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A Brief History of The Australian Sociological Association

The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) was officially established under the name of the Sociological Association of Australia and New Zealand (SAANZ) in 1963, crystallising what was a long, and perhaps delayed process of the discipline’s development in Australia. The beginnings of this process can be traced to 1914, with sociology emerging within the tutorials of the Workers’ Education Association held at various universities, including the Universities of Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Tasmania. While these early endeavours did not directly lead to the establishment of sociology departments in Australia, they provided a forum within which many sociological ideas were able to flourish, and an important foundation for the many efforts that would enliven the fledging discipline in the years ahead (see Bourke 2005:150). Notable lecturers within this program included George Elton Mayo, Francis Anderson, Clarence Hunter Northcott, John Alexander Gunn and Meredith Atkinson (see Crozier 2005:126; Western 2005:50; Zubrzycki 2005:220).

Australia’s first, albeit short lived, sociology journal Social Horizons emerged in 1942, while in 1950 the Australian National University (ANU) hosted the first sociology department, providing the discipline with a more secure institutional footing. As a combined department of Anthropology and Sociology in the Research School of Pacific Studies in Canberra, and chaired by S.F. Nadel; it was entirely dominated by anthropological concerns, and in keeping with ANU’s charter, offered no undergraduate teaching. The second, and perhaps first ‘true’ sociology department was established in 1959 at the NSW University of Technology (which became the University of New South Wales in the same year). This was chaired by Morven Sydney Brown. It was quickly followed in 1961 by a separate Department of Sociology in the Research School of Social Sciences at the ANU (Collyer 2012a:59).

The earliest professional association was the Australian Institute of Sociology, formed in 1942 by Peter Elkin, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Sydney (Germov and McGee 2005:81). Though it was the home for the journal Social Horizons, the Institute did not remain in existence for long, for in 1958 the Canberra Sociological Society was born at the Canberra University College. This society drew academics from the ANU and the College, as well as public servants from the Commonwealth Government. Early attendees of these meetings included Sol Encel, Paula Brown, Jerzy Zubrzycki and W.D. (Mick) Borrie, and the president was John A. Barnes. Its secretary was Sybille van der Sprenkel. The Society was disbanded when the Sociological Association of Australia and New Zealand (SAANZ) was formed as an outcome of a meeting in 1963, with W.D. (Mick) Borrie appointed as the first president. At the association’s first meeting, Leonard Broom, an American visitor to the ANU, articulated the importance of a professional body to both scholarship and sociology’s public image (Broom 1964:2).

The Association’s first annual meeting of 1963 involved many other scholars who would be instrumental in developing the discipline and ensuring the success of TASA as an association, including Jerzy Zubrzycki and Sol Encel. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology (ANZJS, now the Journal of Sociology was also established at this time (with the first volume produced in 1965), signalling a rising interest in sociology in Australia. The journal and the association, together with a growth in new universities across the country, were part of two decades of radical change as a number of new sociology departments were opened across the country, including at the universities of New England and Tasmania in 1962, Monash in 1964, Queensland in 1965, La Trobe in 1966, and Macquarie in 1969. Against this backdrop, the membership of SAANZ began to expand significantly, and three special sections or interest groups were formed within the association in quick succession: the Medical (1968), Teachers (1970) and Women’s (1976) Sections. In addition, the SAANZ newsletter was renamed the Nexus newsletter with the first volume of Nexus printed in March 1979. These developments provided the basis for further institutional growth and specialisation into the 1980’s.

Information about the early members of SAANZ

During 1986 and 1987, under the impetus of New Zealand Vice President Paul Spoonley, and with the assistance of Merv Hancock, Christine Cheyne and Shelagh Cox, an effort was made to establish an independent association as a mark of the ‘maturation of the NZ sociological enterprise/community’ (Spoonley 2013). In 1988 the New Zealand section of SAANZ was formally separated from its Australian counterpart, forming a new organisation called the Sociological Association of Aotearoa, New Zealand (and keeping the acronym SAANZ) (see Crothers 2005). During 1988 and 1989, the remaining Australian membership moved to establish their own organisational body, formally creating The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) in 1989. Under the foundational president, John Western, a new constitution was established with strong membership support (you can see a copy of this constitution in Nexus, 1989 Volume 1, issue 4).

As a mark of the growing popularity of the discipline, particularly among women, the first few years of TASA coincided with burgeoning enrolments in PhD and master programs across the country. From this point the organisation accelerated its path to professionalism. In 1991 a second journal was established, this time by the health sociologists associated with the Health Section of TASA and the health social sciences group at La Trobe University. Editors Jeanne Daly and Allan Kellehear produced the first volume of the Annual Review of the Health Social Sciences (which would become, in 2001, the Health Sociology Review. In 1996, the TASA website and Members’ Newsletter (referred to as the e-list until 2015) were established by John Germov, and in the same year, the Distinguished Service to Australian Sociolo gy Award created with inaugural recipients, Lois Bryson and John Western.

The new millennium saw a growing movement for the internationalisation of sociology in Australia. TASA was at the forefront of this, organising the International Sociological Association’s XV 2002 World Congress held at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. With over 2000 international scholars attending the event (where they were treated to an Aussie Barbeque on the banks of the river), the occasion was heralded by all as an outstanding success and marked the secure placement of Australian sociology on the world stage.


Web pages on TASA’s History were added to TASAweb in 2013. The TASA History content was assembled by Fran Collyer, with the assistance of Simon Factor and David Factor, all based at the University of Sydney. The TASA History content will need to be continually updated and corrected as new materials come to hand. There are many areas where our historical records are sketchy, and our collective memories a little vague. If readers have information to assist with updating or correcting the TASA History content, please email our TASA Office. We welcome your comments and suggestions. 

Evan Alan and Sharyn
Evan Willis, Alan Petersen and Sharyn Roach Anleu

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