Phonics is not a dirty word

By Kate Gurjian, Director, Time to Shine Australia

Phonics is a word that is often misused, misunderstood and abused. Despite what some might argue, it is a method of learning that has much to offer Australian children.

I am often asked why it is so important to teach children phonics, as opposed to learning words through prediction or as a whole word.

Sound is critical in the process of learning to read. Children need to hear, distinguish, isolate, rhyme and articulate sounds and words. Once they are aware of these sounds, they can ready the neural pathways in their brain for learning the connection between letters and sounds. This is the single most critical factor in learning to read.

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When a child can hear a sound, repeat that sound, recognise a sound in a word, and repeat a sound in a rhyme, they are on their way to learning to read. Although over-simplifying the very complex teaching of the alphabetic code, it is a starting point that offers more than what is currently being taught in our early years education.

The approach we are currently taking is a flawed one, and we have to ask ourselves the questions, ‘Why do we feel a three or four-year-old needs to be given flashcards of whole words?’ and ‘Why are we ‘hothousing’ children to read before they can sound?’ If we are really honest with ourselves, and have read the research, we would know the answer to the above questions.

In their first formal year of school, children should be immersed in phonemic awareness (understanding sounds), phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. These five critical components are intertwined. But, they each must be taught explicitly and directly in a systematic order for children to have any chance of success in reading, spelling and writing.

So, why do I pull out one single word, ‘phonics’? I do this because it is the one piece of the puzzle of childhood literacy that is so often under debate, and so poorly understood.

Perhaps the reason for this difference of opinion is due to the fact that some children appear to progress with little support, when in reality more than 20% of children will become at risk in their learning due to ignorance by the ‘system’. Learning to read is not an area that we learn by osmosis. Children need to be taught which sounds correspond with which letters. English is a phonetic language; there are 26 letters, but over 44 sounds! Understanding this complexity will enable all children to be given thorough phonics instruction.

I assess more than 200 children every year in my private practice, and every year I see the same result: children from their first year of school, through to the end of primary, who have not been given an ordered approach to the learning of letter-sound correspondence – that being explicit phonics. Some children are therefore years behind in their reading, spelling and writing. They are ‘instructional casualties’. This is our fault.

English will not be learnt by chance. We must teach the alphabetic code well and directly. We need to recognise that phonics is not a dirty word, but a critical one.

About Kate – An individual approach that is helping students to shine

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In the world of literacy, Kate Gurjian describes herself as a disruptor. It was her unwillingness to sit by and watch children fail, and to challenge the status quo, that motivated her to establish Time to Shine, carving out a niche in the education of children.

Instead of tolerating poor teaching based on lack of empirical evidence and research, and management directives she disagreed with, Kate drew on her extensive experience as an educator to build a new education business.

“I will not stand idly by and wait for a child to fail, nor will I tolerate teaching practices that fly in face of proven science. So I decided not to move the behemoth that is the ‘system’ – instead I chose to do it myself,” she said.

Previously, Kate had worked as a primary teacher, early childhood educator, special needs practitioner, author, head of department and principal. This broad experience provided her with an understanding of what children need in effective literacy and numeracy learning for future success.

Time to Shine offers students, from the age of four to 14, direct and explicit instruction in reading, writing, spelling and mathematics, supporting children for whom learning is difficult. The approach emphasises individual attention, research-proven methods, and only utilises the programs that are based on scientific evidence.

“Knowing precisely where a child is in terms of weakness, matched with their strengths and interests, ensures we accurately develop an individual program tailored specifically to the child. The work I do is grounded in the children and their individuality. Henceforth, Time to Shine’s philosophy stands by what I value most: every child, no matter their background or ability, being given every opportunity to shine.”

Equality is also important to Kate, and she aims to ensure all children have access to high quality education.

“I ultimately advocate for the rights of the child and the education that must be made available to them,” she said.

Why book design matters

The design team at Oxford University Press might argue with the assertion that you can’t judge a book by its cover. A book’s cover can help tell a story, providing clues as to what lies within, drawing the reader’s eye and shaping their experience.

However, there is more to book design than producing an attractive and effective cover. The layout and design within can also make a significant impact on the reader, enhancing the content and reflecting its quality and identity.

