Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: UNSW Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In this forensic examination of how we live, Andrew Leigh, one of our most exciting young thinkers, rips though Australian life and asks whether we are tightly-knit and looking out for each other, or are we all disconnected? Organisational membership records and surveys show that our society is shifting rapidly. These days, chances are you never quite get around to talking to your neighbours, or you’re always too busy to give blood. In Disconnected Andrew Leigh guides us through the reasons that our social fabric has begun to fray, and outlines steps to creating a better civic and personal life.

    eISBN: 978-1-74223-154-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    In 2005, security officers working in Parliament House in Canberra received a memorandum, stating: ‘Officers are requested to treat any visitors to Parliament House with respect and courtesy and not address them as “mate” or use similar colloquialisms’.

    Within hours, the ‘mate memo’ found its way to the journalists who work on the top floor of Parliament House. It didn’t take long before the building erupted in full fury. Politicians from all political parties unleashed a cavalcade of criticism on the suggestion that security officers should not call politicians ‘mate’. Liberal Party Prime Minister John Howard called it ‘absurd and...

  5. 2 Joining, volunteering and giving
    (pp. 10-29)

    In 2006, a Western Australian branch of the Country women’s Association launched a membership drive that was both innovative and poignant.¹ Innovative, because the body had decided to rebrand itself ‘Chicks with Attitude’. Poignant, because two of the three members shown in the accompanying photograph had grey hair. Formed in the 1930s, the organisation had played a pivotal role in the Margaret River area, even purchasing its own building in 1954. Over the next half-century, it had steadily waned. At the time of launching the membership drive, it had just four members.

    Founded in 1922 by New South Wales woman...

  6. 3 Religion
    (pp. 30-49)

    Australia has had an erratic relationship with organised religion. In the minds of many in the northern hemisphere, ours was the land that God forgot.¹ While Australia’s original Indigenous inhabitants regarded themselves as spiritually joined to the land, many convicts felt otherwise. For them, the punishment of transportation to Australia was only one step above a death sentence. Some clung to their religious beliefs as their only tie to their British homeland. Others felt that god had forsaken them, and repaid the favour.

    These dissonant views were neatly captured by Mark Twain in 1897, who argued that the analogy between...

  7. 4 Politics
    (pp. 50-71)

    In 2005, former Labor leader Mark Latham told a gathering of students at Melbourne University:

    In gatherings such as this I’m sure there are some young idealistic people interested in running for parliament. I have to say to you as frankly and sincerely as I can, don’t do it. The system is fundamentally sick and broken, and there are other more productive and satisfying ways you can contribute to society.¹

    After losing the Labor leadership, Latham’s angry words against the political system and his former colleagues received substantial airplay. Yet the only thing that is unusual about Latham’s critique of...

  8. 5 The workplace
    (pp. 72-85)

    Like those in other English-speaking countries, typical Australian workers spend about one-third of their waking lives at work. Contrary to the ‘laid back Aussie’ stereotype, Australian employees work an average of 1722 hours each year. This is a couple of hundred hours a year more than the typical worker in Western Europe or Scandinavia (who only spend about one-quarter of their waking lives at work).¹

    Given that we work so hard, it is not surprising that our jobs form a central part of many people’s identity. Probably the most common opening question at a party is the oft-derided: ‘So, what...

  9. 6 Sport, culture and entertainment
    (pp. 86-100)

    Nothing is more integral to the Australian national identity than sport. After visiting in 1922, DH Lawrence observed: ‘Australians play sport as though their lives depended on it’.¹ In the 1930s, historian Manning Clark recalled the frustrations of a visiting economist, who wanted to discuss research with Australian professors, but found they were only interested in talking about Don Bradman.²

    At recent Summer Olympics, Australian athletes have brought home enough gold, silver and bronze to establish a good-sized jewellery store. we typically find ourselves in the top ten on the medal tally, surrounded by countries with considerably more people. Adjusting...

  10. 7 Friends and neighbours
    (pp. 101-116)

    In 2001, two neighbours from Melbourne’s Templestowe faced off over a dispute about barking dogs. As the shouting reached a crescendo, 52-year-old Brian D’Sylva slapped his neighbour, 75-year-old Antonio Giampietro. Indignant, Giampietro picked up a fence paling and waved it in the air. Seconds later, he suffered a heart attack and died shortly afterwards.¹

    Neighbourly conflicts have been around for as long as people have been living next to one another, and it is true that few modern altercations have a tragic ending. Yet it also turns out that a surprisingly large share of neighbourhood disputes now lead to formal...

  11. 8 Trust and honesty
    (pp. 117-128)

    In 2006,Reader’s Digestmagazine carried out a series of experiments in 35 cities around the world.¹ Two reporters – a man and a woman – went to busy locations in the city and performed three experiments. The first was a ‘door test’ – would anyone hold the door for a person with their hands full? The second was a ‘document drop’ – would someone help them retrieve a pile of papers that had ‘accidentally’ fallen on the ground? The third was a ‘service test’ – would a retail worker thank them for their purchase?

    Sydney, the only Australian city chosen for the experiment, came...

  12. 9 Explaining the trends
    (pp. 129-150)

    Having read this far, are you feeling better or worse about your social ties and civic engagement? If you are a joiner, do you feel smug about how unusual you are, or sorry that others are increasingly less engaged? Are you more or less tempted to sign up to a political party, join a union, go to church or participate in Clean Up Australia Day?

    In the previous chapters, I have shown that several measures of social capital are on the wane. Organisational membership is down. We are less likely to attend church. Political parties and unions are bleeding members....

  13. 10 What is to be done?
    (pp. 151-164)

    InAustralia: Biography of a Nation, Phillip Knightley describes the scene on Central Station around midnight, after the fireworks that marked the end of the Sydney Olympics:¹

    Someone began to sing ‘Show Me The Way to Go Home, I’m Tired and I want to Go to Bed’. The whole platform joined in, then people waiting on other platforms for other trains, until the entire railway station was singing.

    For visitors and residents alike, these kinds of vignettes represent the best of Australia’s warmth and larrikin spirit. United by a sense of fun, the place can be irresistible. But over recent...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 165-187)
  15. Further reading
    (pp. 188-189)
  16. Index
    (pp. 190-200)