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Market World

Edward VII, the rotund monarch who didn’t live quite long enough to see the Great War start in 1914, is supposed to have remarked of social reform in his day, “We are all socialists now-a-days”.  If he had lasted another hundred years, he might have changed it to “We are all capitalists now-a-days”.
A well-known socialist
Source: Wikimedia Commons
In our generation, capitalist market ideology – neoliberalism - has become dominant.  Free markets, deregulation, privatisation, user-pays: these are our tunes, and we even call them “reforms”. Taxes down, profits up! Even China, the great red hope of the proletarian revolution, is producing millionaires by the bushel.

Where does this ideology come from?  There’s a familiar origin story: neoliberalism was dreamed up by Professors Hayek and Friedman, spelt out in the Chicago School of Economics, rammed through by Reagan and Thatcher, clamped down on the rest of the world by the IMF and World Bank.
Yes, but... there are reasons to doubt this.  Neoliberalism got a grip on some parts of the global South before Reagan and Thatcher came to power.  Important features of neoliberalism in the developing world don’t correspond to the model circulating in the global North.
Doubt about the origin story is the starting-point for our investigation of neoliberalism as a global issue.  Two papers from this project have just been published.

Pre-publication versions of the papers available HERE

The first is about origins and the shape of neoliberalism on a world scale. Raewyn Connell and Nour Dados, “Where in the World does Neoliberalism Come From?”, Theory and Society, vol. 43 no. 2, 117-138.  Here is the abstract:
Neoliberalism is generally understood as a system of ideas circulated by a network of right-wing intellectuals, or an economic system mutation resulting from crises of profitability in capitalism.  Both interpretations prioritise the global North.  We propose an approach to neoliberalism that prioritises the experience of the global South, and sees neoliberalism gaining its main political strength as a development strategy displacing those hegemonic before the 1970s.  From Southern perspectives, a distinct set of issues about neoliberalism becomes central: the formative role of the state, including the military; the expansion of world commodity trade, including minerals; agriculture, informality and the transformation of rural society.  Thinkers from the global South who have foregrounded these issues need close attention from the North, and exemplify a new architecture of knowledge in critical social science.
The second is an essay for the first issue of a new sociology journal, Social Currents, that has just been launched by the Southern Sociological Society in the United States.  Congratulations to the Society, and the editors, on the launch!
This paper looks at the old question of the relationship between capitalism and patriarchy, in the new conditions of neoliberalism – and thinks about the role of sociology. Raewyn Connell, “Global Tides: Market and Gender Dynamics on a World Scale”, Social Currents, 2014, vol. 1 no. 1, 5-12.  Here is the abstract:
Sociology may be heading for a marginal place in a market-dominated world. If it is to do more, it must address major questions about the social world now coming into existence. One of these is the relationship of gender dynamics to neoliberalism. Neoliberalism has to be understood on a world scale, not just as an export of global-North preoccupations. Older models of the relationship between capitalism and gender, built on systems models of both, need to be replaced in the light of the coloniality of gender. Researchers across the global South are opening up new perspectives on gender and power; new dynamics of change are visible in transnational arenas created by empire and neoliberal globalization.

Young men, masculinity and violence

There have recently been episodes of violence on the streets of Sydney which have attracted huge attention.  The media label for the problem is “alcohol-fuelled violence” and the authorities have just announced a package of control measures.  Blame is being shared out to the “male brain”, macho culture, the demon drink, not enough police, weak sentencing by judges, and more.

We can correct some of the muddy thinking.  Here is the link to my piece on young men, masculinity and violence just published on the Australian public affairs website The Conversation. (It has attracted 27 thousand views and been followed by 500 comments.)  Here is a short version:

The recent outcry in Sydney about “alcohol-fuelled violence” has many people asking whether young men are out of control.  If we are concerned with men’s violence in Australia, the half-hidden epidemics of family violence, sexual harassment and rape are wider problems than street bashings by strangers. But the street violence is worrying, is more visible and has got media attention.

Is this “alcohol-fuelled violence”? Drinking is often part of the lead-up to violent episodes. But alcohol can’t meaningfully be called a “fuel” of any particular behaviour. It is sometimes a depressant, sometimes a stimulant.  In many situations it’s more likely to make you feel sleepy or ill than encourage you to hit out. It’s the circumstances of drinking, rather than the chemical, that we need to understand.

