Open discussion on the evolution of Australian and New Zealand Thought

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Anthropology and the Freeman - Mead Controversy

Photo: Derek Freeman. New Zealand anthropologist. Born August 15, 1916 Wellington New Zealand, died Canberra July 6,2001.

In some of my first posts on this blog I spoke of the influence of New Zealand economists on the global stage. The first post in this series can be found here. In this post I want to look in an initial way at another thread in New Zealand and Australian thought, the role of the anthropologist.

My entry point here is the Freeman/Mead controversy.

By way of background to readers who may not be aware of this, Margaret Mead became perhaps the most famous anthropologist of the twentieth century because of her writings on sexuality among young women in Samoa. Dr Derek Freeman later challenged her conclusions, igniting a global controversy that spread well beyond the discipline of anthropology itself.

Nothing like sex to spark interest!

Without debating the rights or wrongs of the case, the controversy centred on the the relations in anthropology between the observer and the observed in interpreting cultural matters.

Did Mead's informants lie to her? Did she allow her own perceptions and values to affect not just the questions she asked, but the way in which she interpreted the answers? And, in any case, how does the very presence of the anthropologist distort cultural patterns?

Conversely, to what degree were Dr Freeman's observations affected by his own close relations with Samoans now aware of Mead's writings? Did the adoption of Christianity itself lead to another distortion?

These questions are all relevant in an Australian context. As I outlined in a post on the Australian anthropologist Malcolm Calley, Australian anthropologists have been very important in raising interest in indigenous issues when the matter was still being largely ignored by other professions, including historians. This remains true today.

In later posts, I will explore in a little more detail the history of anthropology in both countries.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Our Modern obsession with measurement - the case of publish or perish


I wrote the following post last November (2006) on my personal blog. I am repeating it here because the rise of citation indexes and of the term "publish or perish" is an example of a broader trend in Australian and New Zealand thought, our obsession with measurement.

We can see this obsession across all aspects of life. It appears in public policy in the input/output/outcome model. It appears in terms such as key performance indicators. We can see it in concepts such as performance pay. Then there is our obsession with rankings from school exam results to the BRW top lists.

Now my personal view is that this obsession has become quite pernicious. So how did it arise and spread?

Publish or perish and the rise of the citation index is an interesting case study - another modern term - because it shows the process at work in one area.

The Post

This post was meant to continues my notes to myself on changes in public administration since the war (previous post). However, I have been on some weird and wonderful web searches since then giving me enough material for multiple posts.

I have felt for a long time that the seventies were the tip decade marking the break between the previous long continuity of Australian history and the Australia of the present day. Much of my writing on this blog including the earlier migration and current current confessions of a policy adviser series is concerned in one way or another with tracing this process of change.

While all the evidence so far supports my 7os tip hypothesis, to really make my case I need to trace the pattern of change across different dimensions including changes in the use and meaning of words.

In my last post I spoke of the rise of measurement as an all pervasive mechanism. In this context, one of the things that I was musing about was the changing position of academia, an area that I have known very well over a long period starting as a child in an academic household. This is an area where measurement has become pervasive and indeed arguably even perverse.

To try to provide a measure of this (I, too, like measurement!), one of the first things that I thought of were citation indexes.

In the words of the University of Southern Queensland Library (I do like quoting Australia's universities headquartered in regional areas!):

Citation Indexes are compilations of all the cited references from particular groups of journal articles published during a particular year or group of years. In a citation index, you look up a reference to a work that you know to find journal articles that have cited it, although you can also search by concepts and authors. Cited reference searching is a fast and efficient way of finding journal articles that relate to your research.

Citation indexes can be useful. Again to quote the USQ Library:

While most users think of indexes as merely a means of recovering information, index compilers have long been aware that indexes--especially those for scientific literature--serve a vastly more important and often unstated purpose. That is, they reveal connections between ideas or concepts that were not considered before.

That is true, but as anybody in management knows, what you measure is what you get. So treating citations as a performance measure means that those being measured have an incentive to maximise citation performance. Here I was interested in the history of citation indexes as a way of assessing impact. To quote Thompson Scientific:

While the first proposal for the SCI (Science Citation Index) was made in 1955, it was in the 1960s that ISI (Institute For Scientific Information) applied for and received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to create a Genetics Citation Index. As a result of this multidisciplinary project, we published the first SCI covering the 1961 literature) in 1963. We then went on to launch a quarterly service that eventually proved successful. Since then we have indexed the literature back to 1945 and now the CD-ROM version of SCI is updated monthly and the online and magnetic tape versions are updated weekly.