In the lead up to the announcement of the 2017 Australian Book Designer Association (ABDA) awards on Friday, the team has provided their thoughts on why design, both internally and externally, is so important.

  • “Book covers convey ideas, give an independent identity and represent a book’s worth before the reader has had the opportunity to read the content page.”
  • “The design supports the content, subtly emphasising things like meaning, tone and feel, and providing visual cues for the reader.”

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  • “Subconsciously, design confirms the narrative and underlying themes of content by applying a context. Content is positioned and framed in such was that it signifies and suggests ideas.”
  • “Excellent design enables content to be read, ordered, navigated and extracted with ease. Through colour, hierarchy, composition and considered font choices, readers are guided in such a way they can focus on retaining knowledge without the frustration of becoming lost during the journey.”

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  • “The internal design of the book needs to be structured in a logical manner with clear, inconspicuous typography. This is especially important for educational books, with their hierarchy of information. The book not only needs to convey its contents to the students, but it needs to keep them engaged as well.”
  • “Book design matters more than you might think – the design supports the content, subtly emphasises things like meaning, tone and feel, can provide visual cues for the reader and something beautiful, textural and tangible to keep and covet.”

Three OUP books have been shortlisted for the ABDA awards: the Australian National Dictionary, Children, Families and Communities and Media and Society.

Find out more about the design of the Australian National Dicitonary, published in 2016, 28 years after the first edition on our blog.

 

 

The pitfalls of following the herd

Behavioural Economics: A Very Short Introduction author Michelle Baddeley talks to ABC Radio National Life Matters program about ‘Why we herd and how it can harm us’.

In the interview, Baddeley discusses the tendency of people to blindly follow the herd, and the pitfalls of this behaviour, which might be at play in overheated housing markets and the extraordinary popularity of certain cafes.

Behavioural Economics: A Very Short Introduction is available from Booktopia.

Behavioural economics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We need to manage the ‘underbelly’ of globalisation

The benefits of globalisation do not come without the need for increased responsibility and cooperation from the international community, according to The Pursuit of Development and Globalization for Development author Ian Goldin.

In conversation with Business Insider’s Paul Colgan,  Professor Goldin said governments needed to ensure that they managed the risks involved with globalisation effectively to mitigate risks, including inequality between those positioned to reap the many rewards of globalisation, and those who were not.

In pursuit of development

“Globalisation accelerates the opportunities as well as the risks,” he said, citing changes to the employment landscape resulting from globalisation.

“Unless we can manage that, I think we’ll see the pushback that we’re seeing, this rising tide against globalisation. That would be a tragedy, because it would not only slow down the prospects of growth and development, but also of dealing with the big problems, like climate change, like pandemics, like cyber attacks. All of these things require more cooperation and more understanding of what other countries are doing and how we’re going to work together, not a withdrawal from this international system,” he said.

Professor Goldin said that changes in employment, resulting from the rise in robotic technology and machine learning, could create a significant divide in opportunity and wealth among those who lived in vibrant urban centres and those in rural areas, such as has occurred in the wheat belt in America or the areas to the north of London in the UK.

Ian Goldin was the founding Director of the Oxford Martin School from September 2006 until September 2016. He is currently Oxford University Professor of Globalisation and Development.

The Pursuit of Development and Globalization for Development are available from Oxford University Press.

What do aid agencies need to do to get serious on changing social norms?

How Change Happens

It is one of the big questions of our time: how should we react to the rising tide of nationalism and populism (not just in the UK and the US, but also in India and the Philippines)? The issue gives rise to the question of how aid agencies should best engage with social norms – the deeply held beliefs of what is natural, normal and acceptable – that underpin a lot of human behaviour, including how people treat each other and how they vote.

It’s quite common to hear progressive types (in which category I include Oxfam, for which I am a strategic advisor for Great Britain) to worry that while they have been busy having conversations on the evidence on this or that intervention/project, or the case for this or that policy change, they have ignored the tide of disillusionment with politics-as-usual that underpins the rise of populism. We need to engage the public in a wider conversation aimed at encouraging progressive norms, or opposing exclusionary ones.

