Considering the White Spaces


 Watch module introductory video
 Read course content and assigned core readings provided below
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Introductory video

Core readings

Considering the white spaces

Once we recognise the multiple and nuanced ways in which culture manifests in society, we can start considering the assumptions and norms that underlay institutions such as schools and universities as well as the public spaces within our communities.  Questions such as, What are the expectations of behaviour in this place? Who do I expect to see here? and, What function does this place have? all have answers based in the assumed and sometimes unchallenged norms of a society. 

To help us consider the ways in which dominant cultural norms inform actions, activities and identities, Dr Ann Milne suggests the analogy of a child’s colouring in book (Milne, 2017):

If we look at a child’s colouring book, before it has any colour added to it, we think of the page as blank. It’s actually not blank, it’s white. That white background is just “there” and we don’t think much about it. Not only is the background uniformly white, the lines are already in place and they dictate where the colour is allowed to go. When children are young, they don’t care where they put the colours, but as they get older they colour in more and more cautiously. They learn about the place of colour and the importance of staying within the pre-determined boundaries and expectations.  (Milne, 2013, p. v)

As Ann explains (see video) our educational institutions (and other places in society as well) usually work from this unthinking background of white dominant culture.  Recognising this background assists us to understand how the written and unwritten ‘rules’ of institutions and society might impact on people whose backgrounds do not align with this cultural norm.  As Ann points out, this background is not neutral and this impacts upon the daily existence of people from culturally non-dominant backgrounds. 

Anne Milne Presentation - 'Colouring between the white spaces'

Ann’s examples of how her Máori and Pasifika students interpret their experiences in dominant culture systems demonstrates some of the complexities and impact of existing in these spaces for individuals (in this case children) who do not quite fit. She suggests that “Benevolent Multiculturalism” – an approach that “inserts Indigenous and minority children into the dominant culture’s frame of reference” (see video) and may take the form of once a year cultural festivals or events to celebrate cultural diversity - may actually act to reinforce feelings of cultural isolation if broader and more integrated approaches do not exist.


Ways of considering intersecting cultures

 There are several ways of considering the ways in which cultures intersect in order to be more culturally inclusive. The first we will explore comes from a Torres Strait Islander perspective through Martin Nakata’s idea of the cultural interface (Nakata, 2008).  Secondly, we can look at how people from dominant cultures might refocus their thinking in order to better consider perspectives from non-dominant cultures through the idea of multilogicality (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 2008)

Nakata’s cultural interface

The cultural interface, as the space where Western and Indigenous ways of knowing meet, can be a place of tension as well as of immense opportunity (Nakata, 2002, 2008, 2010). From his standpoint as a Torres Strait Islander man, Nakata (2011) conceptualises the cultural interface as the contested space between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, knowledges and cultures.  He describes the ways in which Indigenous peoples have not capitulated to the order of Western knowledge but have taken up what has been necessary to practical needs in people’s lifeworlds (Nakata, 2010).  Working from a cultural interface perspective accepts that knowledge systems are:

culturally-embedded, dynamic, respond to changing circumstances and constantly evolve… It is about maintaining the continuity of one when having to harness another and working the interaction in ways that serve Indigenous interests, in ways that can uphold distinctiveness and special status as First Peoples. (Nakata, 2002, p. 29) 

Nakata’s (2002) notion of the cultural interface becomes a useful way of conceptualising the interactions between Indigenous and Western ways of knowing:

This notion of the Cultural Interface as a place of constant tension and negotiation of different interests and systems of knowledge means that both must be reflected on and interrogated.  It is not simply about opposing the knowledges and discourse that compete and conflict with traditional ones.  It is also about seeing what conditions the convergence of all these and of examining and interrogating all knowledge and practices associated with issues so that we take a responsible but self-interested [from an Indigenous standpoint] course in relation to our future practice. (p. 286)

 Presenting differing ways of knowing and naming the world recognises the discontinuities and convergences of the cultural interface while showing an appreciation and acknowledgement of the presence of Indigenous and non-Indigenous standpoints (Nakata, 2011).  Allowing the two knowledge systems to sit side by side without competition also connects with the multilogical epistemic stance described by Kincheloe and Steinberg (2008) as being necessary to non-Indigenous peoples’ understanding of Indigenous knowledges.


The idea of multilogicality encourages people, particularly those of dominant cultural backgrounds, to look at issues, knowledges, concepts and situations from multiple logics in order to increase the complexity of their understandings.  When we access a wide range of perspectives from different cultural backgrounds there is potential to layer and nuance knowledge to develop a critical and complex perceptions that takes into account ways of knowing that may not be our own.  In effect, multilogicality offers the opportunity to move from a one-dimensional image like a single photograph to being able to see multiple perspectives like a holographic image (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 2008) adding richness and complexity to our cultural awareness.

In order to work with diverse ways of understanding the world, it is first necessary to see the boundedness of culturally dominant knowledge systems and then embrace multiple cultural viewpoints (Austin, 2011).  Here we see the necessity of understanding Ann’s colouring book analogy, without considering the background and lines as actively constructing our perceptions, actions and ideas, it is difficult to consider how different perspectives might come together to form new, multilogical spaces.


This module has considered the normalizing role of dominant cultures in society and educational institutions (Course Objective 2). The analogy of a children’s colouring book explains how dominant culture acts as an often-unseen background directing and confining interactions between people and intuitions or society more broadly. Some suggestions have been made of ways in which we can consider different cultural ways of knowing coming together to assist with investigating and changing our approaches to be more culturally inclusive of non-dominate cultures.

References & further reading

  1. Kincheloe, J. L., & Steinberg, S. R. (2008). Indigenous knowledges in education complexities, dangers, and profound benefits. In N. K. Denzin, Y. S. Lincoln, & L. T. Smith (Eds.), Handbook of critical and indigenous methodologies (pp. 135-156). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications.
  2. Milne, A. (2013). Colouring in the White Spaces: Reclaiming cultural identity in whitestream schools. (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)), University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from 
  3. Milne, A. (2017). Coloring in the White Spaces. New York: Peter Lang.
  4. Nakata, M. (2002). Indigenous knowledge and the cultural interface: Underlying issues at the intersection of knowledge and information systems. IFLA Journal, 28(5-6), 281-291. doi:10.1177/034003520202800513
  5. Nakata, M. (2008). Disciplining the savages, savaging the disciplines. Canberra, ACT: Aboriginal Studies Press.
  6. Nakata, M. (2010). The cultural interface of Islander and scientific knowledge. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 39, 53-57.
  7. Nakata, M. (2011). Pathways for Indigenous education in the Australian Curriculum framework. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 40, 1-8. doi:10.1375/ajie.40.1

Course notes download


Images used

In order of appearance:

  1. Max Pixel, Paint Kindergaten Tinker Coloring Pages Pens 

  2. OpenClipart-Vector/27448 images, World Map

  3. Kevin Gill (2014), Holographic earth Creative Commons Licence

Last modified: Tuesday, 4 September 2018, 1:43 PM