Australian Society: A Sociological Introduction

Australian Society: A Sociological Introduction

Australian Society: A Sociological Introduction

Australian Society: A Sociological Introduction

Excerpt

This study sets out to do two comparatively new things: to describe present- day social relationships in this country fairly thoroughly, and to set a frame for future sociological inquiries. Sociology, as an academic discipline seeking to illuminate the results of social surveys (including the census) by systematic thinking about social groups and institutions, is the Cinderella of Australian (as of English) universities--historians and economists in both countries having willingly cast themselves as the ugly sisters. Readers may therefore be agreeably surprised at the quantity of descriptive material that contributors have been able to marshal--much of it, in line with this below-stairs status, unpublished or unlisted. The typical art form of the writer on Australian social affairs is the one-volume study which aspires to sum up a complex community in an array of subjective assessments of varying quality. The brilliant generalizations of Hancock Australia (which settles the hash of sociology with a reference to "the dismal paraphernalia of sociological research") have become jaded by frequent repetition in its numerous epigoni. Without the basic knowledge which we try to present, these assessments-- whether our own or those of talented publicists--are bound to be somewhat eccentric.

The quality, however, of much of this unconsidered hoard--the product in the main of isolated work at the fringes of other disciplines--is not high. Few studies have come close enough to the inter-face of the personal and the collective, to the "individual operations which go to make up the social structure" (Simmel) to be quite free-standing. For the most part, too, they have drawn as little on the reforming zeal of the early poverty surveys as on the theoretical rigour of contemporary American work. Yet for all their simplicity and disconnectedness, their air of innocent first soundings, they can teach us new--and firm--things. And our contributors have often found striking ways to exhibit their latent connections one with another and with abiding concerns in each field. Inescapably then, this volume marks a kind of staging camp, where the air of disorder reflects the need to check and sort possessions against the next forward move.

Mannheim once noted that sociological thought inherently inclined towards debunking and demystification. More than one contributor has chosen to approach his subject through an attack on the myths prevalent about it-- myths which seem "articulate vehicles of a people's wishful thinking"

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