Teaching is more or less my family trade, and I’ve done it all my adult life, mainly in universities.  I could hardly avoid thinking about education as a process, and trying to connect it with the social dynamics I was researching.  And I’ve been involved in various practical attempts to democratise higher education.
So my research on education has mainly concerned social justice issues, and the operation of schools and universities as a massive and potent social institution that is constantly in change.  Education is about creating capacities for practice - capacities that are both individual and social.  In the process, some groups gain privilege and others are dealt heavy blows.  That used to be deliberate: school systems were born segregated.  It’s now more covert, but still happens.  How, is worth knowing.
My first educational research was my PhD thesis, on the development of Australian children’s political ideas. This was undoubtedly the funniest research project I have done, but also sinister, showing the widespread fear – encouraged by media and government – in the 1960s directed at foreigners, war and communism.  I was also part of a team doing a large study of Sydney teenagers (published in 1975 as 12 to 20.)  This quantitative work showed the widespread social class inequalities in education, and gave me a feel for its complexities.
I then joined with Dean Ashenden, Sandra Kessler and Gary Dowsett in a close-focus study of how educational inequality worked, in everyday school processes.  We interviewed students aged about 14, their parents (usually at their home), their teachers, and their principals.  The result was an extraordinarily rich body of information, which took us years to analyze, working case by case.
I still remember the 40 minutes I spent in a leather chair in a well-appointed office, listening to the principal of an elite private school giving me a stunning run-down of the corporate hierarchy, housing trends, cultural divisions, families and factions of an Australian city’s ruling class.  I could have published it in a sociology journal without changing a word.  But I also remember talks with working-class mothers and fathers in fibro cottages on the same city’s outskirts. They knew as much, but about different things.
Tlhis project turned into two books, Making the Difference and its sequel Teachers’ Work, more than a dozen articles, a video, endless conference presentations and workshops with teachers and parents.  It was the most intense research collaboration in my career, and the four of us remain friends, nearly thirty years later.
From this project I got an undeserved reputation as knowing about poverty.  So I was commissioned to do a national study of the Disadvantaged Schools Programme, to help a re-thinking of this very creative programme.  I worked intensively on this with Viv White and Ken Johnston, and in quick time we put together a portfolio of studies including surveys of teachers, oral history, school case studies, conceptual work and policy proposals.
But in the late 1980s education reforms in the interest of social justice were under attack by neoliberals.  Our project reports were shelved by the hard-faced men who now controlled education policy in Canberra.  Deakin University came to the rescue and published them as Running Twice as Hard, masquerading as an education policy case study.
I kept thinking about the issues, and a couple of years later, on the invitation of the Canadian journal Our Schools Ourselves, published a little book called Schools and Social Justice.  This pulled together some of the DSP findings and offered ideas about ‘curricular justice’.  But the Australian publisher went broke, so the book was never reprinted and had little impact locally. Curiously my paper in a mainstream US educational journal was reprinted four times overseas.
By now I also had a lot of experience with gender research (see Gender).  Making the Difference had fascinating material on gender relations in families, schools and adolescent life.  We wrote several articles about this, and a splendidly-illustrated booklet called Ockers and Disco-maniacs. Later I did a life-history project on masculinity that yielded a good deal of evidence about experiences of school.  I was therefore in a good position to be an expert on boys’ education, when this became a public issue.
I did write a number of papers about this, showing how schools constructed multiple masculinities, through curriculum differences, discipline, sports and peer group life, and how schools handled the relations between masculinities.  Unfortunately this wasn’t the anti-feminist message the media wanted to hear, so I missed my chance for world fame.
At the turn of the new century, I had a job as professor of education and became involved, with Steve Crump and colleagues from the NSW school system, in a study of new vocational education courses in senior high school.  This explored the dilemmas created for parents by the changing school system and labour market, and raised issues about the new conditions of teachers’ work.
Teachers’ work was now being re-shaped by neoliberal policy, through accreditation and auditing regimes. I have always valued my connection with teachers in schools, and convened a very lively series of seminars at the University of Sydney on the theme of ‘the good teacher’.  I shamelessly borrowed from the contributors’ ideas in writing a report on the subject.  Since then I have been trying to analyze how market agendas and corporate power work in education, in universities as well as schools.


Connell, Raewyn. 2013. The neoliberal cascade and education: an essay on the marketagenda and its consequences. Critical Studies in Education, vol. 54 no. 2, 99-112.

An attempt to gain a perspective on how neoliberalism works in education, as a major (though rarely dramatised) arena of struggle over the future shape of society.

Connell, Raewyn. 2009. Good teachers on dangerous ground: towards a new view of teacher quality and professionalism. Critical Studies in Education, vol. 50 no. 3, 213-229. 

Newly powerful accreditation bodies, and massive testing programmes, are changing the official definition of a good teacher.  This paper looks back at the history of teaching and forward to non-neoliberal ways of thinking about ‘quality’ in teaching. 

Connell, Raewyn. 2003. Working-class families and the new secondary education. Australian Journal of Education, vol. 47 no. 3, 237-252. 

During a project on new vocational curricula in NSW high schools, we interviewed parents, students and teachers.  Our discussions with rural and urban working-class families traced an uncertain yet vital relationship with the school system in the upper secondary years. 

Connell, Raewyn. 1996. Teaching the boys: new research on masculinity, and gender strategies for schools. Teachers College Record, vol. 98 no. 2, 206-235. 

Gender research opened questions about how masculinities are made in the course of growing up.  This paper brought together what was known about this process, from social research in several countries, to work out its implications for schools. 

Connell, Raewyn. 1994. Poverty and education. Harvard Educational Review, vol. 64 no. 2, 125-149. 

This paper brought together Australian, US and UK experience with compensatory education programmes, and argued for an approach to educational inequality that highlighted curriculum, and contested privilege as well as disadvantage.  It was courteously published by the Harvard education school. 

Connell, Raewyn. 1993. Schools and Social Justice. Toronto, Our Schools Ourselves; Sydney, Pluto Press; Philadelphia, Temple University Press. 

Based mainly on our research with the Disadvantaged Schools Programme, which is described in some detail, this book also proposed a theory of ‘curricular justice’ that would put social justice at the heart of education rather than leaving it as an optional extra. 

Connell, Raewyn. 1985. How to supervise a PhD. Vestes: Australian Universities Review, vol. 28 no. 2, 38-41. 

My most reprinted article!  Australian universities were enrolling increasing numbers of research students, but often left them to sink or swim.  I argued, from practical experience, that PhD supervision was a demanding form of teaching needing reflection as well as care and enthusiasm. 

Connell, Raewyn. 1985. Teachers' Work. Sydney, Allen & Unwin. 

The second book from the ‘Making the Difference’ project.  We had marvellous interviews with teachers, providing a basis for thinking about their lives and careers, and the nature of their work and workplace.  A kind of industrial sociology that located teachers at the centre of major issues about education. 

Connell, Raewyn, Dean Ashenden, Sandra Kessler and Gary Dowsett. 1982. Making the Difference:  Schools, Families and Social Division. Sydney, Allen & Unwin. 

The main publication from an immensely productive research project.  It described families’ educational projects, gender in schools, class differences in educational experience, curriculum, schools as institutions, and strategies for democratising the school system.  An academic best-seller in Australia, and read a little overseas. 

Connell, Raewyn. 1974. Anti-Pygmalion: reflections on some experiments in reforming universities. International Social Science Journal, vol. 26, 483-497. 

A look at the student movement of the 1960s, the Free University in Sydney, and attempts to democratise the mainstream universities, from an activist point of view.

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