Social psychology (psychology)/Tutorials/Australian zeitgeist

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Social capital, social disengagement, and the Australian Zeitgeist


  1. To introduce three related socio-psychological terms: social capital, social disengagement, and zeitgeist, and to discuss these in relation to current Australian society(ies).
  2. To consider social researcher Hugh Mackay's "Social disengagement: A breeding ground for fundamentalism" speech.
  3. Brainstorm ways to address current social capital issues in Australia.

Key conceptsEdit

This tutorial explores three societal-level, socio-psychological constructs in an Australian context:

Social capitalEdit

  • What is it? (some ideas)
    • "Quality" connections within and between social networks
    • Potential "social good" which can be drawn upon
    • A key ingredient for healthy, civil society
    • Community involvement/engagement
    • "Positive" interpersonal connections -> healthy, civil society
    • Commodification of people value
    • Akin to / related to human capital, environmental capital, economic capital
  • Is it necessarily "good"?
    • e.g., consider - Nazi society in the 1930's-1940's had high social capital?
  • How might it be developed and enhanced?

Social disengagementEdit

  • What is it?
    • (Collective/normative) social isolation, social disconnection, social exclusion, alienation
    • Relatively low levels of social interactivity
    • Individuals (or small groups) operating relatively individually, with minimal interaction with the social fabric/networks
  • What are its risks/consequences?
    • Mackay suggests "fundamentalism" is a risk/consequence


  • What is it?
    • "Spirit" or "flavour" of the times or an "era" (for a particular society at a particular time)
    • Collective consciousness
    • Cultural climate
  • What is the current Australian zeitgeist?
    • This question is tackled by Hugh Mackay in his speech

Social disengagement: A breeding ground for fundamentalismEdit

Arguably Australia's best known social researcher, Hugh Mackay traces the cultural, political, and social changes since the 1970's to explain the less tolerant and more materialistic Australia that he sees today.


  • In small groups, identify one specific issue raised by Mackay in current Australian society / zeitgeist and brainstorm/create a practical strategy (using socio-psychological principles) for addressing it.
  • Share and discuss with group.

See alsoEdit

  Search for Zeitgeist on Wikipedia.

External linksEdit

  1. Australian Zeitgeist (2005 version notes}
  2. Google Zeitgeist
  3. Mackay, H. (2005). Social disengagement: A breeding ground for fundamentalism (Abbreviated transcript - audio doesn't work). 6th Annual Manning Clark Lecture, 3 March, National Library of Australia, Canberra. Print friendly version
  4. socialdisengagement (