"Good and wise work": The Rockhampton Benevolent Society, 1866-1916: The first 50 years

Griffin, Helen (1994). "Good and wise work": The Rockhampton Benevolent Society, 1866-1916: The first 50 years M.A. Thesis, , The University of Queensland.

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Author Griffin, Helen
Thesis Title "Good and wise work": The Rockhampton Benevolent Society, 1866-1916: The first 50 years
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1994
Thesis type M.A. Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Total pages 150
Language eng
Subjects 1607 Social Work
Formatted abstract
This dissertation examines the first 50 years of the Rockhampton Benevolent Society from its founding in 1866 to 1916. In doing so, it investigates the practices and precepts of nineteenth-century philanthropy in a small, but rapidly growing colonial town. The main thesis is Michel Foucault's premise that power is knowledge in action, and that power as a productive force produces knowledge and "truth" - or knowledge with the status of truth. The exercise of power was manifested in the practices of nineteenth-century philanthropy, which included categorisation of the poor and needy, referral to other agencies, and exclusion from the benefits offered by the Society on moral grounds. The main management strategies employed were the techniques of discipline and surveillance - in other words the "technologies" of nineteenth-century philanthropy. The associated discourse, or the way in which messages and meanings about philanthropy were relayed to certain groups, gave legitimacy and power to those involved in the care, management and surveillance of the working class, but specifically those elements which were most vulnerable or destitute. Although not a tool in itself, the discourse authenticated practice, which was necessary to permit the successful functioning of this nineteenth-century philanthropic venture. However, it was a discourse not exclusively used by the members of the Society. The community's main avenue for observation and comment on Society activities, the local press, also used the discourse in what amounted to its own surveillance of the RBS. The women members of the Society were the chief target for comment which ranged from praise to ridicule. The other main organ of philanthropic surveillance which claimed right to this knowledge with special vehemence was the Charity Organisation Society. This Organisation, however, had only a limited impact on local affairs. The discourse of philanthropy became a locale-specific one emerging from region-specific discourses (mainly from those associated with the separation movement), and the culturally inherited and predictable responses to deprivation and poverty. In this way the Society was shaped by societal structures and in turn impacted on these same structures through the dialectic relationship of agency and structure, which necessarily incorporated the formulation of knowledge and the exercise of power. Anthony Giddens's construct, the duality of structure, which addresses this relationship, also contributes to the sense of process - a requisite if the essence of the relationship is to be captured. In effect, then, this construct becomes part of the theoretical framework of the dissertation. At the same time, the constructs of Pierre Bourdieu help to "humanise" the rather theoretical and esoteric thrust of Giddens's work by presenting some guidelines which lend themselves to the empirical testing of data and the focus on real people, relationships and circumstances. In the years being studied, the records demonstrate the successful and complementary nature of the relationship between the sexes. Associated with the main argument, therefore, are the issues of space - and the gendering of space - and gender and power relations. Thus the dissertation adopts an interdisciplinary approach, and the model, which uses the organising elements of context, agency and field (philanthropy), draws on Bourdieu's generative formula to
explain social practice as well as the ideas of Foucault and Giddens. With this approach it is possible to acknowledge the active nature of the agents - the women and men of the Society - and the dynamic nature of the processes of power and gender relations and knowledge formation and reformulation which created the RBS in its colonial setting.
Keyword Rockhampton Benevolent Homes Society
Charities -- History -- 19th century
Charities -- Queensland -- History -- 19th century
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