Publication Details

Ashbolt, A, Private Desires, Public Pleasures: Community and Identity in a Postmodern World, in Vasta, E (ed), Citizenship, Community and Democracy, Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2000, 129-140.


As George Orwell, Herbert Marcuse and, more recently John Ralston Saul have argued, language can be a key mechanism whereby social reality is blurred, camouflaged or distorted (Orwell 1957: 143-57; MarcuseI972: 78-103; Saul 1997: 41-75). Slogans, buzzwords and words blatantly misused permeate contemporary discourse. Just as the advertising industry can take a word like 'freedom' and render it a commodity, so too politicians and journalists can take a word like 'reform; and strip it of meaning. We are told, for example, of the reforms of the Kennett government in Victoria. Closing hospitals and schools and wrecking the industrial relations system somehow count as 'reforms'. If something is about to undergo a reform process, as likely as not this means it will be gutted financially. And it is always the institutions of our public sphere being 'reformed', because the public sphere is painted as full of waste and sloth, draining the taxpayers' money. The private - whether private industry or private schools - are by contrast efficient operating machines always giving value. This is the language of the New Right but it has become commonsense discourse today trotted out by journalists. politicians and denizens of pubs alike.