#031 Reimagining Society

A conversation with legendary social researcher Hugh Mackay


Hugh Mackay is Australia’s preeminent social researcher, and a prolific bestselling author. He has spent sixty years speaking with people in their homes and workplaces, reflecting back to us key insights about who we are – and why we are the way we are. So it’s fair to say he knows a thing or two about what we’re like, and by extension how we might best get ourselves through this time of significant transition.

Hugh Mackay and Anthony James at Hugh’s home in Canberra. Pic: Olivia Cheng.

Hugh Mackay and Anthony James at Hugh’s home in Canberra. Pic: Olivia Cheng.

I don’t think this is going too far. I think the neighbourhood - the street where you live or the apartment block you live in - is the test bed of whether you’ve understood what it means to be human.
— Hugh Mackay

Hugh’s latest book is Australia Reimagined. And while focused on this country, it very much deals with global patterns and concerns. He takes the growing global epidemic of anxiety and depression as the touchstone of what we’re doing to each other, and the rest of the living world. And in turn, the touchstone of what we need to and can change.

The publisher’s blurb on the book states that our ‘unprecedented run of economic growth has failed to deliver a more stable or harmonious society. Individualism is rampant. Income inequality is growing. Public education is under-resourced. The gender revolution is stalling. We no longer trust our major institutions or our political leaders. We are more socially fragmented, more anxious, more depressed, more overweight, more medicated, deeper in debt and increasingly addicted - whether to our digital devices, drugs, pornography or 'stuff'.’

But there is another story to tell, one that is responding to that trajectory, and that is powering Hugh’s optimism. It all starts in our streets, he says, and from there to the systems we live by, the stories we’re currently buying, and the ones we can create for ourselves. Hugh spoke with Anthony at his home in Canberra a few weeks ago.



Bluebird, composed by Charles Villiers Stanford, performed by Choir of New College, Oxford.

The Street Only Knew Your Name, by Van Morrison.

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