Interdisciplinary Studies in Social Sciences

ISS 225

Various approaches to government, policy and justice cannot be understood without connection to Australia’s past and contemporary challenges to its historical cultural frames and world view. For example, one cannot understand Australian government and policy approaches without reference to the country’s origins as a prison colony, or without reference to the formative 19th century years that posed an inhospitable environment to life and development. These historical realities shape contemporary criminal and civil codes, property rights, basic notions of political freedoms and citizen rights, and orientations toward the role of the state in national development and problem solving. Another frame that shapes contemporary Australia is the interplay between the uprooting of Australia’s historical and cultural connections to England/Europe and the reality that Australia increasingly sees itself as an Asian country in trade, population demographics, culture and other strategic realities.
The contemporary shape of Australia’s culture begins with its founding and the “culture” of an English prison colony; it was reshaped in part by the frontier realities of Australia—a frontier far less environmentally hospitable initially to development than the American parallel. The wealth created by the discovery of gold, the rise of farming and extractive industries reshaped it again by making Australia a wealthy country by the early twentieth century and a view of it as the “lucky country.” It was reconfigured again by the inflow of southern and east European populations in the first half of the twentieth century, a pre and post World War II loosening of ties to England, an embracing of partnership with America, and adoption of significant aspects of the American culture. Concerns about Australia’s Asian location far from its English and European origins led, in the middle two-thirds of the 20th century, to the “white Australia policy.” The rejection of the “white Australia” policy and adoption in the early 1980s of multi-culturalism was official recognition of the reality that Australia was in Asia, that a majority of its future economic ties would be in Asia, but also that its English and European cultural roots and ties to the United States were well established and relatively permanent. The late-in-coming Australian awareness of Aboriginal culture and the reality of its impact on Australia still remains an evolving part of Australian multiculturalism. All of these stages in Australia’s history, development and resulting cultural reconfigurations fundamentally impact life, government policies and practices.
The course challenges students to look at Australia through an American lens, but also at the U.S. through an Australian cultural lens, and finally to resolve these lenses into a single (hopefully less nation-dependent) way of examining similarities and differences. Requiring students to view the U.S. from another country’s cultural lens provides shocking revelation for some students, but for that reason a powerful learning experience.