Entrevista escrita: Prof. Michael Gilding – Sociologia Econômica na Austrália

Posted on 11 de Outubro de 2012 por

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Prezados Colegas,

Em julho, tive a oportunidade de dar uma palestra no Swinburne Institute of Technology sobre o tema “Finance and Sustainability in Brazil viewed in the light of Economic Sociology” a convite do professor Michael Gilding. Em conversa, percebemos que no Brasil sabemos pouco sobre a sociologia econômica australiana e vice e versa.

Michael Gilding tem atuado com sociologia econômica na Austrália e ajudou a criar a linha de pesquisa de Sociologia Econômica Australiana (Economic Sociology Australia) na Associação de Sociologia Australiana (The Australian Sociological Association). Ele atua como Professor de Sociologia no Swinburne Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology, em Melbourne, Australia, e foi o presidente anterior da Associação Australiana de Sociologia.

Em Junho, entrevistamos a pesquisadora Ângela, membro de nossa rede através de perguntas escritas enviadas para seu e-mail as quais ela respondeu de forma muito interessante. Fiz o mesmo com Michael Gilding: convidei-o para uma written interview e ele aceitou!  Espero que com essa entrevista possamos começar a trilhar um caminho para uma troca de conhecimento da realidade australiana e brasileira pela perspectiva da sociologia econômica.

Segue a entrevista (em inglês):

Marina: How did you start working with Economic Sociology?

Michael: I was originally a sociologist of the family. My interest in the family arose because of the great wave of change affecting family relationships during the 1970s and 1980s – divorce, informal cohabitation, births outside of marriage, women’s workforce participation, gay relationships, and so on.

By the early 1990s this wave of change had in many ways run its course, and I was keen to extend my portfolio. At the time Australia was undergoing major economic reform. In retrospect, we frame this reform in terms of ‘neoliberalism’. At the time, it was most commonly described in Australia as ‘economic rationalism’ – a term coined by the Australian sociologist Michael Pusey.

Alongside the rise of economic rationalism, economists were speaking with growing authority about areas of life that were once the province of sociologists. This trend was led in the USA by Gary Becker, an economist at the University of Chicago who applied what he called the ‘economic approach’ to the study of crime, minorities and the family. Australian economists followed in his wake, progressively ‘crowding out’ sociological perspectives in public policy and the mass media.

So my growing interest in Economic Sociology was in many ways reactive. I was responding to the economic changes in Australian society, the growing dominance of economists in public discourse, and the growing application of their approach to social phenomena.

Since then, I have done research on wealth elites, national systems of innovation, family business succession planning, the creation of a new market in paternity testing, inheritance and taxation, and business collective action on a ‘super profits tax’ for mining.

Marina: How would you describe the presence of Economic Sociology studies in Australia and who would you say are the major outside influences?

 Michael:There is a long tradition of both class analysis and political economy in Australia. Class analysis takes its bearings from Sociology; political economy takes its bearings from Politics. Marxism is a major influence in both traditions.

The high watermark of both class analysis and political economy in Australia was the 1970s and early 1980s. By the late 1980s neoliberalism was transforming the public debate, and poststructuralism was transforming sociology. In their wake, both class analysis and political economy lost a lot of ground.

Economic Sociology in Australia draws on both traditions. It draws especially on the work of Raewyn Connell, Michael Pusey and Frank Stilwell. Market Society: History, Theory and Practice (Cambridge University Press, 2012) – a recently published book by Ben Spies-Butcher, Joy Paten and Damien Cahill – neatly exemplifies the combination of traditions.

Internationally, Economic Sociology in Australia draws mostly on European and North American influences. Pierre Bourdieu is probably the most influential of the Europeans; Mark Granovetter is perhaps the most influential of the Americans. At a more personal level, my main outside influence in the past few years has been Jens Beckert from the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Society in Germany. His work has heavily influenced my research on both inheritance and new markets.

Marina: Would you tell us a little bit about your work on mining elites (initial motivations and latest developments)?