Can we blame “the male brain”, testosterone, or genetics?  Are young men hangovers from a primitive world where males fight cave bears? Those are bed-time stories.  More than a hundred years of research looking for broad psychological differences between men and women have found remarkably few. Studies involving millions of people show that men as a group, and women as a group, are psychologically very similar. This finding goes against many of our stereotypes; but the evidence is strong.  We cannot explain men’s involvement in severe violence by generalized sex differences in mentalities.

Nor can we blame a “criminal type” of human being. Criminologists have, however, identified social circumstances where patterns of violent behaviour might be learned.  These circumstances include high levels of social inequality and marginality, situations in which there is cultural emphasis on men’s dominance over women, and confrontations with authority.

The media?  There is no direct transmission from what people see on a screen to how they act on the street. But there is a relentless flow of images in “action” movies, commercial football, other body-contact sports, cop shows, thrillers, and the like.  Those make up a large chunk of current popular entertainment, with a huge cumulative audience. So media are feeding young men narratives about how men get excitement, success and respect through aggression, confrontation and dominance. But what would make young men take up such stories?

“Alcohol-fuelled violence” often involves some kind of masculinity challenge – for instance, a group of young men confronting the bouncers at a drinking venue.   Masculinities are patterns of conduct that have to be learned. There are multiple forms of masculinity, some more honoured than others. Especially for young men, masculinity is often in question or under challenge.  The presence of an audience is important.  Some of the recent episodes are in zones of exception – places and times in which ordinary social rules are supposed not to apply.

So we need to look hard at the social situations in which violence is happening.  And we need to ask what else is happening in these young men’s lives. Is our society giving them secure jobs? Worthwhile work to do? Models of positive relations with women? Occasions for care and creativity?

I would guess the answer to these questions is often no. But I’m not sure of it – and I don’t think our legislators are, either.  It would be a great pity if the main response to these dismaying episodes is more confrontation, this time from the government.

Eating Our Young in the Modern University

In the last few years there has been anguished talk about the casualization of university teaching.  There are credible estimates that half of the undergraduate teaching in Australian universities is now done by part-time or contract staff, not by the permanent academics.

It’s now common for current graduate students, recent PhD graduates, and sometimes not-so-recent graduates, to be juggling two, three or even more part-time jobs to make ends meet.  They can be teaching at the same time on very different courses, in different departments, in different universities.

It’s an old and sensible arrangement that some university teaching is done by non-permanent staff.  They used to be called ‘tutors’ or ‘demonstrators’.  These jobs were assumed to be the first step in an academic career.  A newcomer would get some teaching experience, alongside some research experience, under the benevolent eye of senior academics.

That system could be exploited by university departments.  Some well-qualified women, especially, were kept indefinitely on annual appointments as tutor or demonstrator.  But this situation was seen as scandalous, when public attention was drawn to it.

No longer.  It’s seen as smart management.  The permanent academics in charge of undergraduate courses are now expected to act as low-level managers of a casual labour force.  Eerily like the way foremen on the wharves, a hundred and twenty years ago, used to pick You, You and You from the crowd of starving labourers at the dock gate, according to how many ships had come in that day.  (The area of Sydney where this used to happen was called “The Hungry Mile”. )

At a system-wide level, the academic workforce is being re-shaped into two tiers: a more-or-less permanently employed elite, and a short-term insecure workforce doing the mass teaching.  Even those who make the transition are not very secure, as university managements try to degrade employment conditions and conduct periodic purges, raids and restructures.

It’s easy to blame the managers, and some do behave very badly while being paid outrageous salaries.   But a system-wide problem isn’t produced by individual pathology.  Behind the bullying is a neoliberal policy logic, at national and international level.  In this logic, good management consists of driving down labour costs and maximizing corporate income, installing systems of surveillance and pretend accountability to control the staff, building a glossy public image and agonizing over where the university, considered as an individual firm, sits in the latest league table.  Top managers become celebrities, and are invited to think of themselves as part Louis XIV, part J. Pierpont Morgan.

We are producing more and more doctoral graduates in Australia, and in most parts of the world.  That’s a goal of all university managements, and the national government too.  It’s an important part of building a contemporary intellectual culture.  Research is the cutting edge of knowledge formation, and research is work (a highly specialized kind, but definitely work) and that needs a workforce.  This workforce needs to be suitably educated, obviously, and that’s what our current research degree arrangements (steadily becoming more controlled and rigid) are about. 

