Sovereignty of the Imagination
: sense, sensation and storywork in Alexis Wright

  • Róisín Shannon

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


As an Aboriginal activist and writer Alexis Wright ties human-induced destruction of the natural world to justice and rights for Australia’s Indigenous people who have been silenced, first by colonialism and subsequently by neoliberalism. Although originating in planning theory, the term ‘wicked problem’ has come to be applied to climate change because it is a fundamentally complex problem that is itself the symptom of closely interconnected systems. Addressing the analyses of Wright’s work necessitates a multidisciplinary approach with political ecology, ecocritical, race, indigeneity, and gender lenses cross-cutting directly and indirectly throughout. None of these approaches are fixed in meaning nor are they uncontested particularly when applied to settler countries such as Australia.

Evaluation of the unique novelistic form of Wright’s award-winning novels Carpentaria and The Swan Book is achieved by blending Aboriginal oral storytelling and Western rhetorical and literary traditions. However, an Australian Indigenous literary criticism has yet to be fully developed and this casts a colonial shadow over evaluations of Indigenously signed fiction. By applying oral storytelling principles to Wright’s novels it is possible to demonstrate how an Aboriginal pedagogical methodology can work productively alongside established critical theory in evaluating Wright’s fiction. Reading for affect, that is, the capacity of language to incite sensations and feelings in ways that might shift consciousness, was until recently, neglected, partly because of an association with the primitive, the sacred, and the feminine. Renewed interest in affect argues for it as an analytic of power. This thesis aims to show that by paying attention to Wright’s aesthetics her fiction can be read as affective narratives with the potential to shift our (ecological) consciousness and is a necessary response to a warming world.
Date of AwardJun 2023
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsDepartment for the Economy
SupervisorAndrew Keanie (Supervisor), James Ward (Supervisor) & Kathleen Mc Cracken (Supervisor)


  • Australian Aboriginal literature
  • Activism
  • Affect studies
  • Book history
  • Carpentaria
  • Climate change
  • Copia
  • Counternarrative
  • Ecocriticism
  • Decolonisation
  • Ecological consciousness
  • Environment
  • Enlightenment
  • Indigenous
  • The Swan Book
  • Pre-Enlightenment
  • Knowledge systems
  • Literary categorisation
  • Metafictional techniques
  • Neocolonialism
  • Nonhuman world
  • Novelistic form
  • Orality
  • Oral tradition
  • Reader-response
  • Sovereignty of the mind

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