Michael:In the past ten years there has been a massive mining boom in Australia. The upside is that it has insulated Australia from the effects of the Global Financial Crisis. The downside is that it has damaged the rest of the economy (through the so-called ‘Dutch disease’), the social fabric (for example, through fly-in fly-out workers), the political system and the environment.

In 2010 there occurred a spectacular demonstration of the new-found political power of the mining industry, when the left-of-center Labor Government announced a Resources Super Profits Tax to recoup the benefits of the boom for the community. The mining industry established a $100 million war chest, and embarked upon a sustained campaign to ‘axe the tax’. As a result, the Government was deeply destabilized, the Prime Minister was voted from office by his own party, and the proposed tax was replaced by another which was much less onerous.

My initial motivation for research on mining elites sprung from this event. I was concerned that a well-resourced and orchestrated campaign by big business could prevail over an elected government.

In the course of my research, I have become more aware of the complex structure of the mining industry – which consists of giant multinationals (the ‘seniors’), small speculative companies (the ‘juniors’), and an intermediate category (the ‘mid tiers’). More than this, there are two distinct ‘command posts’ (to use the expression of C. Wright Mills) within the industry: that is, giant multinational corporations with immense productive capacity spread across multiple jurisdictions, and local mining magnates with immense personal wealth grounded in local deposits.

These ‘command posts’ combined in the war against the proposed Resources Super Profits Tax, but they have since parted company over the tax which has replaced it. Round One went to the multinationals, but the magnates are actually much more visible and better known in Australian public life – partly through their growing ownership in other strategic sectors such as the media, and partly through their growing interventions into the political process.

The mining boom has only just begun, so the reconfiguration of political and economic power in Australia still has a long way to run.

Marina: Have you had any previous contact with Brazilian Economic Sociology? Would you be interested in knowing more about it?

Michael: I’m embarrassed to say that I know almost nothing about Brazilian Sociology, let alone Brazilian Economic Sociology. Then again, I suspect that most Brazilian sociologists do not know too much about Australian sociology either. The Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell has written extensively about the hegemony of ‘Northern theory’ in the social sciences – notably in her book Southern Theory (Allen & Unwin, 2007). Connell argues that Northern theory mostly serves as a poor framework for understanding society in the rest of the world. This is because it is overwhelmingly guided by concerns and problems faced in the USA and Europe. Following this logic, it would be fruitful for Australian and Brazilian Sociology to engage more with each other, rather than indirectly through the prism of European and North American theory.

At any rate, I’m curious about Brazilian Economic Sociology. Not least, this is because the Australian and Brazilian economies are both resource rich. The biggest mining company in the word (BHP Billiton) is based in Australia; the second biggest (Vale) is based in Brazil. I assume that many of the issues which have arisen in Australia as a result of the mining boom – economic, political and social – are also relevant to Brazil. I suspect that there would be a rich harvest in examining the similarities and differences between Australia and Brazil.

Marina: Would you like to add something?

Michael:It was a pleasure to welcome Professora Marina de Souza Sartore to the Swinburne Institute for Social Research in July of this year, where she presented her paper ‘Finance and Sustainability in Brazil viewed in the light of Economic Sociology’. The paper attracted significant interest, and I hope it will be the first of many fruitful exchanges between Australian and Brazilian Economic Sociology.

Agradeço ao professor Michael Gilding por ceder esta entrevista.

Caso algum colega venha estudando a elite de mineração no Brasil, sugerimos que entre em contato com Gilding pois como ele mesmo disse, a troca de conhecimento entre Brasil e Austrália pode ser muito profícua.

No âmbito da sociologia econômica, Michael possui dois artigos sobre o surgimento desta área na Austrália os quais recomendo a leitura:

Gilding, M. 2005, ‘The new economic sociology and its relevance to Australia ‘, Journal of Sociology. 41(3): 309-25.

Gilding, M. and Marjoribanks, T. 2007, ‘Economy and Society: The enduring residualism of Australian sociology’, Journal of Sociology, 43 (4): 331-48.

Marina Sartore. (Editora)

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