Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Department of Sociology - Faculty of Arts
Humphries, David, Labourism and the commodification of work and social life, PhD thesis, Department of Sociology, University of Wollongong, 2004. http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/231
The thesis explores concepts of alienation and commodification in relation to public and private themes of identity, in contemporary Australia. It is argued that as labour conditions have intensified and the social safety net has eroded the emphasis on private themes of identity have increased. These themes emphasise sexuality and gender, and down-grade the issue of work and labour. The Australian Labor Party helped create the conditions for postmodernist identity politics weakening their commitment to working class improvement in favour of emphasising hypercapitalism and hyperliberal gender discourses. This approach favours the inclusion of marginal groups that have been traditionally outside of labourist concerns (women, homosexuals, Aborigines) at the expense of civilising capitalism, labour alienation and commodification as the central concern for workers. In short, the abandonment of Marxism, labourism and Social democracy: and their replacement by identity issues. The backlash to a post-welfare state social democracy designed to ameliorate conditions for marginal groups, become a key feature in the election of the Howard government in 1996, with Howards battlers consisting of former Labor voters disenfranchised by political correctness. This produced an attack on welfare cheats, high taxation, and trendy concerns such as Aboriginality � and reinforced Hansonism. In this context, the Australian and American relationship and the frontier tradition is stressed as a pivotal factor in determining the role of identity in the neo-liberal political economy, with the pressures created by neo-liberalism and globalisation. Australian mythology based on Anzac symbolism and personality creates a vacuous phenomenon for genuine themes of Australian national identity to survive the homogenous nature of hyper-capitalism. The drift towards the power of American capitalism and political cosmologies can then been seen as a natural evolution of Australian political mythology. It is here that the thesis argues that hyper capitalist themes can have an implicit relationship to concepts of hyper-liberalism found in gender discourses and moreover, ironically evocative of the individualism Weber argued existed in American Protestant religious sects. Subsequently the de-construction of masculinity that has been characteristic of feminist and gay theory, that reflects a social psychological perspective rather than one based in Marxs historical materialism that places man within social history. Social theory therefore unfairly constructs the heterosexual masculine personality in relation to working class elite occupations such as coalmining or as a reflection of a corporate dominance, to create polemic avenues for marginal groups. The focus upon heterosexuality within the thesis links its relationship to the characteristics demanded by industrial capitalism such as the Fordist mode of production, and in Marxist terms, the complete enslavement and alienation that existed between social man and the capitalist mode of production. This approach emphasises the experience of wage labour, culminating with the high levels of unemployment that has risen concomitantly with de-industrialisation, globalisation and neo-liberalism. The disciplining of the unemployed in the post-welfare state exists alongside hyper-liberal themes of sexual and social identity, indicating a general shift to a social fascism, or two- tiered form of democracy that resides alongside, and is often in competition with conservative advocates for the nuclear family and heterosexuality. The development of Howards battlers reflects a conservative appropriation of the original Australian legend that was based on labourism and mateship and now exists in a nationalist paradigm evocative of frontiersmen and Anzacs rather than one based on class. A framing issue for the thesis subsequently is what role does gender and sexuality have in the function of the industrial capitalist society?