Fair enough, but what strikes me in such conversations is just how much would need to change for that to become reality. What would a ‘guide to shifting norms’ cover? Here are a few thoughts.

Analysis

There doesn’t seem to be much evidence on how to change norms, such as what lies behind the increasing acceptance of the rights of people with disabilities, the age at which we deem childhood to end, or even why dog owners routinely pick up their pooches’ pooh in my local park, something that was unimaginable a generation ago? How do deliberate attempts at change interact with the forces of demographic, technological or cultural change that also help drive norm shifts? This is one area where we really do need more research, both historical and current.

One of the areas of research I have come across is on violence against women, and a fascinating paper that showed that independent feminist movements are one of the strongest explanatory factors behind progress in this area. A Filipina activist memorably described the best way to change laws and policies on gender rights as being like cooking a rice cake – you need simultaneous heat from the top (via the machinery of the UN) and heat from the bottom (from women’s movements).

Up until now, a lot of work on norms has revolved around legislative change, whether through international laws and conventions, or at national level. One way of looking at the current populist backlash is that such a legal approach has overreached – the laws on issues such as racism or hate crimes have become so removed from the actual norms inside people’s heads that they are prompting a backlash, like that against ‘political correctness’. We need to find other, non-legal ways to close the gap.

We also need to involve more people from the disciplines that really ‘get’ norms – those that delve inside people’s hearts and minds, like psychology and anthropology, rather than the current intellectual dependence on economics, law and political science, which seem to have an impoverished understanding of what goes on inside people’s heads.

What those disciplines could help us do is completely rethink our approach to ‘power analysis’. Although we pay lip service to ‘power within’ in terms of people’s sense of individual rights and agency, the kind of power analysis we use to design our projects and campaigns usually reverts straight back to the formal power of money and political influence.

A ‘power within’ analysis would look at the moments in people’s lives when norms are formed or reformed, and the crucibles that forge them. I suspect that would lead us to give priority to three arenas in particular: the family, faith organisations, and early years education As Aristotle said, “Give me a child until the age of seven and I will show you the man”.

Action

How to put this knowledge to good use? Engaging seriously with norms would require different research, different messages, and different partners.

Firstly, it would mean moving beyond the standard approach to trying to persuade the public by amassing a pile of statistics and evidence (memorably satirised by an Australian critic as ‘bad shit; facty, facty’ papers). One Oxfam leader suggested: ‘start with the emotion, then follow up with the evidence’. Guiding or influencing emotion and narrative is a whole skill in itself, and would require its own brand of evidence in terms of testing to identify the narratives that actually succeed in getting through to people. We do that in fundraising, and a bit in campaigns, but we have to become more imaginative on our narratives and more rigorous in our testing of them.

We also need far more engagement with faith organisations, parents (especially mothers) and early years teachers. Our traditional partners (media, civil society organisations and academics) could also play a role, perhaps more in changing norms rather than in their initial formation, but this would definitely entail a big shake-up of our partners. One example from Oxfam’s current work is the Female Food Heroes TV programme in Tanzania, which works to change norms around the roles of women in agriculture. Elsewhere there is evidence of the impact of soap operas on gender norms. More of that please!

Beyond the individual, societal norm shifts are often linked to critical junctures such as the impact of war on women’s rights. Getting serious about norms would mean developing the ability to sense and respond to such moments as windows of opportunity.

OUP author Duncan Green is in Australia to promote How Change Happens

Government seeks input into nationwide phonics assessment and numeracy check

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The Federal Government has called for feedback to inform the development of a new nationwide phonics assessment and numeracy check.

A questionnaire on the Department for Education and Training  website is the next step in the staged implementation of the checks, announced by Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham in late January.

The assessments of Year 1 students’ literacy and numeracy skills aim to identify students who are behind so they can be targeted with interventions to prevent an achievement gap from widening. It follows three significant national and international reports in 2016 that revealed Australia’s education performance had plateaued or declined.

The questionnaire will inform an Expert Advisory Panel, consisting of principals, teachers, speech specialists, academics and researchers, which will report to the Education Council in mid-2017.

It asks respondents their opinions on the potential benefits of the checks, ways of maximising their effectiveness, the challenges associated with their introduction and the use of the information gained through the checks in the classroom.

The questionnaire is open until 17 March, 2017, and any persons interested have been asked to respond.

Beware the Drop Bear

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It is large and predatory, ambushing its prey from above. It targets tourists and finds Vegemite repellent. It is the mythical Australian drop bear.

‘Drop bear’ was one of 300 terms added to Oxford Dictionaries’ free online dictionary of current English.

OxfordDictionaries.com described the drop bear as, “A mythical marsupial resembling a koala, said to live in trees and attack people by dropping on to their heads from above.”

The entry includes the example of usage, “someone told him that he needed to put Vegemite behind his ears to ward off the drop bears”.

So, where did the myth of this fierce marsupial, supposedly repelled by the scent of Vegemite, come from?

According to the Australian National Dictionary Centre, in 1980 Nancy Keesing provided the first recorded mention of the drop bear. She suggested the term emerged in the Second World War period for the benefit of gullible American servicemen.

As the new entry in OxfordDictionaries.com reveals, the legend is showing no signs of fading.

Earlier this year, Tamworth Regional Council approved the idea of giving a previously unnamed road the name ‘Drop Bear Lane’, while some of Australia’s most respected cultural and environmental organisations and companies have warned tourists of the dangers of walking through forested areas where the drop bear lives.

An official page of the Australian Museum describes the drop bear, or Thylarctos plummetus as:  “a large, arboreal, predatory marsupial related to the Koala.”

“Bush walkers have been known to be ‘dropped on’ by drop bears, resulting in injury including mainly lacerations and occasionally bites.”

The South Australian Government Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources warned travellers of the risks of the drop bear, while a National Geographic study revealed international tourists were most likely to be targeted by the ferocious marsupial.

For the full record of drop bear in Australian English, see the Second Edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

Visit OxfordDictionaries.com to find out about other words in its latest update, including ‘yas’, ‘haterade’, ‘fitspo’ and ‘craptacular’.

Yarning Strong author Ali Cobby Eckermann wins one of the world’s richest literature awards

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Oxford University Press Australia & New Zealand congratulates Yarning Strong: His Father’s Eyes author, Ali Cobby Eckermann, on winning one of the world’s richest literature prizes for her poetry.

The celebrated Indigenous poet and writer was one of eight recipients of the 2017 Windham-Campbell prize, who each received $215,000. The prizes were awarded to writers of poetry, fiction, nonfiction and drama.

Eckermann wrote His Father’s Eyes, part of the OUP ANZ and Laguna Bay Publishing Yarning Strong series. The Indigenous education series is aimed at young Australians aged between 10 and 14 and their teachers, introducing readers to the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. A committee of Indigenous educators guided the development and content of the series, which have all been written by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander authors.

His Father’s Eyes touches on the themes of absence of family, life changes, loss and fear of loss, and the discovery of strength through family.

Eckermann’s writing career began in 2009 with her first collection of poetry, Little Bit Long Time. Since then, she has published three collections of poetry, verse novels Ruby Moonlight and His Father’s Eyes and memoir Too Afraid to Cry, drawing on her experience as a member of the Stolen Generation. She is also the founder of the Aboriginal Writers’ Retreat.

The Windham-Campbell prize, established in 2013, aims to call attention to literary achievement and provide writers with the opportunity to focus on their work, independent of financial concerns.

English language writers from anywhere in the world are eligible, with recipients nominated confidentially by leaders in the literary field, and judged anonymously.

His Father’s Eyes is available from Oxford University Press.

 

 

 

Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year

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After much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

Why was this chosen?

The concept of post-truth has been in existence for the past decade, but Oxford Dictionaries has seen a spike in frequency this year in the context of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States. It has also become associated with a particular noun, in the phrase post-truth politics. 

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Post-truth has gone from being a peripheral term to being a mainstay in political commentary, now often being used by major publications without the need for clarification or definition in their headlines.

The term has moved from being relatively new to being widely understood in the course of a year – demonstrating its impact on the national and international consciousness. The concept of post-truth has been simmering for the past decade, but Oxford shows the word spiking in frequency this year in the context of the Brexit referendum in the UK and the presidential election in the US, and becoming associated overwhelmingly with a particular noun, in the phrase post-truth politics.

A brief history of post-truth

The compound word post-truth exemplifies an expansion in the meaning of the prefix post- that has become increasingly prominent in recent years. Rather than simply referring to the time after a specified situation or event – as in post-war or post-match – the prefix  in post-truthhas a meaning more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant’. This nuance seems to have originated in the mid-20th century, in formations such as post-national (1945) and post-racial (1971).

Post-truth seems to have been first used in this meaning in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation magazine. Reflecting on the Iran-Contra scandal and the Persian Gulf War, Tesich lamented that ‘we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world’. There is evidence of the phrase ‘post-truth’ being used before Tesich’s article, but apparently with the transparent meaning ‘after the truth was known’, and not with the new implication that truth itself has become irrelevant.

A book, The Post-truth Era, by Ralph Keyes appeared in 2004, and in 2005 American comedian Stephen Colbert popularized an informal word relating to the same concept: truthiness, defined by Oxford Dictionaries as ‘the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true’. Post-truth extends that notion from an isolated quality of particular assertions to a general characteristic of our age.

The shortlist

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Here are the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year shortlist choices, and definitions:

adulting, n. [mass noun] informal the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.

alt-right, n. (in the US) an ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterized by a rejection of mainstream politics and by the use of online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content.

Brexiteer, n. British informal a person who is in favour of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the European Union.

chatbot, n. a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet.

coulrophobia, n. [mass noun] rare extreme or irrational fear of clowns.

glass cliff,  n. used with reference to a situation in which a woman or member of a minority group ascends to a leadership position in challenging circumstances where the risk of failure is high.

hygge, n. [mass noun] a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture):

Latinx, n. (plural Latinxs or same) and adj. a person of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina); relating to people of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina).

woke, adj. (woker, wokest) US informal alert to injustice in society, especially racism.

This article was originally shared on OxfordDictionaries.com on Wednesday 16th November.

[Image source: oxforddictionaries.com]

Australian Foreign Policy and the New International Disorder

9780195596243Australia’s foreign policy elites could be forgiven for thinking that they live in especially challenging times. The current international order appears to throw up a number of problems that not only defy easy resolution but also threaten to overturn many of the ideas and principles that have underpinned policy-making in Australia for many decades. To be sure, the challenges of the past – especially the two World Wars and the Cold War’s proxy conflicts in Asia – should not be belittled; indeed, they seem to dwarf many of thechallenges confronting contemporary policy-makers. Yet what appears to have been lost, to quote British sociologist Anthony Giddens (1991), is Australian foreign policy–makers’ sense of ‘ontological security’: the knowledge of what to expect in a rapidly changing world where established structures and institutions seem to be crumbling. This anxiety is a significant phenomenon of our time, whether or not the developments we now observe in international politics prove to be epochal.

Perhaps the most obvious transformation worrying Australian foreign policy–makers is the apparent weakening of the US-centred security order in East Asia and the re-emergence of China as a major power in the region. As Nick Bisley’s chapter argues, in the period 2011–15 we have seen the first expressions of a growing Chinese willingness to challenge the status quo, most notably in the East and South China Seas, unsettling Japan, several Southeast Asian states and others in the process. Challenges to the Western- dominated international order have also emerged in Europe, where Russia unilaterally annexed Crimea, taking it from the Ukraine in March 2014, despite strong protests from the European Union (EU) and the United States. Although Australia has cleaved ever closer to its long-standing ally, some commentators have argued that the dissonance between the US alliance and Australia’s close economic relationship with China will grow (White 2015), potentially forcing tougher choices in the future.

Also disconcerting to policy-makers has been the emergence or intensification of a range of transnational, ‘non-traditional’ security problems, including terrorist groups such as Islamic State, climate change, environmental degradation, pandemics and even, for some, irregular migration. These problems are rarely the result of intentional aggression from another state, but are either the undesirable externalities of economic development or are associated with the activities of non-state groups. They are usually not seen to threaten the state’s very survival, but do undermine its real or perceived capacity to protect national populations. Traditional security responses, such as deterrence or alliance- formation, are usually seen as no longer appropriate for these issues, and nor are responses focusing strictly on intergovernmental diplomatic relations. As a result, Australian foreign policy–making has expanded beyond the traditional ‘three Ds’ – diplomacy, defence and development assistance – to include a range of new departments which previously had a more restricted domestic role. The most significant example from the last five years is the fast-evolving and internationalising Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP). Meanwhile, as Michael Wesley’s chapter shows, traditional foreign policy actors in Australia, such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), have had to acquire new ways of implementing and developing policy, as well as establishing new relationships with other agencies inside and outside the Australian bureaucracy, producing new challenges of coordination.

Adding to the broader sense of volatility and uncertainty in Australian foreign policy– making circles in recent years has been the rapid turnover at the top: in the five years since 2010, Australia has had five prime ministers and four foreign ministers. To be sure, there has been considerable continuity in how Australian governments of both the centre-left (the Australian Labor Party) and the centre-right (the Liberal–National Coalition) have approached key foreign policy issues, most notably the US alliance and the treatment of asylum seekers arriving by boat. Even where policy differences between the major parties have been small in practice, however public debate has often been sharply polarised, as Lorraine Elliott explains in regard to climate change. Traditionally, foreign policy–making in Australia was seen as an elite pursuit, dominated by a handful of policy-makers and bureaucrats with limited scrutiny, even by Parliament (Firth 2005). Yet, increasingly the public discourse surrounding foreign policy issues has taken on populist tones, as the issues, and the way they are managed, are seen as having implications for Australians’ everyday lives. This, we argue, reflects the blurring of the distinction between domestic and foreign policies wrought by the growing complexity associated with public policy-making in an interconnected, globalised world. It is, in other words, another manifestation of the same processes that have made foreign policy–making appear more challenging in general.

Specifically, the tighter interplay between the domestic and foreign policy arenas has broadened the range of interests and groups with a stake in the way many foreign policy issues are managed. This has two important and interrelated implications: first, it is clear that attaining coherent, ‘national’ positions on most issues of consequence is becoming more difficult in practice than in the past. Second, from a normative perspective, governments’ claims to be acting in the ‘national interest’ internationally are becoming even more problematic. As Ramesh Thakur’s chapter in this volume outlines, in reality the idea of a distinctive national interest has always reflected contested choices and preferences,

manifesting political and normative differences over what could or should be done. As Andrew Phillips’ chapter reminds us, foreign policy has been part of the construction of particular national identities and social relations within Australia since before Federation. Yet the relationship between foreign policy and identity-construction at home is becoming more contentious, as it is increasingly apparent that acting in the national interest actually advances only some interests within Australian society.

Mindful of these developments, we have decided to break with tradition and make this the first edition of Australia in World Affairs since the series began in 1950 to be organised around key themes and issues in Australia’s international relations and foreign policy, rather than around Australia’s bilateral relations. The most important issues today encompass a set of processes and relations that cannot be simply or adequately captured through an emphasis on the relations between two or more governments. For example, Australia’s bilateral relations with Indonesia were obviously affected by its policy of unilaterally towing boats carrying asylum seekers back into Indonesian waters from late 2013. But it clearly makes more sense to examine this development and its implications in the context of Australia’s broader response to irregular migration, which encompasses domestic debates and policy changes, international legal aspects, and relations with several countries, including Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Nauru; to name but a few. Sara Davies’ chapter takes on this challenge.

Nonetheless, conscious of our duty to produce a journal of record and a reference tool for diverse readerships, we provide a chronology of important events in Australia’s international relations and foreign policy for the period 2011–15 and a list of prime ministers and relevant ministers. We also encourage readers interested in Australia’s relations with particular countries or regions, such as Southeast Asia, to make use of the detailed index.

In this introductory chapter, we trace some of the key elements of the emerging new international disorder that Australian foreign policy–makers are learning to navigate. We then consider how Australian governments have understood and responded to these changes and the normative implications of these policy responses.

A LESS PREDICTABLE WORLD ORDER

Australia now seems to be facing a more uncertain international environment than it has done for decades. Serious transnational threats that are beyond the capacity of Australian policy-makers to alleviate single-handedly seem to be multiplying, while the rise of China appears to challenge the long-standing US-led security order in Asia. Both potentially undermine traditional approaches to foreign policy–making in Australia.

