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Social science

According to its author, Who Cares? offers ‘an up-close, humane and grounded ethnographic account of life on welfare’. Eve Vincent foregrounds the perspectives of people who are subjected to ‘an endlessly reforming welfare system’. Vincent spent substantial time in the field, building relationships with her subjects, and while the history of welfare in Australia is neatly sketched and the social and political theories underpinning the study are worthy of interest, the voices of her subjects – those who live in poverty while being subjected to strict (and sometimes nonsensical) conditions – are the book’s most vital and captivating features.

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Racism in Mind edited by Michael P. Levine and Tamas Pataki

August 2004, no. 263

The anthropologists of some future galactic civilisation, sifting through the remains of human life on earth, will find much to puzzle them, but nothing more so than the propensity of supposedly rational creatures to denigrate, hate or even murder those who are perceived to be different in race. How should we understand racism? Where does it come from, and how can it be eradicated? The editors of this book have assembled an impressive collection of philosophers and psychologists to tackle these questions. Their wide-ranging and often conflicting answers do not make racism less puzzling, but, like all good philosophical investigations, this book has the effect of making the reader puzzle more profoundly.

The editors took a lot of pains with this collection. They ensured that it would be accessible to general readers, as well as scholars. The introduction, by Tamas Pataki, is particularly helpful in providing a framework for the discussion. The editors encouraged contributors to read and comment on each other’s work. The result is a discourse in which participants with different approaches and perspectives cooperate to tackle a matter of serious concern.

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The notion of what it means to be different, and the question of how we know we are different, invites us to consider statistical method and its implications for our society, for only in the context of what is normal can an individual be assessed as different. Mathematically, it would appear that the relationship between an individual and a society composed of individuals is by no means straightforward, a subtlety increasingly lost on those citizens who, armed with degrees in the social sciences, emerge from our tertiary institutions to study, rehabilitate, and edify us.

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We Australians, in common with everyone else on this planet, live in a very scary world. The survival of the human race is at risk with the threat of Russian/American nuclear war, with the threat of pollution, overpopulation, energy depletion and the risks of nucleology. We are at risk because of the problems created by the dependence of the world economy on continuous economic growth in both the capitalist and communist worlds. Associated with the problems created by economic growth are the ones mentioned above, as well as the base materialism and consumerism which Australia’s transformation from a sheep­walk into a quarry brings, together with it large scale, permanent unemployment. Especially for school leavers. These are what might be termed, the materials problems. ... (read more)