Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

Discipline and Labour: Sociology, Class Formation and Money in Australia at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century

Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

Discipline and Labour: Sociology, Class Formation and Money in Australia at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century

Article excerpt


`Social efficiency' constituted the ` motif of sociology in Australia at the beginning of this century. This essay argues that the sociological promotion of social efficiency can only be accounted for as an intervention into, and apprehension of, a distinctive moment in the transformation of the social relations of labour (i.e. the socialisation of labour) and the organisation of money (specifically credit), with particular regard for the division and extension of work time conceived as a social matter. This has ramifications for our understandings of knowledge and ideology, state formation and class composition, credit and social planning, subjection and institution, law and violence. It is also illustrative of the need to thoroughly historicise such concepts, including a reconsideration of the presumption of state, economy and society as distinct fields.


In order for sociology to have been instituted in Australia, two innovations had to be in force: society had to be registered as a problem with a designated claim upon the exercise of knowledge; and the state needed to acquire the moral and technical backing for regulatory schemes and administrative knowledges whose aim was the re-organisation of social relations. This entailed the opening up of a space of public planning, the classification of society into new regions of state (and scientific) authority. It is argued here that a transformation of the social relations of labour and the organisation of money assembled the social state and, in turn, granted the persuasive reason for sociology's institution after WWII. This essay focuses on the construction of the sociological problematic in that pre-WWII period, when sociology made a first, brief appearance in Australia. More accurately perhaps, this consisted of a campaign in which sociology and social efficiency were tendered as indivisible obligations. In 1911, Francis Anderson, lecturer in Logic and Mental Philosophy at the University of Sydney, gave a speech to a conference of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (ANZAAS), establishing the central themes of the ensuing campaign to institute sociology. In 1913, the University of Sydney invited Albert Mansbridge to Australia as a representative of the British Workers' Educational Association. Anderson, and R. F. Irvine, an economics lecturer--also from the University of Sydney--sponsored the Workers' Educational Association (WEA), which announced itself as a `missionary organisation', whose `first task ... was the cultivation of a closer relationship between the wage worker and the University' (in Crowley 1973: 199). WEA branches were set up in Sydney and Hobart, with their respective universities appointing Meredith Atkinson and Herbert Heaton to act as tutors of adult classes and organisers of the WEA.(1) The WEA officiated as the organisational structure for sociology, promoting sociology through its lectures and publications.

It is my contention here that the irruption of society as an object of knowledge in Australia, its coming to the attention of intellectuals in the shape that it did, is inseparable from the historic processes of the socialisation of `economic' categories or, more precisely, of wage labour and capital. That is to say, that at the beginning of this century it was no longer a question--if it ever was--of comprehending the social context of economic categories or, alternatively, of analysing the social significance of those same categories; rather, those categories (money, labour, and so on) became the mediating elements of social life, as distinct from episodic elements within it, thus obliging a qualitative shift in the modes of apprehension of such processes.

Specifically then, this essay seeks to show that the sociological advocacy of a plan for social efficiency presupposed not only a socialisation of the elemental figures of capitalist production--of labour and capital--not simply the experience and apprehension of capitalist society (as distinct from capital and society) already making itself felt as eternal fact, as assumption rather than historical consequence; but more directly, this notion of social efficiency presumed an entire program for the reconstruction of the division of work time conceived as a socially comprehensive matter--that is, as a question `no longer' confined to immediate production processes. …

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