Although the emerging international order has multiple sources, particularly important are the effects of the end of the Cold War and the deepening and intensification of a range of processes subsumed under the rubric of ‘globalisation’ (see Held et al. 1999). The end of the Cold War had been seen by some observers as reflecting the triumph of liberal capitalism as ‘the end of history’ (Fukuyama 1992). As non-capitalist alternatives were weakened and the threat of large-scale war between the superpowers receded, many states, especially the United States, were able to refocus their foreign policies towards opening up markets for ‘their’ corporations in other countries (Smith 2005).Thus, during the 1990s there was a noteworthy, though partial, shift in the priorities of policy-makers around the world, from geopolitics to geoeconomics (Luttwak 1990). Geoeconomics is distinguished from geopolitics in that the latter emphasises power in the context of a territorially demarcated state system, whereas the former emphasises power underpinned by control over trans-border flows and markets (Cowen and Smith 2009). The shift to geoeconomics has also entailed a change in the way security is understood, from a near- exclusive focus on the threat posed by powerful states towards a more comprehensive view of security that includes a range of border-spanning, often non-state, security problems, such as environmental degradation, climate change, organised crime, terrorism, infectious disease and even irregular migration (Cowen and Smith 2009; Hameiri and Jones 2015b).

In short, what we have seen is a partial change both in policy-makers’ perceptions of the international economic and security environments and in the ways in which they seek to deal with these issues. This process of globalisation continues today, despite the apparent decoupling of emerging economies from the traditional centres in the North Atlantic since the onset of global financial crisis. First, the perception of transnational vulnerability to new security problems is now firmly established and not subject to the ebb and flow of interstate economic relations. Second, the winding down of the US Federal Reserve’s program of quantitative easing appears to have affected investment in emerging economies, leading to significant economic downturn, especially in Brazil, which has seen its gross domestic product (GDP) go into negative territory. In China, meanwhile, current economic wobbles and a long-term crisis of over-capacity suggest that the government stimulus program could not forever defy the downward pressures on economic growth wrought by declining demand in the West. Andrew Walter’s chapter outlines some of these issues.

As Cold War strictures dissolved, however, the relationship between what we might describe as ‘structure’ and ‘agency’ in international politics also changed. Traditionally, international relations scholars and policy-makers have understood both structure and agency in world politics as constituted by inter-state relations. Now, however, internal and external transformations associated with globalisation have eroded the neat separation of the world into territorialised ‘power containers’, which the Cold War had reinforced (Giddens 1985; Agnew 1994). As a result, even for the most powerful states, the outputs of foreign policy decisions have become more complex and unpredictable. A clear example is provided by the second Iraq war, widely regarded as one of the most catastrophic failures of US foreign policy of recent times, possibly ever (Stiglitz and Bilmes 2008). Although US and allied forces were far superior militarily to their rivals, the US goal of establishing a liberal democracy in Iraq has proven elusive. This conflict has spilled over into a more generalised regional instability, involving new actors such as the Islamic State, which defies obvious means of resolution.

The United States’ inability to attain key foreign policy objectives, or even to contain the negative consequences of earlier failures, amplifies the challenges and dilemmas facing Australian policy-makers.

navigating-the-new-international-disorder

This extract is taken from Navigating the New International Disorder, the latest volume in the Australia In World Affairs series.

Edited by:

Mark Beeson, Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Western Australia.
Shahar Hameiri, Associate Professor and Associate Director of the Graduate Centre in Governance and International Affairs, School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland.

Australian Institute of International Affairs

The Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) is an independent, non-profit organisation promoting interest in, and understanding of, international affairs in Australia.

It provides a forum for discussion and debate but does not develop or promote its own institutional views. Each year, the AIIA stages more than 200 public and specialist lectures, seminars and other events around Australia. It also sponsors leading research and publications, including the Australian Journal of International Affairs and the Australian Outlook blog. Established in 1924, it is the only nationwide organisation of its kind in Australia and has been recognised as one of the leading think tanks in Southeast Asia.

The AIIA is financed by members’ contributions, a small government subvention and taxdeductible donations from individuals and businesses. For further information, contact (02) 6282 2133 or visit.internationalaffairs.org.au.