Academic journal article Arena Journal

Fifty Years of Arena

Academic journal article Arena Journal

Fifty Years of Arena

Article excerpt

This issue of Arena Journal emerges from a day-long symposium held at the University of Melbourne in 2013 marking fifty years of publications by the Arena group. The event was composed of diverse presentations, some by the original editors of the first series of Arena, some by contributors to that first series, and others by editors and contributors from more recent times. The day was marked by unusual vitality as well as recognition of a unique contribution made by the publications, not only to Australian political and cultural history but also to the development of a theory of social transformation not found in publications elsewhere. There was a strong sense that something of this contribution needed to be reflected upon in a further publication looking back on those past fifty years.

The Arena Publications editors approached a number of writers to develop essays dealing with topics that have been significantly reflected in the pages of both the first series of Arena and the two publications that emerged after the first one hundred issues of Arena twenty-five years ago: Arena Magazine and Arena Journal.

Readers will be aware that these fifty years spanned momentous events and developments: significantly, the Cold War and the transformation of warfare by nuclear weapons; the demise of the communist movement; the rise of the student and social movements; the slow loss of vitality of working-class movements and union organizations; the contradictory waves associated with Indigenous relations, from land rights to the Intervention; the renewal of the capitalist market and the profound shift towards globalization in the 1980s; the collapse of the Soviet Union; the global financial crisis and its aftermath; the growing realization of the depth of social crisis implicit in our destructive relationship to our environment.

In relation to all these developments the Arena editors have argued the case for the emergence of a distinctive material social force in the world that has largely been overlooked by other writers and approaches. While many acknowledge the importance of the sciences in material processes, there has been no sustained attempt to theorize the techno-scientific turn in late capitalism in terms of the distinctive social relations that contribute to the transformation of material relations in the world in general, and capitalism in particular. This has been carried out in various ways and with different foci over the last fifty years by the editors, all influenced in more or less profound ways by the work of Geoff Sharp.

Many readers will be aware that Geoff died in 2015. This has been a deep loss to the Arena editors, as well as, of course, to his family and friends. Given the transformations now occurring on a world scale to which Geoff was so able to give unique meaning, it is a serious loss to many far beyond his immediate circles of association. The editors wish to dedicate this issue to Geoff.

The main way in which Geoff influenced people was through face-to-face discussion, as his many students would testify. This influence, always in a rational mode combined with a strong sense of the implicit and intuitive, ran very deep. He was not a writer of books, although he was most definitely devoted to the journal, with its cumulative effects over time. His short comments and, especially in the last twenty-five years, expanded articles, combined complex argument with a process that allowed the reader to see the world in new terms. His capacity to convey expanded meanings by bringing into relation unlikely events, objects and imagery was often the catalyst for intense discussion and debate with other Arena editors. These combined efforts would forge what has become known (for better or worse) as the 'Arena thesis', a distinctive and wide-ranging framework for analysis and interpretation. This work emerged over time in debate about and development of Geoff's highly original work on social networks - the distinctive form that relations between intellectuals take - as analyzed by Raewyn Connell in her essay in this volume. …

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