Woman Austin-Broos, Diane Joyce (1946 - )

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Anthropologist and Ethnohistorian
Alternative Names
  • Austin, Diane Joyce (birth name)

Written by Ann Standish, The University of Melbourne

Diane Austin-Broos is a leading advocate in Australian anthropology of ethno-history and a focus on change in the lives of indigenous minorities and other peripheralised peoples. In particular, she has underlined the relation between culture and economy, often using the issue of religion among colonised peoples as her focus. Both in teaching and in research, her approach is critical. She seeks to locate the ethnographic study of the everyday in a larger historical context.

Born Diane Joyce Austin in Melbourne in 1946, she married Frank John Broos, an IT businessman, in 1978 and has one brother, a medical practitioner. She attended Hartwell State School and then the Methodist Ladies' College in Kew where she received a Victorian matriculation general exhibition and was ranked equal eighth in the state. With her brother, the first in their mother's and father's families to attend university, she went on a scholarship to ANU where she studied philosophy and oriental studies. At ANU she took an MA (Honours) in philosophy although even then her interests were turning to social science. Following a brief period working as a research assistant for the late Professor Henry Mayer in Government at the University of Sydney, she applied for and won a doctoral scholarship to the University of Chicago in 1969. Soon thereafter, Austin-Broos made the change from philosophy to anthropology, influenced by the work of the many outstanding anthropologists in or visiting Chicago's anthropology department at that time. These included Louis Dumont, Clifford Geertz, Terence Turner and Victor Turner. She graduated from the Chicago doctoral program in 1974 and in the same year returned to Australia.

A tenured lecturer's position in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Monash University brought Austin-Broos back to Melbourne. She worked at Monash for over five years and in 1980 accepted a lecturer's position in Anthropology at the University of Sydney. Promoted rapidly, she became an associate professor in that department in 1985 and professor in 1995. She was Sydney's first woman professor of anthropology. Austin-Broos retired from the Sydney department in 2008, making her research and full-time teaching career almost 34 years long. She was appointed professor emerita in recognition of her service to the University.

Austin-Broos has had two main areas of research: in the Caribbean with a focus on Jamaica, where she did her doctoral research, and in Central Australia among Western Arrernte people at Ntaria/Hermannsburg. She has devoted research over roughly 15 years to each site respectively and published highly acclaimed ethno-historical work in each area. With quite different cultures in play, both sites exemplify nonetheless, people who have been confronted with radical forms of change and sought to negotiate a way forward for themselves in testing circumstances. Austin-Broos has used the phenomenon of vernacular Christianities to demonstrate that even where western hegemonies seem to prevail, colonised peoples revitalise their culture drawing on their lived historical experience. The message is that cultures are worked and re-worked, not just inherited.

A long-standing interest in political economy, inequality and disadvantage, including racialised relations, also informs her work. This interest began in Jamaica with a focus on 'race/class' or the stratification according to colour and class of the various descendants of slave society. In Central Australia, this interest has been reformulated around ideas of work, consumption and private property that highlight cultural differences between Aboriginal and settler society. Enduring, profound cultural conflict, as well as great disparities in power, inform the current, disadvantaged position of Aboriginal people in Central Australia. The conundrums that this circumstance creates are the topic of Austin-Broos' latest book, A Different Inequality (2011). She is currently researching issues of property that bear on understandings of the person.

A dedicated teacher over many decades, Austin-Broos introduced two major courses, on social change and the history of anthropological thought, to the anthropology curriculum at Sydney. She is the first person at Sydney to have systematically taught courses on Caribbean anthropology and to have placed a systematic emphasis on change in all her regionally based courses. More recently, she led the department in redesigning its first year course so that one half addressed the problem of difference, and classical anthropology, while the other half addressed issues of globalisation, development and the like. Believing that a professor's job was to 'profess' a discipline, in her later years as a teacher, she consistently lectured to first year undergraduate students. Her breadth of interests meant that she supervised a wide variety of doctoral theses from boys' private school soccer teams to Jamaican rural life, Aboriginal musical genres and the writings of the German Lutheran missionary Carl Strehlow.

To date, Austin-Broos has published five sole-authored books, one sole-edited book and two jointly edited books. She has published over sixty scholarly articles in highly ranked journals. She is an elected fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and a member of academic associations both in the UK and USA. She has been president both of the Australian Anthropological Society and the Australian Association for Caribbean Studies. She has also had a number of prestigious visiting positions, advised the High Court of the Northern Territory regarding Aboriginal issues and been recognised by the Australian Human Rights Commission for her work in Central Australia.

Published Resources


  • Austin-Broos, Diane, Jamaica Genesis: Religion and the Politics of Moral Orders, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, United States of America, 1997, 304 pp. Details
  • Austin-Broos, Diane, Arrernte Present, Arrernte Past: Invasion, Violence, and Imagination in Indigenous Central Australia, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, United States of America, 2009. Details
  • Austin-Broos, Diane, A Different Inequality: The Politics of Debate About Remote Aboriginal Australia, Foreward by Myers, Fred, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, New South Wales, 2011, 200 pp. Details

Online Resources

See also