This article traces the history of the professions against their emergence in the Australian outback town of Broken Hill, where the structures of late nineteenth-century capitalism and class conflict are particularly obvious. It demonstrates the ways that capitalism fueled the professions: it needed and helped produce them, ensuring the interests of the professionals were aligned, structurally at least, with capital. But the professionals were drawn demographically from an older, British middle class. Practitioners brought a particular morality to their work, derived from religious persuasion (especially Evangelicalism) and established social norms. Such moral attributes as thrift, truthfulness, efficiency, and civic responsibility imbued the professional skills that were valued as each of the professions evolved, becoming embedded in hierarchies that organized each profession. Hierarchical systems were structured according to merit, which increasingly made it seem, to the professionals, that class was earned. This was key to the political compact that the professions implicitly made with society in ameliorating, with their moral character, some of the worst effects of capital, at this stage of industrialization. The professionals thus embodied and enabled the type of “progress” and “civilization” that were central justifications for the settler colonial project, which relied on a pairing of the economic with the moral in the colonial imagination.
Class, Professional Work, and the History of Capitalism in Broken Hill, c. 1880–1910
HANNAH FORSYTH is senior lecturer in history at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney and author of A History of the Modern Australian University. She currently holds an Australian Research Council three-year Discovery Early Career Researcher Award for her project “Are We All Middle Class Now? A History of Professions in Australia.”
Hannah Forsyth; Class, Professional Work, and the History of Capitalism in Broken Hill, c. 1880–1910. Labor 1 May 2018; 15 (2): 21–47. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15476715-4353680
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