Yes, Virginia, there is a ruling class.  Yes, we still live in class societies.  Yes, the rich are getting richer.  No, the poor are not getting much trickle-down.  

Class structures change, of course.  In front of our eyes, new-rich elites have emerged out of communist regimes in Russia and China.  Old-rich elites in Europe and the USA have demolished the welfare states on which their security formerly depended. In Australia and New Zealand, labour parties led the charge towards de-industrialization and neoliberalism.  We live in strange times.

'Class' is not a system of boxes.  Fundamentally, it is a social dynamic of tremendous power – far more important than a census classification scheme.  Class has to be studied through the way social divisions are formed and transformed, i.e. through a historical analysis of social structure, now on a world scale.

My first social-science fieldwork examined the class consciousness of children and youth, which took me into both rich 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 existing 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 became Class Structure in Australian History.  We pictured class as a structure of relations – exploitation, privilege and struggle – and tried to track its vicissitudes through two hundred years of settler history.

While working on this, I was also studying inequality in education, corporate power, and conflict in the ruling class.  I put these projects together in a book, signing the preface on the day in 1975 that the Labor government was thrown out by a right-wing constitutional coup.  Ruling Class, Ruling Culture circulated more widely than I expected – in Australia, but not overseas.  Much later it was identified in a survey as the most influential book in Australian sociology.

 About the time this book was published, I became involved in the research on class division and high schools described in the education section of this website. Later I 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 they negotiated poverty or class exclusion.  In other research about the same time, I was learning how class trajectories shaped the construction of masculinities. In theoretical work, 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.

 But the political context for this work was changing.  The 1980s and 1990s saw a de-mobilization of the labour movement in Australia, and political defeats for social democracy internationally. It was a while before I could address the new scene, but from the late 1990s was finding pointers in my research on intellectuals, and on managerial masculinities.

A theoretical agenda emerged from 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 now think that the global dynamics of trade and investment, i.e. North/ South relations, are at the heart of neoliberalism.  Neoliberalism is not just a matter of political economy but is also an agenda for the transformation of everyday life.

In exploring neoliberalism, my research agendas about masculinities, gender relations, intellectuals and education have been coming together with a re-thinking of class dynamics.  Please watch this space!  I hope this isn’t a sign of paranoia; I’m encouraged by realizing that there is a great deal about all of these issues that I don’t understand... But I am certain this knot of problems is genuinely important. 


Connell, Raewyn and Nour Dados. 2014. Where in the world does neoliberalism come from? The market agenda in southern perspective. Theory and Society, vol 43 no. 2, 117-138.

Contests  the familiar idea  that neoliberalism springs from the minds of a coterie of right-wing economists in the global North.  Actually it involves a massive reconstruction of global trade, and a new development strategy gaining a grip in the global South, often by force – involving reshaping of class relations and emergence of new elites. 

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, 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.

My first publication in a sociology journal.  It's based on interviews with children and adolescents, from my PhD project on the development of political consciousness.  Influenced by the psychology of Jean Piaget.

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