Academic political studies in Australia is a robust and diverse field reflecting a post-war history of strong institutional growth in Australian universities and equally strong intellectual development among scholars who now follow many different avenues of political enquiry using a variety of approaches and methods.
The founders of APSA recognized very early on in the discipline’s development in Australia that a professional association was essential to nurture its intellectual growth and to facilitate networking. Accordingly, a meeting of scholars in the field, following a seminar at the ANU in 1951 to mark fifty years of federation, took the decision to form an Australian Political Studies Association.
Eminent political scientists such as Leicester Webb, Finn Crisp and MacMahon Ball and constitutional lawyer, Geoff Sawer, participated in the 1951 meeting. The central figure in APSA’s establishment, however, was Henry Mayer whose APSA News, first issued in 1956, provided a means of communicating intellectual ideas and creating a sense of collegiality among a small cohort of political studies scholars spread around Australia. The first issue of APSA News listed a total of 32 people working in the field in Australian universities.
The inaugural APSA conference was held in August 1957 and was thereafter convened annually. It formalized and facilitated what had previously been rather ad hoc connections and interactions of scholars from around the continent. In 1965 the Association’s name was changed to the Australasian Political Studies Association in recognition of the increasing number of New Zealand colleagues participating in the Association’s activities. In 2007, however, the name reverted to the Australian Political Studies Association, due to the perception that the New Zealand Political Studies Association (NZPSA) now served as the main professional association for our colleagues across the Tasman and that interest in APSA had therefore declined there. Nonetheless, both APSA and the NZPSA recognize their close connections and mutual interests and facilitate the participation of their members at each other’s conferences through a joint exchange program.
The year 1965 also saw APSA establish a refereed academic journal originally entitled Politics, and which replaced the old APSA News. It was renamed the Australian Journal of Political Science (AJPS) in 1990 and remains the Association’s principal publication. The content of the journal has been largely oriented to Australian issues although the editorship has always encouraged submissions from all fields within the discipline, from political philosophy to international relations, as well as from scholars located outside Australia.
Other APSA publications have included a monograph series (1959-1981) reflecting themes such as political history, social psychology, media, and socialism, among others. In addition, the APSA/Parliamentary Fellow series (1972-1982) and the State of Play series (1970-1983) concentrated on Federal and State politics with a strong emphasis on electoral and parliamentary issues. Other significant publications include the APSA Directory of Women Political Scientists compiled by Marian Sawer (Politics supplement 1981), the 1994/5 APSA directory of Australian Political Scientists, and a bibliography of political science and sub-field theses completed in Australia and New Zealand in 1990. The most recent publication is a substantial work on The Australian Study of Politics edited by R.A.W. Rhodes and containing thirty three chapters on the many and various themes coming under its rubric.
APSA Subcommittee Development
In other important developments, an APSA Women’s Caucus was established in 1979. Initiated by leading feminist scholars Carole Pateman and Marian Sawer, its purpose has been to raise the profile of women in the profession and in politics more generally. This has entailed promoting not just special courses on feminism or “women’s issues”, but incorporating such issues into virtually all courses in politics and international relations so that they became integrated into ‘mainstream’ teaching and learning. The Women’s Caucus continues to conduct regular audits of the status of women in the profession, with recent results showing that women still have a long way to go to attain parity with their male colleagues.
Postgraduate students are APSA’s future, and their participation has been strongly encouraged with a position reserved on the executive for a representative, a special postgraduate workshop held in conjunction with each annual workshop, a reduced membership and conference registration rate, and special postgraduate awards.
The history of annual APSA conferences also demonstrates the growth of the Association. At the first conference in Canberra in 1957, just 5 papers were presented. By the 1960s the average number was around 20. Since then both the number of papers and the number of different streams of specializations has increased significantly, reflecting both growth in the number of scholars in politics and international relations as well as in the diversity of their intellectual interests. The number of individual papers delivered at the Hobart conference 2012 was around 177 organized into specialized streams including Australian Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, International Political Economy, Public Policy and Governance, Environmental Politics, Political Theory and Gender Politics as well as special panels on selected issues such as Politics and Law, National Health Reform, Federal Elections, Power Sharing in Minority Governments and a special session on the Australian Research Council.
Crozier, M. (2001), ‘A Problematic Discipline: The Identity of Australian Political Studies’, Australian Journal of Political Science, 36 (1): 7-26.
Crozier, M. (2002), ‘The Strength of Weak Ties? The Australasian Political Studies Association Archive’, paper presented at the APSA Jubilee Conference, Canberra (unpublished).
Jaensch, D. (2009), ‘A History of the Australasian Political Studies Association’ in R.A.W. Rhodes (ed.), The Australian Study of Politics, Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, pp. 47-65.
The National Office would like to thank Dr Michael Crozier, Professor Rod Rhodes, Professor Marian Sawer and Professor Dean Jaensch for information, advice and comment.