Equality and Authority: A Study of Class, Status and Power in Australia

Equality and Authority: A Study of Class, Status and Power in Australia

Equality and Authority: A Study of Class, Status and Power in Australia

Equality and Authority: A Study of Class, Status and Power in Australia

Excerpt

The genesis of this book lay in the work done by the author as a postgraduate student, while employed as a junior clerk in the Commonwealth public service in Canberra. In writing my master's thesis, it became apparent to me that the government bureaucracy was, in fact, a complex status system which operated in ways that threw serious doubt on the egalitarian picture of Australia on which I had been brought up. It was this experience that first sensitised me to the growth of stratification in postwar Australia, and started me looking for more evidence of it. I began to collect such evidence systematically in 1956 by carrying out a detailed survey of the social origins and careers of government officials in the Commonwealth and the two largest states, New South Wales and Victoria. This was followed up by similar surveys in other fields where I expected to find comparable situations -- politics, business, and the armed services. At that stage, my interest in the subject was confined to making comparisons between these areas of social stratification (or elite formation) and putting them also in an international perspective.

This stage had been reached, and I had published some of my findings in a fragmentary way, when I found myself, in 1960, on study leave at the London School of Economics and Political Science, where Professor David Glass suggested that I should incorporate the material in a book. This entailed more research and much more consideration of a theoretical framework into which to fit the material I had collected. Not long after returning to Australia in 1961, I was asked by the student ALP Club at the University of Melbourne to deliver the annual Chifley Memorial Lecture, in memory of the former Labor prime minister who had died while I was a young public servant. I was to discuss the question, 'Is there an Australian power elite?' This problem had recurred to me a number of times in the course of my work, which had been influenced in various ways by the work of C. Wright Mills, and both in the lecture and in subsequent researches I tried to find a satisfactory answer. The difficulties which I encountered in doing so made me look for a different style of analysis, and led me to think increasingly about classes rather than elites . Gradually, I formed the view that Mills' concept was inadequate because he had attempted to separate the notion of power from that of class, and that neither could be discussed in isolation from the other. This finally led me to the ideas . . .

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