In 1973, we made SSCI® available. It now covers the social sciences literature back to 1956. The index deals with topics such as anthropology, economics, sociology, educational research, and information sciences among other fields. A&HCI® was introduced in 1978. A&HCI provides access to disciplines as varied as archaeology, linguistics, philosophy, musicology, literature, and others in the arts and humanities.

Advances in modes of access have also been made over the years. In 1974, the SCI became one of the first large-scale databases available online via DIALOG. Other ISI databases followed. In 1988, SCI (and later SSCI and A&HCI) became available on CD-ROM. This new technology and increased data storage capabilities enabled us to implement a variety of access and browse features unique to our citation-based searching. Enhancing the power of citation searching through bibliographic coupling, you can navigate the literature by exploring papers that share one or more references.

If we look at this history, we can see that the rise of the citation index paralleled the rise of interest in measurement, going on-line in the seventies as the new computing and communications technologies became available.

By the time I became CEO of the Royal Australian (now Australian and New Zealand) College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) at the end of 1997 the citation system was very well entrenched.

At the time we were worried that the College's scientific journal, the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Ophthalmology, was dropping down the citation list. The journal really needed to be in the top ten globally to attract the required level of scientific and clinical articles, so under the leadership of the editorial team the journal was renamed Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology and effectively relaunched to achieve the required citation level.

This material does provide a guide as to the history of citation indexes and some indication as to their impact, but more is required. So I decided to look at the term publish or perish, now a very common term in academia.

While I found many references, it proved very hard to trace the origin of the term. The only on-line dictionary reference I could find (Source) suggested a mid nineties date. I knew that this could not be right because I was using the term in the eighties, so I continued searching. Finally I found an article by Eugene Garfield, What Is The Primordial Reference For The Phrase' Publish Or Perish'? (The Scientist, Vol:10, #12, p.11 , June 10, 1996.)

Eugene's work traced the term to at least a 1942 book by Logan Wilson with the same connotations as today. So the term has been around for a while at least in the US. But we can also be reasonably sure of is that the term was not common in the sixties since I did not hear reference to it, but was being referred to in the eighties. So like citation indexes, its rise does parallel the rise of the measurement movement.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Andrew Carnegie, Autodidacts and Australia's public library system - yet another peg in the sand

Yet another peg in the sand.

In an earlier short post Rafe referred to the Mechanics Institutes. Today we take our public library system for granted. Yet their existence owes much to two autodidacts, self taught men.

One made his money from the establishment of US Steel. The second was a farm labourer turned who became arguably the most influential Australian education minister of the twentieth century. Both were obsessed with the importance of education. In combination, they played a major role in the creation of Australia's public libraries.

More later.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

From deserts the prophets come - another peg in the sand

This line from A D Hope is also the title of a 1972 book by Professor Geoffrey Searle.

I have a strong feeling at the moment that we (in this case Australia) is in the process of creating another and in this case very English myth, the influence of the desert. Not the outback, the desert.

I have no problems with myths, but in this case I thought that it might be interesting to explore the real role of the desert as such in the evolution of Australian thought. Hence this peg in the sand for later use.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

History of Science and Technology in Australia - a note

As a thought break after writing the posts on the New Zealand WEA and the transmission of ideas (here 1, here 2, here 3), I was musing over some of the ideas raised in Rafe's post on science in Australia and the supporting links.

First, a resource. As part of the burst of historical writing associated with the Bicentenary, the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering produced a very useful condensed history of technology in Australia. I mention this because I find this type of general history very useful in providing background on particular topics in Australian history.

Take transport as an example.

Subtitled "How distance shaped Australia's history", Geoffrey Blainey's The Tyranny of Distance (21st century edition, Pan Macmillan Australia, Sydney 2001) explores the ways in which Australia's vast distances have shaped our history and thought.

We all live in a prison whose walls are set by our experience and the time in which we live. These walls stand between us and an effective understanding of past times. We know this, but we do not always understand it. Checking basic facts about things such as technological change in particular areas can be critical.

One key fact linked to the development and spread of knowledge about science and technology in the Australasian colonies is simply transport time and costs.

There is, I think, still a common assumption that this limited transmission of ideas. As we saw in my discussion on the New Zealand WEA, this was far from true. But the transmission mechanisms were different.

Ideas spread throughout the Empire and beyond quite quickly. Mail - books, letters and journals - was central. Yes, there were lags, but these were less critical than we might think today. Further, because the volume of printed material was so much less, that which was produced was read and argued about in a way that rarely happens today.

