Definitional Debate (Cultural Safety) – Errors and Ethics in Publications

It boils down to this: Williams’ (1998) unpublished paper has an ordinary paragraph on p. 15 of Appendix 3, about cultural safety. That paragraph was re-phrased as a “definition” in Bin-Sallik’s (2003) paper. Bin-Sallik intellectually credits Williams. In the Williams (1999) publication, intellectual credit goes to Eckermann et al. (1994). There is no resemblance between the definitions of Williams (1999) and Eckermann et al. (1994). Then, Dune, McLeod, and Williams -eds (2021) copy the words from Bin-Sallik (2003), modifying them, without intellectually crediting anybody (in a book with three different definitions of cultural safety!).


1. The funny side: A 1998 paragraph about cultural safety gets converted into a 2003 definition, which is different to the original 1999 definition, which was incorrectly attributed to another 1994 definition; and the 1998 paragraph gets copied into a new book as another 2021 definition, and the book has three different definitions.

2. The details:

Bin-Sallik (2003) cites Williams’ (1998) paragraph as a “definition” (not factually correct) and gives intellectual credit to Williams’ (1999) journal article. Note that word differences between Williams (1999, p. 213) and the “definition” quoted by Bin-Sallik – they are factually different definitions.

Then, Williams (1999) intellectually credited her definition to Eckermann et al. (1994), whose definition bears no resemblance to Williams’! Furthermore, the Aust NZ Journal of Public Health has, on it’s webpage for Williams’ article – ‘First published: 13 May 2008’ and this appears in many reference lists. Fair crack of the credibility whip.

Now, Williams’ (1998) paragraph-come-definition (1999) is uncredited in the book (Culture, Diversity and Health in Australia: Towards Culturally Safe Health Care). It will be cited thus, a definition of cultural safety is [insert text from Routledge book] and referenced to Dune, McLeod, and Williams (2021).

3. Errors and ethics. And so continues the replication and growth of poor scholarship about cultural safety definitions. Ethically, it’s up to scholars to be so – even when writing about definitions. These definitions are then copied and pasted to policy documents. Resource allocation decisions and program decisions are influenced by definitions. Thus, the definitions affect the lives of First Nations Australians (I know that’s simplistic).

4. Therefore, unethical scholarship should be pointed out and rectified, but it takes tremendous effort from a consumer (me) to write to scholars, universities, and publishers to highlight the problems – I’m holding them to account – but so far their position is to resist changes (It’s hard to make changes to publications in print, and hard to acknowledge mistakes). At least I can be transparent and accountable to you through this post.

Let me know your thoughts? #culturalsafety

  1. Eckermann, A., Dowd, T., Martin, M., Nixon, L., Grav, R., & Chong, E. (1992). Binan goonj: bridging cultures in Aboriginal health. Armidale. New South Wales, Australia: University of New England Press
  2. Williams (1998). Conference Paper, Cultural Safety-what does it mean for our work practice? See Appendix 3, p. 15 for the paragraph about cultural safety. https://www.utas.edu.au/…/RevisedCulturalSafetyPaper…
  3. Williams, R. (1999). Cultural safety – what does it mean for our work practice? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 23(2), 213-214. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/…/j.1467-842X…/abstract
  4. “Williams, R. (2008). Cultural safety-what does it mean for our work practice?” Numerous citations like this.
  5. Bin-Sallik, M. (2003). Cultural Safety: Let’s Name It! [Journal Article]. Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, The, 32, 21-28. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1326011100003793
  6. Dune, T., McLeod, K., & Williams, R. (Eds.). (2021). Culture, Diversity and Health in Australia: Towards Culturally Safe Health Care. Routledge.


Figure: Cultural safety definition debacle (MJ Lock) – click for high resolution image

By drlockediting

I apply my academic and cultural skills to editing your important writing. With a Doctor of Philosophy (Public Health), Master of Public Health, Honours in Nutrition, and a Bachelor of Science, I bring strong educational skills to my editing. As a First Nations Australia (Ngiyampaa), with First Fleet heritage (The Lucas Clan) and growing up in country NSW, I bring a unique cultural lens to my practice. My editing will empower your cultural safety - respecting your cultural identity, heritage, and values - so that your cultural voice shines through in your writing. If you need editing of your creative writing, academic writing, or report writing, then contact Cultural Safety Editing Service.

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