Touring the Phantom Agent: Recognition, Defacement and the Vietnamese-Australian War Memorial

Scott Brook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)


If the discourse of recognition provides a language with which minority histories might be articulated in public culture, it also introduces what Tony Bennett called the ‘phantom effects’ of rhetoric to sustain an image of ‘community’ (Bennett 1992). In this context, the debunking of such images by the question ‘Who speaks?’ is an option available not only to constituencies thus represented, but also to those government agents who would empower themselves to assess such solicitations. This essay makes a close reading of the use of the discourse of recognition by two public historians in their discussion of the Vietnamese Australian war memorial in Cabramatta, Sydney, and their conclusion that the memorial ‘doesn't belong’ (Hamilton and Ashton 2002). The essay considers how the paradigm of recognitive justice enables the public historian to privilege attention to the normative grammar of public cultural address (who speaks?, who is addressed?) and restrict consideration of the popular uses of the site to those that might testify to ‘neglect’. Given the ‘negative revelations’ that substantiate the public historian's claims, I draw on Michael Taussig's (1999) writing on public secrecy to suggest such critique is intimately involved in the unruly forms of social surplus that animate, and are animated by, defacement
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-150
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Intercultural Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


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