In Australia, as elsewhere among the advanced societies, social-science knowledge and thinking has moulded, in subtle but often important ways, the shape of modern society. While most social-science research is by its nature academic in focus, the ideas and debates that it generates have important and tangible consequences for how modern society is organised. It would be difficult to understand, for example, current thinking towards social policy without reference to debates concerning redistributive justice, or approaches to multiculturalism without taking into account academic research on citizenship. In practice, most contemporary public policy is grounded firmly in social-science knowledge, frequently using information that has been painstakingly accumulated and analysed over several decades. As a consequence of this continuing interplay between ideas and outcomes, the influence of social science on the form and character of society is and remains one of the major themes of the modern age.
This book provides an overview of the current state of social-science research about Australia at the beginning of the twenty-first century. While the focus of the contributions is on research that is relevant to Australia, the contributions necessarily also encompass the broader development of the social sciences outside Australia, as well as the emerging changes introduced by the growth of interdisciplinary work and the internationalisation of social science. Each contribution describes the range of research that has been conducted in the particular field, places it in context, explains why and how it is significant, and evaluates its contribution towards a better understanding of Australian society.The major criterion for selecting the material to be included in each of the contributions is its theoretical or empirical significance in furthering our understanding of how Australian society functions.
Although there is no single definition of what constitutes the social sciences, it is generally agreed that the focus of social-science research is on human behaviour as it occurs in groups.These forms are reflected most obviously in patterns of group behaviour, but also in more formal expressions of human activity, such as the institutions of