions. He has also undertaken field research in north Queensland, the Torres Strait, the Kimberleys and Central Australia.

From 2007–2012 he led the major project ‘People on Country, Healthy Landscapes, and Indigenous Economic Futures’ funded by the Sidney Myer Trust.

Professor Altman maintains strong research linkages, especially with AIATSIS and the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney. He also regularly collaborates with Aboriginal land councils in the Northern Territory, the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation in Maningrida, and the Laynhapuy Homelands Association in Yirrkala. He is currently a director and trustee of Karrkad-Kanjdji Ltd and the Jimmy Little Foundation and is the Chair of the Research Committee of the Australia Institute.

Research interests:

At the broadest level Professor Altman’s research focuses on social justice and human rights for minority groups globally. More particularly, appropriate economic development and associated policy for Indigenous Australia; hybrid economy theory and practice; the economic engagement of Indigenous people with the Australian and global economies (especially in mining, tourism, the arts and emerging industries like carbon farming); commercial utilisation of wildlife and fisheries; the Indigenous customary economy and its articulations with market capitalism; land rights, native title and Indigenous land and sea management; and theoretical issues in economic and development anthropology.

Empirical focus:

Alternate development; Indigenous cultural and natural resource management; Indigenous economies, Indigenous policies, critical theory, neo-liberalism and the state in relation to marginalised groups; property rights, intercultural governance and the limits of western governance in cross-cultural settings.

Methodological interest:

Hybrid forms of development and governance and empirical means to document such alternatives in the face of neoliberal hegemony; empirical measures of inputs, outputs and outcomes in diverse economic settings based on primary data collection.

Research projects:

Alternate Economic Futures for Remote Indigenous Australia (2015–current)

This research focuses on the theorisation of economic hybridity as an alternative to incorporation in market capitalism especially in remote Australia but also elsewhere where indigenous minorities are seeking to develop viable alternatives to late capitalism while living on their ancestral lands. This research builds on efforts to advocate using evidence based research for alternatives that are sustainable and work and that challenge the current hegemonic approach promulgated by the Australian state that imagines mainstream capitalist development for Indigenous peoples who live remotely, generally on indigenous titled land in difficult postcolonial circumstances. A particular aspect of this research is a focus on the Indigenous community-based organisations that play a pivotal role in promoting such hybrid possibilities and the governance and resourcing challenges that they face.

Indigenous natural resource management and livelihoods (2015–2018)

Jon Altman is co-leader of Axis 3: livelihoods and food security: coping with neoliberal growth in the major international comparative project Centre pour la conservation et le développement autochtones alternatifs (CCDAA) or Centre for Indigenous Conservation and Development Alternatives (CICADA) administered by McGill University, Montréal, Québec under the overall direction of Professor Colin Scott. In this research Professor Altman will focus on his ongoing research with ranger groups working in the vast region from Kakadu National Park to North East Arnhem Land.

The domestic moral economy in the Asia and Pacific region (2011–2015)

This project involves international comparative work with the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester under a project ‘The domestic moral economy: an ethnographic study of values in the Asia and Pacific region’ funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (UK). This project is due for completion in 2015.

Welfare to work or work to welfare? Will reform of the Community Development Employment Program help close the employment gap?(2011 – 2015)

This ARC Discovery project is due for completion in 2015 and is a collaboration between chief investigators Jon Altman, Will Sanders, Boyd Hunter and research fellow Kirrily Jordan all from CAEPR at the ANU. This legacy project seeks to examine emerging labour market programs in remote Australia and their merits in comparison to the historically significant and now largely defunct Community Development Employment Projects scheme. This research is linked to Jon Altman’s abiding interest in Basic Income schemes for remote Indigenous Australia daring back to 1987 and his links as life member and benefactor of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN).

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Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet