2017 Wheelwright Lecture | Manufacturing the Future: Cultures of Production for the Anthropocene

26 October 2017

Abstract

Debates about the future of manufacturing in Australia return to prominence every few years, prompted by the latest downturn in employment or closure of a plant. The overarching narrative of change is one of decline. Since the heyday of protectionism when 30% of the workforce was employed in manufacturing, today only 8% are employed in the sector and union membership has sunk to an all-time low of just over 12%.

In the mid- 1970s and during the 1980s when Ted Wheelwright’s Transnational Corporations Research Project was in full swing the critical debate centred on foreign ownership and the changing face of manufacturing under the impact of a new international division of labour. Today, the prognosis of decline has intensified with recent plant closures in the foreign owned automotive industry and the shedding of 200,000 jobs (or 20 per cent of the manufacturing workforce) between 2008 and 2015. A frightening vision looms of a hollowed out Australian economy with an almost absent manufacturing sector. Yet, there is strong popular support for maintaining and strengthening a manufacturing base in this country and, according to the promos for the 2017 National Manufacturing Summit, there are signs that manufacturing  industry in Australia may be ‘turning a corner’.

Clearly manufacturing is far from dead, but the apparent invisibility of a buoyant manufacturing culture is worrisome. In this lecture I approach the issue of a manufacturing future for Australia by asking: What kinds of manufacturing cultures might be up to the challenges of the Anthropocene?  I present initial findings from qualitative research I am conducting with colleagues at Western Sydney University and the University of Newcastle on a range of innovative manufacturing enterprises. This project is exploring whether there are businesses in Australia that genuinely sustain equitable communities and healthy ecologies while remaining financially viable. The research is framed by the diverse economies research agenda which opens analysis to the diversity of ways of producing and distributing new wealth and seeks to displace the primacy of an abstracted and capitalocentric model of enterprise behaviour.

 

About the speaker

Professor Katherine Gibson is internationally known for her research on rethinking economies as sites of ethical action. She trained as a human geographer with expertise in political economy and, with her collaborator for over 30 years, the late Professor Julie Graham, developed a distinctive approach to economic geography drawing on feminism, post-structuralism and action research. The diverse economies research program they initiated has become a vibrant sub-field of study within the social sciences. In the late 1990s the collective authorial voice of J.K. Gibson-Graham led the critique of capitalocentric thinking that was blocking the emergence of economic possibility. The end of capitalism (as we knew it): a feminist critique of political economy published in 1996, was republished in 2006 with a new Introduction and named a Classic in Human Geography by the leading journal Progress in Human Geography in 2011. Gibson-Graham's work on a post-capitalist economic politics has had a widespread readership among those interested in economic alternatives and has been translated into Chinese, South Korean, Turkish, Spanish and French.

Event details



2017 Wheelwright Lecture | Manufacturing the Future: Cultures of Production for the Anthropocene

Where Eastern Avenue Auditorium, Eastern Avenue, The University of Sydney When

26 October 2017


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