Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reunions, new media and comparative social analysis

Just a meander this morning.

Before going on, I should perhaps add a note for the benefit of people who come to this post via search engine and have no background.

Armidale is a relatively small university and education city on Australia's New England Tablelands.  The pattern of its life has been formed by education, by the surrounding pastoral industry and its role as a political centre within the broader New England, that area of Northern New South Wales that has sought self-government over 150 years first as a new colony and then as a new state within the Australian Federation.

Its varying roles make it an unusual place by Australian standards.

Returning to my original intent, I have now posted the first of my two Armidale Express columns on the Armidale Demonstration (City Public) School 150 year celebration -  Belshaw's World - the Dem school: memory of a living entity.

I obviously enjoyed it, as did the others who went back. Thinking about this, I think that one of the reasons is that a number of us had been in email contact before hand. For some, it was fifty years since we last met. That's a long time. In a way, the email contact made it all easier for us by re-establishing links.

I think that there is an important issue here warranting a fuller post at some point, and that is the best way of using the new media including social networking to support re-unions and othe community activities. Just a note to myself at the moment, for I don't think that people properly understand either the power or limitations of the technology now available.

Back in 2003, Don Aitkin went back to Armidale to the fifty year reunion of the Armidale High Leaving Certificate class of 1953. The result was a very good book, What was it all for? The Reshaping of Australia. (Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2005), looking at social change in Australia through the eyes of Don's class. I wrote about this book back in 2009 in:
I found this book invaluable in writing about social change in New England over the second half of the twentieth century, but the book is more than that. It's actually a major national piece of work.

To come from Armidale or to study in Armidale is necessarily to leave the place. Now there is something odd here.

No one would expect a graduate from Oxford or Cambridge or Harvard to automatically stay there, yet in Australia and as evidenced by the recent Grattan report, there is an apparent expectation that the success of an education institution is measured by local graduate retention. By global standards, we Australians are a stay-at-home lot in a way that is close to unique!

Leaving that issue aside, the fact that so many people have to leave Armidale to go elsewhere does make the place an interesting microcosm of broader trends. Now here I was wondering if all the reunions now going on might provide an opportunity to update Don's analysis.

There are only eight years between Don's LC class and the LC classes of 1961 holding their reunions this year. That's not a long time. Further, the 1961 classes still entered into a world of real full employment. However, the processes of social change that culminated in the 1970s were well underway by 1961.

For that reason, it might be interesting to do a simple comparative update because we are essentially speaking about the same control population.

I don't have the time to do a full study, but a partial analysis might be interesting.           

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