Who are the great Australian sociologists?

I’ve been thinking a bit about sociology lately, partly because I’ve always thought it’s a fascinating discipline (Tally’s Corner, Rituals of Blood and No Shame in My Game are three of my favourite non-fiction books ever), and partly prompted by Mark Bahnisch’s revelation that QUT plans to stop teaching it, on the basis that they think sociology is one of the ‘old humanities’.

So I got to wondering about something. Is there a consensus as to who are the best sociologists in Australia? When it comes to economists, we have a pretty high level of agreement over what constitutes high-quality output, and so can readily put together ranking tables (eg. this one). But who would Australian sociologists typically name as the stars in the field?

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16 Responses to Who are the great Australian sociologists?

  1. Andrew, that should be QUT. Sociology is alive and well at Griffith.

    But who would Australian sociologists typically name as the stars in the field?

    Actually there’s a precise answer. The membership of TASA was polled in 2003 for the top 10 books authored by Australian sociologists.

    You can find the list and the nominations, and a link to an article in the Journal of Sociology discussing it here:


    4 of the top 10 books are authored or co-authored by Professor R. W. Connell of Sydney Uni.

  2. Ag says:

    Peter Beilharz from Latrobe is the sociologist I’m most familiar with and the one I’m most convinced by. Apart from his writing style, which is ironic, full of allusions and terse, he’s the Oz sociologist that’s introduced me to Zygmunt Bauman’s ideas and given me an entry into thinking about Marxism, communisim and socialism in Australia. His
    ‘Transforming Labor’ from 1994 is one of favourite books.

  3. invig says:


    The best sociologist that i’m aware of is, *ahem*, me.

    Yes, thats right, i’m great.


  4. Anthony says:

    The history of sociology as a discipline in Australia is quite interesting, and post World War I it was championed as a way of circumventing class conflict. There was an interesting TASA volume a couple of years ago dedicated to the history of the discipline.

    Beilharz and the Bundoora crowd are interesting in terms of getting an international profile for an Antipodean “school” of sociology. But Bob Connnell is probably our pre-eminent sociologist on the world stage (and shame on Melbourne Uni for not appointing him inaugural chair a decade ago [which begs the question of why our second oldest university only set up a formal sociology program a decade ago]).

    But in terms of influence in Australia, Geoff Sharp must rate large. Rai Gaita gives a wonderful tribute to him in one of his books. I think he only rose to senior lecturer level (which was the career grade 20 years ago); hardly traveled outside Australia; published little outside his own “small magazine” Arena; but was an enormous influence on several generations of students whowent on to buildthe discipline of sociology in Australia (from Lois Bryson to Rob Watts to name but two)

  5. Kevin Cox says:

    I thought you might be interested in a market for students with sociology and anthropology skills and training. It turns out the designers of websites and “the user experience” are increasingly coming from these disciplines. Why? Because modern systems are increasingly viewed and operate as human communities and the skills to design such systems are found in these disciplines.

  6. Andrew Leigh says:

    Mark, thanks for pointing out my error. I’ve corrected the post.

    Funnily enough, RW Connell is a very good family friend. However, I hadn’t realised he (now she) was responsible for 40% of the top sociology books in Australia.

  7. Leopold says:

    I’m afraid Anthony Giddens put me off reading any more sociologists for the forseeable future.

  8. Anthony says:

    “I hadn’t realised he (now she) was responsible for 40% of the top sociology books”

    He (now she)?

    Please explain. I mean, that is to say, I can guess (and you economists have, I gather, become used to this kind of thing in your discipline), but it’s news to me and I’d like to it have it spelled out.

  9. Anthony, R. W. Connell has undergone gender reassignment and is now known as Raewyn. Caught up with her at a book launch at Griffith recently.

    Andrew, interestingly 3 of her books were published by Allen & Unwin. They used to have a great sociology line. It would be very difficult now for someone who hadn’t already attained an international rep to publish an Australian sociological monograph, aside from a textbook, and almost impossible to publish anything on Australia with an international publisher.

  10. As to Peter B, he’s had an interesting relationship with the discipline. I think a number of years ago he would have preferred “social theorist” as an identification, but, God love him, he’s now very active within TASA and he’s been doing some great thinking on how to ensure sociology has a viable future in Australian universities.

  11. Damien Eldridge says:

    Do sociologists really believe that Pusey’s “Economic rationalism in Canberra” should be in that list? I think I may have flicked through it some time back, but most of my knoweledge probably comes from other critiques of it. From memory, the general impression among economists was that it was a load of nonsense.

  12. Anthony says:

    Thanks Mark. The idea that one of the world’s leading analysts of contemporary masculinities has undergone a gender reassignment is remarkable. That is, it deserves remarking upon. I must try and start getting invitations to the right book launches.

  13. derrida derider says:

    I agree with a couple of the others. Any field that thinks Anthony Giddens and Michael Pusey (and yes, I have read both) are top-notch contributors is now hard to take seriously. Which is a pity, because sociology has had some genuinely great thinkers.

  14. I wouldn’t want to tie him down to just one discipline, but what about Hugh Stretton? A great writer and a great teacher.

  15. Bring Back CL's blog says:

    Hugh Stretton now there was an intellect.

    When I sat down for the first introduction to Sociology lecture at Macquarie University Bob Connell turned up in a dress. I now understand why.
    That sociology department was not the best.

  16. Do sociologists really believe that Pusey’s “Economic rationalism in Canberra” should be in that list?

    Someone mentioned Rob Watts before. I was at a session at the TASA conference in Sydney in 2001 where Watts gave a paper (in Pusey’s presence) which refuted Pusey and with some degree of enthusiasm. A lot of the discussion indicated many of the conference goers agreed. But note that folks were asked to vote on the most influential books.

    I think there are some pretty serious problems with the methodology and what hangs on it in Pusey’s book. But I think it’s been influential.

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