Here I remember my father towards the end of his academic career saying that in some ways he felt sorry for modern economics students. Compared to his student days including his PhD studies at Manchester, they had far more to read, many more topics to study, less time to think. The position is worse today, leading to a crowding out effect in which ideas and depth can get lost in information static.

There is another factor here, the role of the academic gatekeeper.

In his material Rafe questioned why certain scholars were less influential than they deserved to be. As I see it, the modern academic system has become very rigid. This is of course a statement of opinion. But let me tease it out a little because it bears upon changes in the way Australians and New Zealanders now think.

There have always been intellectual gatekeepers. However, I think that their influence has increased in the sense that it is arguably harder for the outsider to break in.

This influence comes along several dimensions. One is simply influence on what is studied and why, something that has become more important in this crowded, specialised, age. A second lies in the academic selection process itself, with its emphasis on quantitative measurement - number of articles, citations and patents. A third lies in the vocational and the applied.

All this can make it harder for new ideas, the unorthodox, to break in.

Returning to travel and travel times, longer travel times did make certain types of interaction harder. I was reminded of this a while ago when I looking at the history of the Royal Australian (now Australian and New Zealand) College of Ophthalmologists. It took a long time to emerge as a national body, in part because travel time and costs did act as a real impediment. But this travel problem was not all negative.

Today people jet in and out. Then fewer travelled, but those who did travelled for much longer periods. So personal interaction was harder, but also tended to be longer and more intense when it did occur.

We can see this in the case of the global travel patterns of Canterbury College graduates. The global influence of that College especially in economics and anthropology dwarfs, I think, anything that can be offered by today's Gang of Eight.

As I said, musings. A stake in the ground for later discussion.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Transmission of ideas and the New Zealand Workers Educational Association 3

Photo: Walking on White Hot Stones. New Zealand International Exhibition 1906-1907, Christchurch. This may seem an odd photo to illustrate this article. However, it does link to a theme later in this post, the involvement of New Zealand academics with Pacific issues. From the seventies and especially the eighties, Australia was blinded to the Pacific by our focus on Asia. New Zealand remained a Pacific country.

This post concludes my brief discussion on the transmission of ideas, using the New Zealand WEA and some of those associated with it as an entry point.

In this post I want to extend my analysis, first tracking back into the story to introduce some new people and issues, then tracking forward to look at international issues. To avoid overloading with hyperlinks, references are included at the end of the post.

In the earlier posts I suggested that education at all levels appeared far more advanced and accessible in New Zealand in the early years of the twentieth century than in Australia. I think that this is important because it helps explain why New Zealand with its small population relative to Australia had such a disproportionate influence in areas such as economics.

I made some preliminary comments here in my first post. I now want to amplify these a little.

In 1906 Australia's population was around 4 million, that of NSW around 1.5 million, that of Northern NSW - the area later defined by the Nicholas Royal Commission as suitable for statehood - around 400,000. I have included Northern NSW for comparative purposes because it is a major sub-state area with its own history and is also the location of the first Australian moves into decentralisation of higher education.

In 1906, the total population of New Zealand including the Maori was 936,309. I do not have population figures for Canterbury as a whole. However, in 1906 the population of Christchurch and its immediate environs was 67,878.

Canterbury College was established in 1873, the second university institution in New Zealand. By the end of the First world War Canterbury with its relatively small population was serviced by an extensive school system, a university and a teachers college. Some measure of distance education was already available, with the growing WEA providing an adult education network.

In NSW by contrast, there was one university plus one teachers' college servicing 1.5 million people. Northern NSW with its 400,000 people lacked any higher educational institutions.

The Armidale Teachers College would not be established until 1928, the New England University College in 1938. Both were the first higher educational institutions in New England and the first non-metro institutions in Australia. In adult education, the mechanics institutes and equivalents described by Rafe in his post provided a limited and fragmented service compared to the WEA in New Zealand. There were technical colleges, but their scope was limited, especially outside the capital cities.

This is not a comparative history of education in both countries. My point is that in those days the universities and the cultural institutions that clustered around them were arguably far more important than today in the development and transmission of ideas. We can see this in Christchurch.

In some ways, Christchurch in the first part was a very English and Empire city. Yet according to the Christchurch city library web site, in the 1890s and early 1900s, the city was "buzzing with new ideas, full of radicals, reformers and eccentrics". It became a Liberal stronghold in 1890 and remained so for the next 20 years. Fabian socialist and architect of many of the Liberals’ social reforms, William Pember Reeves was a Christchurch member of parliament.

