Maddison, Sarah

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Maddison, Sarah


Education: University of Technology, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, B.A., 1998; University of Sydney, Ph.D., 2004.


Office—School of Politics and International Relations, Morven Brown Bldg., University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia. E-mail—[email protected].


New South Wales Department of Juvenile Justice, Sydney, New South Wales Australia, juvenile justice officer, 1990-94; National Women's Media Center, Sydney, policy advocate, 1997-98; New South Wales Department for Women, Sydney, research and policy officer, 1999-2003; University of Sydney, casual tutor and casual lecturer, 1999-2000, lecturer level A, 2003; University of New South Wales, Sydney, lecturer, 2004—.


Jo Wilton Prize in Women's Studies, University of Technology, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1998, university medal, 1999; Australian postgraduate award, University of Sydney, 2000-2003.


(With Sean Scalmer) Activist Wisdom: Practical Knowledge and Creative Tension in Social Movements, University of New South Wales Press (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2006.

(Editor, with Clive Hamilton) Silencing Dissent: How the Australian Government Is Controlling Public Opinion and Stifling Debate, Allen & Unwin (Crows Nest, New South Wales, Australia), 2007.

(With Emma Partridge) How Well Does Australian Democracy Serve Australian Women?, Democratic Audit of Australia (Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia), 2007.


In Activist Wisdom: Practical Knowledge and Creative Tension in Social Movements, Sarah Maddison and Sean Scalmer explore the motivations and influence of the activist community in Australia. By the early 2000s the activist agendas there had expanded beyond labor rights to include such issues as indigenous rights, women's rights, refugee and immigrant rights, environmental protection, and peace and justice. Drawing on interviews with nineteen activists, including Vince Caughley of the International Socialist Party, Mick Dodson and Jackie Huggins of the indigenous rights movement, and Happy Ho and Somali Cerise of the gay and lesbian movement, Maddison and Scalmer examine the tensions that inform activism and discuss the ways in which these tensions affect subsequent organizing. They also refer briefly to various social theorists, including Tom Nairn, Eric Hobsbawm, Alberto Melucci, Sidney Tarrow, Emmanuel Castells, and Sigmund Freud. But as Jenny McAllister pointed out in the Australian Review of Public Affairs, the book is "largely unconcerned with the political aspirations that provoke activism," focusing instead on "the ideological questions underpinning the practice of organizing for activist movements."

The "eclectic sources and perspectives" in the book, added McAllister, "offer new insights to the challenges in bringing people together to generate transformative political change." The critic also enjoyed the book's "playful treatment of the academic literature in this area," noting that this element, combined with the engaging humor of the interviewees, combine in an "entertaining tour through some complex material that's great for the lay reader." Reviewing Activist Wisdom in Arena Magazine, Damian Grenfell observed that one of the book's "most valuable aspects … is that it seeks to capture and reflect on the experience of activists, a practice that is not necessarily as strong a tradition in Australian social movements as one may hope." At the same time, however, the critic pointed out that Maddison and Scalmer "make the mistake of narrowly defining activism solely as attempts at political campaigning. A more useful way of thinking about activism is how you engage across a series of life-fields: from what you buy, eat, wear, to how you speak and your social networks—and for academics, the content and manner of teaching and researching. Activism is something that is not outside of other activities, but is integral to them, academia included."

Maddison and coeditor Clive Hamilton attracted a wide readership with Silencing Dissent: How the Australian Government Is Controlling Public Opinion and Stifling Debate, which Age political editor Michelle Grattan described as "a book with attitude—lots." The collection of essays describes and explains the ways in which the government of John Howard, prime minister of Australia from 1996 to 2007, systematically stifled politicians, media, and activists who disagreed with his Liberal party agenda. In his first week in office he fired six department heads, and instructed remaining administrators to divert all media questions to his press office. The heads of 300 NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] who were questioned in 2004 believed that their funding would be cut off if they provoked the Howard government. The administration was accused of stacking boards and of interfering with their independent operations. Personal attacks also occurred, as when the government allegedly leaked classified information about Andrew Wilkie after he resigned from the Office of National Assessments in 2003 because of Howard's support for the war in Iraq. Indeed, Maddison and Hamilton argue that "the apparently unconnected phenomena of attacks on non-government organisations, the politicisation of the public service, the stacking of statutory authorities, increasing restrictions on academic freedom and control over universities, the gagging or manipulation of some sections of the media, and the politicisation of the military and intelligence services form a pattern that poses a grave threat to the state of democracy in Australia."

Many critics found this thesis convincing. Noting the book's obvious bias, Grattan nevertheless observed that it "makes its argument robustly … [and] even if there is some exaggeration, the case its contributors build is scary." Sydney Morning Herald reviewer David Marr made a similar point, commenting that the book "is grounded on the considered verdicts of professionals in the business of public debate." Though Marr found much of the book informative and well argued, however, the critic added that the essays "don't really ask the deeper questions that might clarify why this particular government has pursued so successfully what Robert Manne calls ‘a partly-instinctive and partly-conscious policy of systematically silencing significant political dissent.’" Green Left Web site writer Pip Hinman also noted some lack of analysis in the book, particularly regarding the fact that the lack of opposition to the Howard government is a central part of the problem. What's more, Hinman objected to the view in Silencing Dissent that the Australian population has "fallen asleep" during the last ten years. "The facts," stated Hinman, "do not bear this out." Australian Review of Political Economy critic Eamon Byrnes, however, reached a different conclusion, commenting that the book's facts "speak for themselves" and that Silencing Dissent "strikes at the heart of an increasingly dire problem within the Australian political landscape."



Maddison, Sarah, and Clive Hamilton, editors, Silencing Dissent: How the Australian Government Is Controlling Public Opinion and Stifling Debate, Allen & Unwin (Crows Nest, New South Wales, Australia), 2007.


Age, February 23, 2007, Michelle Grattan, review of Silencing Dissent.

Arena Magazine, February 1, 2006, Damian Grenfel, review of Activist Wisdom: Practical Knowledge and Creative Tension in Social Movements, p. 54.

Australian Journal of Political Science, September, 2006, David West, review of Activist Wisdom, p. 492; September, 2007, Nathan Hollier, "Australian and New Zealand Politics," p. 525.

Australian Journal of Public Administration, June, 2007, John P. Brien, review of Silencing Dissent, p. 254.

Australian Review of Public Affairs, June 5, 2006, Jenny McAllister, "Coalitions for Change: Building Bridges in Howard's Australia."

Journal of Sociology, June, 2007, Cheryl Lange, review of Activist Wisdom, p. 213.

Overland, winter, 2006, Kalinda Ashton, "Progressivism and Its Enemies"; spring, 2007, Georgina Murray, "Warriors against Democracy."

Sydney Morning Herald, February 10, 2007, David Marr, review of Silencing Dissent.


Australian Review of Political Economy, (March 17, 2008), Eamon Byrnes, review of Silencing Dissent.

Family Policy Roundtable, (March 17, 2008), author profile.

Green Left, (March 17, 2008), Pip Hinman, "Are We Really Asleep?," review of Silencing Dissent.