The Cambridge Handbook of the Social Sciences in Australia

By Ian McAllister; Steve Dowrick et al. | Go to book overview
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the Accounting for Tastes project for Britain. Other cultural research on Australia is coming from Australian expatriates, some of whom completed their doctorates in the US or Britain and have never had an academic posting in Australia. The work of sociologist Lyn Spillman on centennials and bicentennials in Australia and the US is one example. Drawing on Edward Shils's (1975) centre/periphery opposition, Spillman (1997) examines the role of elites in organising such events of collective memory and their relation to the various groups within the nation. While the centennial and bicentennial celebrations in each nation had the common objective of promoting unity among its members, there were considerable differences in the commemorative themes. For example, in Australia international recognition was much more important than in the US, although founding -moment history was considered much more important to Americans. In imagining the nation, Americans treated political values as core, while in contrast, Australians gave considerable attention to the land. In both countries there was a growing awareness of the problematic nature of national commemoration and moves to more celebratory modes of remembrance that used relatively diffuse and inclusive political rhetoric.

While only in its infancy, cultural sociology seems set to provide a strong alternative perspective for the analysis of Australia culture. One major advantage is that it is untainted by the 'discipline wars' of Australian studies and cultural studies (Turner 1996). Despite evident strengths, Australian studies is dogged by its suspicion of theory, its past-orientation, and its desire to map and perhaps promote a unique Australian nationalism. While cultural studies is theoretically strong and often imaginative, it remains dogged by a methodological and political stance that has prevented it from attaining due policy relevance in Australia. By contrast, Australian cultural sociology is open to an engagement with theory as well as the nation, but not to the extent of wearing its political heart on its sleeve. Cultural sociology also has the strong suit of a disciplinary grounding. While it has been fashionable, since at least the 1950s, to endorse the benefits of interdisciplinary research and teaching, the reality is that much of the best work continues to occur within established disciplines and by scholars who were educated within them. If cultural sociology continues to draw inspiration from contending paradigms and wed this to its own trumps in cultural theory, disciplinarity and methods, it will have a strong hand to play over the next few decades in the ceaseless activity of interpreting Australia.


Althusser, L. 1966. For Marx. London: Allen Lane.

Althusser, L. 1971. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. London: New Left Books.

Barthes, Roland. 1957. Mythologies. London: Cape.

Barthes, Roland. 1975. The Pleasure of the Text. London: Cape.

Bean, C.E.W. 1934. The Story of Anzac: From 4 May, 1915, to the Evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.

Bean, Clive. 1993. Conservative cynicism political culture in Australia. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 5(1):58–77.

Bennett, T. 1998. Culture:A Reformer's Science. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.


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