Class structures change, of course. A new-rich ruling class emerges from the People’s Republic of China and the former Soviet Union. The old ruling class of the USA and Western Europe changes strategy and dismantles the welfare state that formerly bolstered its power. In postcolonial Africa the ethnic composition of power and wealth changes but the level of inequality grows. In Australia and New Zealand, labour parties lead the charge to de-industrialization and neoliberalism. We live in strange times.
'Class' is not a system of boxes. Fundamentally, it's a social dynamic, a pattern of relationships that powerfully shape lives, often in very destructive ways. That's why it matters, far more than a census classification scheme does. It has to be studied in terms of the way classes are formed and transformed, i.e. through a historical awareness of social structure.
My first sociological fieldwork examined the class consciousness of children and youth, and this took me into both affluent and poor suburbs of Sydney. In the Sydney Free University in the late 1960s I co-convened a course about class, which turned into a project to assemble all the research on class in Australia. Our ambitious bibliography was actually published, in the young Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology.
From the same Free U class, Terry Irving and I launched a documentary project that, more than ten years later, emerged as Class Structure in Australian History. We pictured class as a structure of relations – relations of exploitation, privilege and struggle - emerging through historical time.
Alongside this were projects on current issues, including inequality in education, corporate structure and conflict in the ruling class. I put these together in a book, signing the preface on the day that the Whitlam Labor government was thrown out by a right-wing constitutional coup. Ruling Class, Ruling Culture circulated widely in Australia (but not overseas). Much later it was identified in a survey as the most influential book in Australian sociology.
This was followed by research on class and education, described in the education section of this website. These projects brought the historical approach to class into the present, tracing the ways that schools organized, or disrupted, class solidarities – the story was very different in ruling-class and working-class schools. I also became involved in the research on sexuality described in the gender section of the website, learning how class realities shaped men’s sexual lives and how poverty or class exclusion was negotiated. In masculinity studies about the same time, I was learning how class trajectories shaped the construction of masculinities. I wrote extended critiques of both stratificationist sociology and structuralist marxism, and built an argument for a historical approach to class formation on a world scale.
The 1980s and 1990s saw a major de-mobilization of the labour movement in Australia, and political defeats internationally, which demanded fresh thinking.
For me, a new research agenda began towards the end of the 1990s, with studies of intellectual workers, undertaken with Julian Wood and June Crawford. I also learned from the interviews about managerial masculinities, described in the section on masculinities.
A theoretical agenda emerged from a different direction - the neoliberal shift in national and global politics. Most Northern theories of neoliberalism assume that the internal crises of Northern economies have driven the rise of managerialism and free-market ideology. I have come to think that the global dynamics of trade and investment, i.e. North/South relations, are at the heart of neoliberalism. And I think that neoliberalism is not just a matter of political economy but is also an agenda for the transformation of everyday life.
Some of my research on intellectual workers, together with some of my gender research, explores how this is playing out: in universities, in public sector organizations, and in families. At present, together with Nour Dados, I’m extending this work, and linking it to the ‘southern theory’ idea by studying how intellectuals of the global South are thinking about market society.
Connell, Raewyn. 2010. Building the neoliberal world: managers as intellectuals in a peripheral economy. Critical Sociology, vol. 36 no. 6, 777-792.
A study from the project on intellectual labour and globalization, using the life-history interview method I learned in the studies on schools and on masculinity. This paper looks at the lives and consciousness of managers, in the private and public sectors, who serve as organic intellectuals of the ruling class.
Connell, Raewyn. 2010. Understanding neoliberalism. Pp. 22-36 in Susan Braedley and Meg Luxton, ed., Neoliberalism and Everyday Life, Montreal & Kingston, McGill-Queen's University Press.
A conceptual paper, arguing that the neoliberal project is not just about relations between state and capital, but involves the attempt to make a new kind of society, in which global market relations penetrate every sphere and become the dominant rationality of life.
Connell, Raewyn. 2002. Moloch mutates: global capitalism and the evolution of the Australian ruling class, 1977-2002. Overland, no. 167, 4-14. Reprinted in N Hollier, ed., Ruling Australia: The Power, Privilege & Politics of the New Ruling Class, Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2004, 1-23.
An attempt to trace recent changes in the structure and political strategies of the ruling class in Australia, in the period of neoliberal globalization. It explores the convergence of public and private sectors on the model of corporate managerialism, the change in culture with growing commodification, and new patterns of opposition. The book Ruling Australia celebrates the 25th anniversary of Ruling Class, Ruling Culture.
Connell, Raewyn. 1991. Live fast and die young: the construction of masculinity among young working class men on the margin of the labour market. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology, vol. 27 no. 2, 141-171.
From my life-history research on masculinities, this paper presents discussions with young men facing an unforgiving labour market with few qualifications or saleable skills, often involved in violence, struggling to find viable paths in life.
Connell, Raewyn, Gary Dowsett, Pam Rodden, Mark Davis, Lex Watson and Don Baxter. 1991. Social class, gay men,and AIDS prevention. Australian Journal of Public Health, vol. 15 no. 3, 178-189.
There are working-class men who have sex with men, and sometimes live in homosexual partnerships, but don't fit into a 'gay community' which many regard as hopelessly middle-class and exclusionary. This study, based on field interviews, explores lives, dilemmas, and the strategy of HIV/AIDS outreach.
Connell, Raewyn. 1984. Class formation on a world scale. Review (Fernand Braudel Center), vol. 7 no. 3, 407-440.
My attempt to take the social-dynamics approach to class onto a world scale. Though published in a US journal it didn't seem to have any impact, probably because the idea of class in world-system theory is about categories of political economy, not about social dynamics.
Connell, Raewyn and Terence H. Irving. 1980. Class Structure in Australian History. Melbourne, Longman Cheshire. Second edition, revised. 1992. Melbourne, Longman Cheshire.
We believed that class had to be studied in fine-grained empirical detail, to understand the interactive making of class that gave promise of future change. The book had an unusual structure, including a theoretical chapter, a narrative, a collection of documents intended as a teaching tool, and extensive notes intended as a research tool. The publisher thought well enough of it to ask for a second edition.
Connell, Raewyn. 1979. Complexities of fury leave... A critique of the Althusserian approach to class. Theory and Society, vol. 8, 303-345.
The odd title is a quotation from the Irish poet W.B.Yeats, expressing my frustration and anger at the ahistorical structuralist turn in socialist thinking in the 1960s and 1970s, extremely influential in the Australian intellectual left. This over-long paper takes apart the scholasticism and left-functionalist theory of Althusser, Poulantzas, Carchedi, and some followers.
Connell, Raewyn. 1977. Ruling Class, Ruling Culture: Studies of Conflict, Power and Hegemony in Australian Life. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
My unexpected best-seller (so far as academic publishing goes!). A collection of papers on class issues, mostly empirical, held together by an interest in problems of hegemony and how the tensions of capitalist society are expressed and controlled.
Connell, Raewyn. 1970. Class consciousness in childhood. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology, vol. 6, 87-99.
And, for nostalgia, my first ever publication in a sociology journal. It's based on interviews with children and adolescents, in the course of my PhD project on the development of political consciousness. Influenced theoretically by the developmental psychology of Jean Piaget.