Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Sociology at Victoria University of Wellington

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Sociology at Victoria University of Wellington

Article excerpt

'Auckland can have anthropology, Wellington can take sociology'

This was the compromise suggested by Professor Thomas Hunter of Victoria University College in 1944 (Barrowman, 1999: 64) when Victoria University College and Auckland University College put forward the proposals to the University of New Zealand to both introduce sociology and anthropology into their degrees. The application from Victoria University claimed that sociology and anthropology would 'benefit both undergraduates and civil servants who 'desire to specialise for work amongst native peoples either in New Zealand or in other islands of the Pacific' (Barrowman, 1999: 64). The application stated that Wellington had exceptional resources for this teaching with the Dominion Museum, libraries and the seat of government all located in the city. Victoria University already specialised in economics and public administration and sociology and anthropology would contribute to a social studies specialisation.

Following this application a committee of the Victoria Professional Board drew up a plan for a School of Social Studies that would teach sociology at all levels, give practical training for those working in the social services, and undertake research. However sociology was not introduced until 1957 and the School concentrated first on training social workers. Victoria's School of Social Science (rather than social studies) was established in 1949 with a special grant from the government offering a two-year postgraduate diploma for training professional social workers (Barrowman, 1999: 64). Merv Hancock, a former president of Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (SAANZ), was one of the foundation diploma students in 1950 and recalled that 'the courses on the Social Services, analysis and research were full of sociological material but were not necessarily identified as sociological (Hancock, 1996: 318). Sociology had been listed in the calendar of the University of New Zealand as a single stage subject for a Diploma in Social Science in 1921. In 1935 the Diploma of Social Science was discontinued and the subject 'Outlines of Sociology' was transferred to the BA course where it remained unchanged until 1941. During that period it was never taught at any of the four colleges that made up the University of New Zealand although each year a few students sat the examination (Robb, 1966).

The development of the sociology major

Sociology 1 started at Victoria in 1957 and developed initially from the contemporary social problems course in the diploma qualification and was taught by James H. Robb (Jim). In 1957 sixty-three students enrolled and the numbers steadily increased so that by 1966, when Jim Robb was appointed the University's first professor of sociology, there were 240 students enrolled in the first year course. By 1970 the first year course had reached 350 students. The popularity of sociology was such that in 1967 a Transitional Certificate was commenced. This allowed students who hadn't taken any sociology in their undergraduate degree to complete a major in one year's study and progress on to postgraduate studies in sociology.

Two main accounts of the development of sociology in New Zealand and at Victoria have been in circulation - one, the romantic story of sociology 'battling desperately for survival against the hostility of the academic establishment' and the other, where sociology flourished with the strong support from disciplines such as geography, political science and education (Robb, 1996; Thompson, 1972; Timms, 1972). While Jim Robb argues the latter position, this may be downplaying the effort he made to establish sociology at Victoria, with Emeritus Professor Ian Pool from University of Waikato writing at the time of Jim's funeral that 'the establishment of the early courses, under the guise of social work and against the wishes of powerful academic forces and personalities, was an enormous achievement' (Kirkman, 2012: 51). …

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