In an introduction to an earlier book of mine on social issues, former prime minister E.G. Whitlam remarked that "the Australian debate on social and economic issues has been enfeebled for many years by the reluctance of academics to enter the market-place of politics. This reluctance often stemmed from a pessimism, a feeling that even if universities were to proffer their ideas they would be ignored. In the five years since these words were written the situation has changed markedly. There is now some cross-fertilization between academics and politicians, and in a variety of commissions and public service inquiries Australian academics are playing a major role.
However, the academic industry generally and social science specifically have remained virtually removed from public issues. No systematic social theory and research currently illuminate key national issues on a continuing basis. Few university courses emphasize social issues or define the scope and limits of scientific effort in meeting social problems. As well, university lecturers rarely organize their courses around a multi-discipline perspective allowing students to benefit from eclectic and broadly based approaches to current social problems.
Of course the ethos of many social scientists in Australia works against a discussion of community social problems. Social scientists traditionally select research problems not primarily for their importance but for their scientific manageability. They also maintain a strict separation between the social scientist's responsibilities as a scientist and his moral and political responsibility as a citizen. It seems to me, and to an increasingly large number of other sociologists, that this dichotomy is not logically possible to maintain. However, attempts to maintain it have led to an obsessive preoccupation with the trivial and a neglect of important issues confronting the community.
This book does not attempt to broaden social science effort or to argue that the old distinctions between knowledge and action, theory and practice, are artificially restricted—several recent books do this very well. Instead, it aims to present to intelligent men and women some of the major dimensions of vital social problems confronting Australia today.
Ten important issues are presented. Discrimination and crime and criminal justice are discussed from the point of view of how they affect the average Australian; privacy and equality from the point of view of whether they are valued in our society. The role of the media, the law, and unions in contemporary Australian society are critically analysed, and questions relating to poverty and consumerism, issues that directly or indirectly effect every citizen, are clearly put forward. In another provocative chapter the role of the helping professions—psychologists, lawyers, doctors, social workers, and so on—is raised. Do these professions spend most of their time helping Australians or helping themselves?
The object of this book is to focus attention on social issues that substantially affect the quality and style of living in contemporary Australia. The book is offered not only to tertiary students but also to those intelligent men and women who are still concerned with improving more than the economic condition of Australian society.