Editors’ Introduction

By Monique Rooney and Russell Smith

© all rights reserved.

We kick off this issue with three papers that examine different critical issues in Australian higher education policy.

We begin with Anna Poletti and Simon Cooper’s investigation into the journal ranking exercise carried out as part of the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) initiative. Surprised by the demotion of Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly from A* to C in the final rankings released in February 2010, and stymied by the ARC’s refusal to enter into discussion of the final list, Poletti and Cooper initiated a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to obtain documents relating to how the rankings of Biography and a selection of related journals were arrived at. Their analysis reveals what seems to have been an arbitrary and inconsistent process behind the journal ranking exercise. As the authors point out, although the journal rankings were dropped from the ERA project in May 2011 because of the perceived unintended consequences, they continue to exercise a kind of occult influence on the decision-making of researchers and research managers. [Full disclosure: AHR was ranked B in the first draft of ERA journal rankings; after our submission in the public submissions phase (September-November 2009) our ranking was upgraded to A in the second draft rankings, and remained at this level in the final rankings. This was a gratifying outcome for us, especially as we had published articles critical of the ERA process in our November 2008 and May 2009 issues.]

Katherine Bode and Leigh Dale turn the analytical spotlight on another policy document, LaTrobe University’s Organisational Change Impact Statement, which makes the case for sacking 41 academic staff in its Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. Bode and Dale show how the language of the documents reveals a deeply incoherent and inconsistent use of the word ‘University’, which is sometimes used to represent the institution as a whole, its academic and general staff, its students, its traditions and its embeddedness in local, regional, national and international communities. More often, however, ‘University’ is shorthand for senior management and financial centres, whereas the Faculty is constructed as an entity requiring ‘support’ and unable to fulfil its debts and responsibilities. The obfuscatory language of economic rationalisation not only produces deep rifts in the human structures of collegiality and professionalism upon which an institution such as a University depends, it also prevents a clear assessment of just how damaging such ‘efficiencies’ are to the University’s core mission and values.

Scott Brook investigates the perceived anomaly between a much-hyperbolised ‘decline in Australian literary publishing’ and a concurrent surge in demand for places in creative writing courses. Taking a broad historical overview of the emergence of creative writing as a university discipline, Brook then draws on surveys of creative writing students at the University of Melbourne, RMIT and Victoria University to construct a picture of the creative writing cohort that produces some surprising results, especially in terms of student motivations for studying creative writing, and expectations of the relation between an arts education and the labour market. He suggests that there is a serious need to ‘manage expectations’ given a widening divergence between the rhetoric of the ‘creative class’ and the realities of over-education, over-skilling and under-employment that graduates frequently face.

AHR53’s special section, ‘Songlines vs Pipelines’, tackles one of the major issues of our time: the dramatic transformations taking place (locally, nationally and globally) as a result of the massive expansion of mining operations in remote Australia in the past decade. Originating in a seminar at the Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) at the University of New South Wales in February 2012, the papers collected here raise questions about the complex changes taking place in regional communities, as some of the unintended consequences of the mining boom make themselves felt on the more modest and sustainable local economies connected to national and international tourism.

The section begins with Kerry Carrington, Russell Hogg, Alison McIntosh and John Scott’s clear-eyed investigation of the impact of non-resident fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workforces on everyday life in a West Australian mining region. This is followed by Deborah Che’s historico-ethnographic analysis of contemporary battles taking place in Allegheny National Forest (Pennsylvania, USA) between tourism and mining interests, and Tess Lea’s reading of the complex entanglements of business, social policy and indigenous livelihoods in Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Eve Vincent elucidates the value of ‘gift-exchange’ and pragmatic alliances in the country north of Ceduna, South Australia, between Aboriginal-led ‘rockhole discovery’ tours (the ‘Aunty Joan’ mob) and a group of willing tourist-volunteers (affectionately known as ‘the greenies’). Kathie Muir shows how Broome’s distinctive and complex cultural heritage energises and sustains a broad-based community protest against a proposed gas hub in James Price Point on the West Coast. The section concludes with Tim Neale’s paper about the optimistic (‘bright futures’) rhetoric on display in mainstream media reports that opposed Queensland’s Wild Rivers Act, and that was evident in a series of government inquiries investigating the impact of the legislation. Finally, special thanks are due to Fergus Armstrong for his editorial assistance in preparing this issue.

As always, we welcome submissions to AHR on any aspect of contemporary humanities research, and we are especially committed to working with postgraduate students and early career researchers. Please send a 250-word abstract or proposal in the first instance to [email protected]. If we wish to consider your proposal we will invite you to submit the full text. Full submission guidelines are available on our About Page.

Happy reading!

Monique Rooney and Russell Smith

If you would like to contribute to this discussion, please email [email protected]