Researching Ourselves and Changing Society: Social Surveys in Twentieth-Century Australia

In the twentieth century a series of social surveys—distinguished by their first-person interviews and evidence-based recommendations—offered Australians a new form of knowledge about themselves. Far from being a simple discovery of fact, the act of social inquiry communicated a host of new ideas about the place of research participants within social hierarchy, state activity, and systems of knowledge. Importantly, social research conferred new status on the opinions and experiences of ordinary people, which were presented as scientific evidence that justified policy recommendations and academic publications alike.

Charlotte’s current research aims to discover, when did social research become an expected part of modern life? What processes rearranged social hierarchies and professional practices in its image? And what transformations did social research produce on the ground, among research participants and consumers of social scientific and statistical knowledge? This project’s innovative reading of raw survey data—including interview transcripts, observations, and questionnaires—aims to recover the experience of participation in social research, trace its consequences for national culture and politics, and establish Australia’s role in the global development of social science.