Christchurch was also been the cradle of the temperance and suffrage movements, the home of leading suffragists Katherine Wilson Sheppard and Ada Wells, as well as their parliamentary advocate, John Hall. It was the home of the trade union movement and of artisan radicalism, led by men like Thomas Edward Taylor, another Christchurch member of parliament who would later become mayor.

In all this mix, Professor James Hight (1870-1958) found a solid and permanent home.

Born at Halswell near Christchurch where his father was a farm labourer who then acquired his own small farm, James Hight completed his teacher training at the teachers' college, then went to Canterbury College on an English Exhibition. Among his fellow students at the time was Ernest Rutherford who would later be described as the father of nuclear physics.

After a period teaching in Auckland, Hight was appointed lecturer in political economy and constitutional history at Canterbury College in 1901 and with the exception of one year on exchange, remained there for the rest of his working life.

In 1908 Hight was appointed to the new chair of history and economics. When the chair was divided in 1919, he became professor of history and political science with John Condliffe taking the new economics chair.

Professor Hight was obviously an influential teacher. I have already mentioned his influence on Professor Condliffe who in turn influenced Horace Belshaw. These were not the only cases.

Sir Douglas Copland was one of the best known and most influential Australian economists of the first half of the twentieth century. While he is best known for his Australian work, he was in fact a New Zealand whose earlylife displayed the pattern we have already seen in Hight, Condliffe and Horace Belshaw.

According to biographical notes prepared by the Australian National Library, Copland was born on 24 February 1894 at Otaio, between Timaru and Waimate in the Canterbury Plains, one of sixteen children of Alexander and Annie Copland, wheat farmers from Scotland.

From 1899 to 1906 Copland attended Esk Valley Primary School and spent the next six years at the Waimate District High School. He then studied teaching at the Christchurch Teachers' College, before gaining Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees at Canterbury College.

By the time he left New Zealand in 1917 to take a position as lecturer in history and economics at the University of Tasmania, Copland had taught at his old high school and at Christchurch Boys' High School. In addition, he also tutored for the Workers' Educational Association and worked as a Compiler in the Census and Statistics Office of the Department of Internal Affairs.

Copland's love of teaching and fascination with economics stems from these years - in particular from his work on his father's wheat farm and the research for his M.A. thesis, 'The progress and importance of wheat production in New Zealand'.

We can see in fact see the same pattern in my own father, Professor James Belshaw, although because he was younger than Horace the institutions were different.

Born in Canterbury in 1908, he too followed a path through teachers' college into university. In his case he was involved with the WEA in Auckland, completed two masters degree in history and economics by distance education while teaching at a small one teacher school outside Auckland, and then followed in the footsteps of Condliffe and brother Horace to England to complete his PHD.

Under the terms of the scholarship, he had his choice of university and could have chose, like Condliffe and Horace Belshaw, to study at Cambridge. However, because Horace had studied at Cambridge, James Belshaw chose Manchester.

After completing his PhD, James Belshaw worked briefly in the League of Nations and with the New Zealand Department of Labour before accepting in 1938 the foundation lectureship in history and economics at the newly established New England University College. There, like Hight, he settled in, later becoming foundation professor of economics when New England gained full autonomy.

Copland's departure for Australia in 1917, my father's in 1938, is a sign of another feature of these earlier New Zealand economists. New Zealand could train them, but was too small to retain them. However, in their moves around the world they carried the New Zealand influence with them, making major contributions to academic and public life.

We can again see this by looking at briefly at the patterns in their later life.

About 1925 Condliffe, still professor of economics at Canterbury college, was a member of the New Zealand delegation to the first conference of the Institute of Pacific Relations. In 1926 he accepted the newly created position of research secretary for the IPR, travelling extensively in Asia. Then in 1931 he was invited to join the economic secretariat of the League of Nations, writing its first World Economic Survey.

Condliffe was now part of an eminent group of economists who were to shape international discussion on trade, monetary order and economic policy in the three decades after 1935, arguing that continued expansion of world trade was a necessary condition for world peace and prosperity.

In 1939 Condliffe accepted a professorship in economics at the University of California, Berkley. While California would now remain his base, he retained his New Zealand connections. His later New Zealand focused publications included The welfare state in New Zealand , a revision of New Zealand in the making, a book on the New Zealand economy and a biography of his friend Te Rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck).

Many of the same patterns can be found in Horace Belshaw's later life, although his New Zealand focus was stronger.

Described by Frank Holmes in his NZDB article as New Zealand's most notable applied economist of his generation, Horace Belshaw was concerned that economics should be used to solve social, economic and public policy problems.

