Culture wars and corporatism: The cultural mission in Australian non-fiction book publishing, 1958–2018

Abstract

In this article I investigate four phases in Australian non-fiction publishing between the late 1950s and early 2000s, focused on works of current affairs, politics and popular history. Many such books, I argue, were published as part of a ‘cultural mission’ in Australian non-fiction book publishing, where an imperative for reform motivated many publishers to publish books they believed to be of greater than commercial importance. The paper first defines ‘cultural mission’ publishing. I then argue that such publishing has played a crucial role in Australian culture wars and struggles over national identity since the late 1950s and that these struggles have played out in four overlapping phases that reflect shifts in national debate and the commercial imperatives of book publishing. These consist of, first, a ‘renaissance’ phase from the late 1950s until roughly the late 1960s; second, an ‘insurrectionist’ phase from the late 1960s until the mid-1980s; third, a ‘reaction’ phase from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, and fourth a ‘corporatist’ phase that gathered pace in the late 1990s.

National cultural histories are written in non-fiction books as much as in fiction. In works on current affairs, politics and popular history ideas are floated, criticisms made, old programs denounced and new ones declared. Such books not only report on the nation. They also work to construct new understandings of the nation as part of a struggle over national meaning and identity. Books such as Donald Horne’s The Lucky Country (1964), Anne Summers’s Damned Whores and God’s Police (1975), Henry Reynolds’s The Other Side of the Frontier (1981), Paul Kelly’s End of Certainty (1992) and Stan Grant’s Talking to My Country (2017) have changed the way Australian national affairs are discussed.

In this paper, I sketch a framework for thinking about the major phases in Australian non-fiction publishing between the late 1950s and early 2000s, focusing on works of current affairs, politics and popular history. My argument is twofold. First…

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Published 28 April 2020 in Volume 35, No. 1.. Subjects: Australian literary history, Book history, Literary & cultural exchanges, Corporatism, Non-Fiction, Culture wars.

Cite as: Davis, Mark. ‘Culture wars and corporatism: The cultural mission in Australian non-fiction book publishing, 1958–2018.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 35, no. 1, 2020, doi: 10.20314/als.dc695e21d5.