11am, 17th May 2023
Waurn Ponds: IC2.108
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Virtue Capitalists: the professional class and the rise of new class conflict c.1870-2008
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, members of an established, English-speaking middle class built a new category of work for themselves. This paper argues that the rise of the professions made middle class morality into economic matter. It was an investment in settler colonisation, for which they expected social and economic profit, accruing to themselves as well as society. By the mid-twentieth century, this ‘virtue capitalism’ governed the world. In the 1970s, however, it was subject to the same disruptions as the rest of the economy. This, combined with decolonisation and civil rights activism, meant the professional class experienced a moral, as well as economic, crisis, encouraging them to reject their old virtues and collaborate with a strengthening group of managers – long their allies, linking ‘knowing’ to ‘doing’ – to codify the ethics they still needed to do their job. But in the 1980s, this managerial class had interests that diverged from the professional class, bringing a new form of class conflict into 21st century capitalism.
Associate Professor Hannah Forsyth is a historian of work, education and capitalism at ACU where she has taught global history, historiography, history of capitalism, politics and Australian Indigenous History. She was an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Fellow 2017-2019. She is the author of A History of the Modern Australian University and is currently working towards a new book Virtue Capitalists: the rise and fall of the professional class in the Anglo world c.1870-2008 contracted to Cambridge University Press.