After returning from Cambridge to accept the chair of economics at Auckland in in 1928, and like Hight and Condliffe before him, he encouraged his students to examine current New Zealand issues and their wider social implications. He also remained active in the WEA, organising and directing several of the first WEA summer schools.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Horace Belshaw wrote extensively on the economic position of New Zealand farmers, their increasing indebtedness and possible reforms to the system of land tenure and credit, including the need for a central bank. In 1936 he directed a research project that culminated in what Frank Holmes has described as the encyclopedic publication Agricultural Organisation in New Zealand.

The depression hit New Zealand hard. In 1932 Horace Belshaw, along with professors Copeland, Hight and Albert Tocker, was appointed by the government to an economic committee to advise on measures to deal with the depression. Then in 1934 he accepted a position as economic adviser to the the mister of finance, Gordon Coates. This proved short lived, with the Labour Party winning the 1935 election.

In the late 1930s he became actively involved in moves for Maori improvement. He addition to discussing measures that would allow Maori to be self-supporting on their own lands, he argued for a generous approach to education, health and housing assistance for those forced to move to the cities. In 1939 he organised and chaired a successful conference of young Maori leaders.

In 1944 Horace followed in John Condliffe's footsteps to become research secretary to the Institute of Pacific Relations in New York and then in 1946 to California as professor of agricultural economics at the Davis campus of the University of California. His growing interest in rural welfare and agrarian reform in developing countries led to his appointment in 1948 as director of the Agriculture Division of the Rural Welfare Branch of the FAO.

When the headquarters of the shifted to Rome in 1951, he returned to New Zealand as professor of economics at Victoria University College, Wellington, maintaining his interest in Pacific and development issues.

Now here I want to pause in what might otherwise become a boring chronology to draw out a few threads that I found interesting, in so doing bringing this excessively long post to a conclusion.

The first is the interest in and involvement with the Maori and, more broadly, the Pacific among many New Zealand academics. This appears much stronger and more focused than the Australian equivalent. The second is the focus on agricultural and development economics and the role of applied economics in meeting community needs. The third is the way in which ideas and intellectual interests carried across space and time.

A few closing examples to illustrate these threads.

In Horace Belshaw's case, the interests created by his own background combined with the influence of Hight and Condliffe created a thread that ran through the family.

His brother in law, Vic Fisher who met his wife to be through the WEA, became curator of anthropology at the Auckland museum. One son, Cyril, became a world famous anthropologist specialising in the Pacific. A second son, Michael, also became an anthropologist, although he is probably best known in the US because of his work with wolves.

My father carried the interest in adult extension and in economic development through to his work.

There is, for example, a direct connection between the story that began in Canterbury all those years ago and the later establishment of agricultural economics as a major discipline at the University of New England. There is also a direct connection between the extension work and the community involvement that marked the early days of the New England College and the extension work and WEA model developed in Christchurch.

One could even argue that this blog itself is a direct lineal descendent of those early days!

Introductory post in series. Previous post.


Belshaw, James. "Decentralisation, Development and Decent Government: the Life and Times of David Henry Drummond, 1890-1941", PhD thesis, University of New England 1983. Material on the history of education in Australia is drawn from here.

Christchurch City Libraries, Christchurch 1906-1907

Fleming, Grant. 'Condliffe, John Bell 1891 - 1981'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007 URL:

National Library of Australia, Guide to the Papers of Sir Douglas Copland, provided biographical material on Sir Douglas Copeland.

Holmes, Frank. 'Belshaw, Horace 1898 - 1962'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007 URL:

Phillips, N. C. 'Hight, James 1870 - 1958'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007URL:

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Neil Whitfield's Friday Poem - Kenneth Slessor's Five Bells

I little while back Neil Whitfield and I were having a discussion about the "decline"/decline - the inverted commas are Neil's, the absence of them mine - in Australian literature. For those who are interested, you can find an entry point here.

One great outcome from my perspective was that Neil started a Friday Australian poem series. In response, I started writing a companion piece.

Last Friday, Neil took Kenneth Slessor's Five Bells. This is one of Australia's most famous poems. Do read it out loud.

Now this was actually a slightly difficult poem from my perspective. I first came across it at school and found it difficult. So it was many years since I had actually read it.

What to say that might be helpful?

To answer this, I started digging into the people, and especially the writers, who surrounded Kenneth Slessor, looking at the links and ideas.

I hope to write this up properly. In the meantime, a question.

One of the things that I am interested in is the differences in thought across Australia. Australia has never been a single uniform country.

In this context, why did so many Melbourne writers come (or seem to come) to Sydney in the period before the second world war? What was there about Melbourne life and society that caused this apparent shift?