As the title makes clear, this is a book that examines the current state of social-science research about Australia.The aim of the book is to provide a comprehensive summary and evaluation of what we know about Australian society at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Most contemporary works dealing with the social sciences take an explicitly international perspective: for example, world summaries can be found in the World Social Science Report (UNESCO, 1999), the Handbook of Social Science Research, by Gary Bouma and G.B.J. Atkinson (Oxford, 1996), and the Social Science Encyclopedia, by Adam Kuper and Jessica Kuper (Routledge, 1989). Particular studies dealing with individual disciplines have also generally followed this international emphasis. Why, then, a book that examines Australia only?
While Australian social science – like that of its overseas counterparts of similar size – has been derivative of the international social sciences, the past half century has seen the emergence of a more independent, innovative research culture with specific contributions to make. In many important respects, this distinct contribution has been lost or ignored in international works of social-science scholarship, and often only those contributions by Australians that address international problems have warranted attention. Yet Australia has maintained a social-science research culture for at least as long as its international counterparts, with a research council being formed during World War II and a research-only faculty immediately afterwards.After the natural scientists, social scientists are the largest group of scholars working in Australian universities.
A second reason for examining social-science research about Australia is the international contribution social science has made in dealing with distinctively Australian problems.The relative newness of the country, the comparatively small size of the political and governmental elites, and a longstanding tradition of constructive interchange with government at all levels on matters of policy have all combined to make Australian social scientists more influential at a practical and policy level than many of their counterparts overseas. Distinctive Australian contributions, stemming from the analysis of local conditions and problems, have been particularly innovative. For example, Australia's academic contributions to social welfare, to the study of immigration and ethnicity, and to the design of electoral systems have all stemmed from our distinctive local conditions, and from a readiness on the part of government and the bureaucracy to formulate policy based on the results of this research.
Any overview of an area as diverse and complex as the social sciences is necessarily likely to be selective.When the overview is based on the social sciences within a single country, the selectivity is likely to be even more marked. The chapters that constitute this Handbook contain many insights and observations, but many other works are necessarily excluded, either because of space limitations or because of the structure of the chapters. We combine the contributions around the three core social sciences – economics, political science and sociology – and the introduction discusses why we have