But the intellectual workforce also needs to be sustained and enabled to flourish, over time.  And that’s where the current neoliberal economy, policy settings, and managerial practices are operating perversely and destructively.

Neoliberalism sees education as a private good, a commodity, and applies that logic to the university sector.  Neoliberal regimes focus on short-term calculations of cost and profit – that applies in the corporate economy and the political system as well as to education – massively discounting (and often completely ignoring) long-term consequences.

Therefore managers in all sectors are pushed towards a mining strategy:  looking for immediately exploitable resources, extracting them, and selling them on a global market.  The Australian economy has been restructured around this strategy in the last thirty years, with open-cut coal and iron ore mining in the lead.

What goes for minerals also goes for social life.  The neoliberal economy mines the social: it looks for transactions, practices and institutions that can be fenced off and transformed into commodities.  Privatisation of public sector agencies was an early form of this.  Commodification of access is another form, now being hugely elaborated on the Internet.

I think that is, basically, what is happening in the university sector.  Neoliberal governments have commodified access, through ever-increasing fees; they have re-defined universities as competing firms, and steadily shrunk the per capita public funding.  Neoliberal managers in the universities have responded by looking for resources to mine.  Students and their families are the main ore body; but the labour force also has capacities that can be mined.

The consequence of this dire equation is that as the universities produce more qualified researchers, they also produce more and more insecurity in the form of casualized teaching - which is currently the main employment opportunity for doctoral graduates.  If current managerial thinking about putting courses on-line is followed through, this situation will become entrenched.  The MOOC model, for instance, requires a tiny specialized workforce at the top and a much larger casual workforce at the bottom.

The short-term logic of the neoliberal university is good for the neoliberal politicians, as it takes pressure off their budgets; it’s good for the university managers, as it gives them fat salaries and expanding power.  It’s already having a corrosive effect on the situation of young intellectual workers, and is degrading the quality of higher education, graduate and undergraduate.  The longer-run consequences for sustaining an intellectual culture are appalling. 

But of course!  How could I be so naive?  Why would anyone imagine that our corporate and state elites actually want a flourishing intellectual culture?

Alice Munro's Nobel Prize

I must have been the last person in the literate world to hear that Alice Munro was awarded this year's Nobel Prize for literature. (We academics slave away from dawn to midnight!)  Even so late, I want to celebrate.  I first read her Dance of the Happy Shades and Lives of Girls and Women twenty-five years ago, when living for a few months in Canada and looking for Canadian writing.  Since then I’ve collected every one of her books that came in reach.  

Perhaps there was some fellow-feeling; one of her topics, growing up in provincial Ontario, has strong resonances for a reader who grew up in suburban New South Wales in the nineteen-fifties.  But there is much more to Alice Munro than her location.

She is one of the two best contemporary writers in English that I know. (The other, J. M. Coetzee, got his Nobel a while ago.)  Her short stories are often compared to Chekhov’s.  I think that’s an understatement.  Chekhov’s stories, gripping as they are, are self-contained.  Munro uses the plainest literary techniques (after all, Who Do You Think You Are?), yet each of her stories has the extraordinary effect of implying an invisible novel around it.  And taken in a group, they call up not just a community and a culture but a history – which is, in a way, history itself.

The only comparable writing I know is by James Joyce. Dubliners has something of the same effect, and I’m reminded that Ulysses was originally to be a short story for Dubliners.  But Joyce was still making literature out of the traditional material, the lives of men and boys.  With no more fanfare than the stroll to the lake shore that opened Dance of the Happy Shades back in 1968, Alice Munro has done something extraordinary to writing in English.

