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From Cold War to Hot Planet: Cultural and Political Transformation From an Australian Perspective

The following account is a summary of that event including some reflections of the significance of the symposium for socially critical politics and activism globally.

On November 15th (2013) in Melbourne, Australia, Arena publications and the Australian Centre/University of Melbourne conducted a symposium titled;


The following account is a summary of that event including some reflections of the significance of the symposium for socially critical politics and activism globally.

Pre event publicity contained the following statement that provides a useful summary of the scope of presentations;

With specially invited participants and speakers, the symposium will reflect on Arena’s history and the Australian (and world) context that has shaped its work. Each decade since the first Arena was published has had a distinct flavor, with the core issues of the time preoccupying arena editors and writers. ‘From Cold War to Hot Planet’ reflects the shifting times: from the Cold War and emerging New Left of the 60s to the social movements … of the 70s, the transformation of the university and ferment around theory and postmodernism in the 80s, to globalization and neoliberalism in the 90s and the New World Order and environmental crisis today.

In tracking these large scale changes 20 speakers combined to dramatize what Arena editors understand to be a long term socio/cultural transformation. In so doing the speakers not only looked back across the past decades but framed a warrant for future political activity. The scope of such a warrant is clearly detected in the presentations of the two keynote presenters and by Geoff Sharp the General Editor of Arena Publications.

Humphrey McQueen is a widely published historian and cultural critic who has written on many subject including politics, the media and the arts. McQueen, the first keynote speaker, argued that worldwide during the post WWII years of the 1950s and 60s a ‘new form in the expansion of capital’ was occurring. Importantly these changes were couched in the language of the ongoing industrial revolution that amounted to trading in the language and ideas of capitalist propaganda. During this time, beginning in the early, 1960s Arena editors began describing how these changes were being driven by a new strata of ‘intellectually trained’ tertiary educated workers who were developing new techniques in mechanization, automation and managerial practices leading to re-skilling and de-skilling workers. These themes were developed by the second keynote speaker, Raewyn Connell, a professor of sociology at the up by University of Sydney. Connell argued that the shifts in production and culture that were occurring during the 1950s and 1960s required a ‘rethinking of the central project of the Left of that period. Such a project was necessary in order to begin to build an alternative analytic and practical politics. Importantly this also called for new forms of activism by the critical intelligentsia.

Now, in late 2013, these themes about global transformation, capitalist propaganda and the responsibilities of socially critical intellectuals for creating an alternative ‘truth’ are increasingly important. Globally, issues including large scale conflicts the destruction of many forms of work resulting in massive populations of displaced and marginalized people and the increasing problems of climate change are relevant examples. On such matters it is appropriate to conclude with some of the thoughts expressed by Arena’s General Editor, Geoff Sharp. He argued that 50 years ago there was a need for an opening out of critical analysis in order to encourage concerned observers to stand outside the standard frameworks of thought and belief and to generate greater awareness about self formation and responsibilities for others. He noted that as we move deeper into a time of epochal change what is at stake is a new truth about the future of the global environment and of human life more generally.

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