Fighting Sexism with Laughter

A couple of nights ago I went with feminist friends to the Ernies.  This is an annual ceremony in Sydney, held at Parliament House, at which spoof awards are given for the most disgusting sexist statements or actions in Australia in the past year. The Ernies are named after an infamously sexist union official.  This year was the event’s 21st birthday.
About 400 women come, and over dinner, we pick the most disgraceful public statements by men in six categories: politics, sport, media, celebrity, judicial, and industrial.  The decisions are made by a unique voting system.  The statements, collected by alert researchers during the year, are read out by the Mistress of Ceremonies, Meredith Burgmann (former president of the Legislative Council of NSW, she knows how to manage a crowd).  The quote that attracts the longest and loudest boo-ing – assessed by highly-trained Boo Monitors – is the winner.
Meredith Burgmann officiating at 2013 Ernies ceremony
To preserve gender equality, there is also an award for unhelpful statements made by women.  At the end of the night, the “Gold Ernie” is awarded by competition between the winners of the individual sections.  It usually identifies a ripe example of public misogyny.
A special award is reserved for Repeat Offenders.  This year the new Prime Minister – who had a long record of hostility to women’s interests when Health Minister in a previous government, and who has appointed a Cabinet that includes only one woman – was an easy winner.
There is also, I’m glad to say, the “Good Ernie”, a real award for men who make public statements positively helpful to gender equality.  There is particular kudos for men doing this from unpromising circumstances.  This year the Good Ernie was awarded to a Lieutenant-General in the Army, who defended equal opportunity measures.
The Ernies event is good humoured, in fact some of it extremely funny.  There’s a dress code; this year we were supposed to wear what we wore (more often, should have worn) to our own 21st birthday party.  I did my best for 1965, but the younger folk were much more glamorous.
But the Ernies is also rather dire; you have to listen for a couple of hours to horrible, bullying, and sometimes really vile, quotes.  That so much sexism is still spilling forth on the air waves and into print, forty years after the Women’s Liberation Movement, is discouraging.  A few years ago, Meredith Burgmann and Yvette Andrews compiled the nominations and awards 1993-2007 into an Ernies book, 1000 Terrible Things Australian Men have Said about Women.  It makes compulsive, and aversive, reading.
The Ernies is a unique piece of social research – a kind of crowd-sourced data bank on gender ideology.  This year seemed to show a real surge of nastiness, one component being the vicious attacks on Australia’s first woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.  (In the face of which, she was dumped by her own party during the year.)
But mainly the Ernies is a form of politics and education, a creative counter-blast to sexist assumptions about women. The “awards” do get media exposure, and so hold up misogyny to public ridicule.  The Ernies slogan is “keep them nervous!”  Over the years, they seem to have had some impact – there are now many fewer nominations of judges, and union officials.  But the Murdoch media, the radio shock jocks, and the neo-conservative politicians, are unrepentant bullies.

Southern Perspectives in Knowledge

As readers of this blog will know, one of my main concerns as an academic is to understand the global-North dominance of knowledge systems – and to help replace that with a more democratic, multi-centred, model of knowledge.
In July this year I gave a keynote address,Thirty-four degrees south: community, work and family in neocolonial perspective”, to the Fifth International Community, Work and Family Conference, held in Sydney.  The video of this talk is now available online, at:

In August I was involved in discussions of these issues in both north and south America.  At the University of Guadalajara in Mexico, and at the University of São Paulo in Brasil, colleagues invited me to speak to academic audiences on the theme of “Decolonizing Gender”.  

Here is a lively account of the session at USP:

At the public lecture, USP

Meanwhile, more publications about world social science have been coming through the pipeline.  My essay “Using Southern Theory: Decolonizing Social Thought in Theory, Research and Application” has just been published online in the journal Planning Theory (2 September 2013).   This discusses the intelligentsias of empires, and opens a discussion of the ways southern perspectives are already being put to use in applied fields of social science.   I think you can find it at: (Is that number greater than the number of molecules in the universe?)
An immensely detailed volume on the sociology discipline’s entanglements with empire, past and present, has just been published in the United States: George Steinmetz, ed., Sociology & Empire: The Imperial Entanglements of a Discipline. Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2013.  (I wrote the concluding chapter, “Understanding empire”, pp. 489-497.)

Almost at the same time, an admirable volume on the social and international contexts of social science has appeared from Sweden: Rickard Danell, Anna Larsson & Per Wisselgren, ed., Social Science in Context: Historical, Sociological, and Global Persepectives. Lund, Nordic Academic Press, 2013.  (I have a chapter in this, “Between periphery and metropole: towards a polycentric social science”, pp. 237-255.)

The debate is moving!

Love, fear and learning in the market university

In April this year, in the course of the industrial struggle at University of Sydney, the local branch of the NTEU (National Tertiary Education Union) held a public lecture on the condition of universities.  I was invited to give the lecture; a colleague kindly recorded and transcribed the event. 

Here it is, lightly edited for readability.