Farewell to Frank Stilwell

f_stilwellThe University of Sydney is hosting farewell events for Professor Frank Stilwell over Easter. Frank was one of the founders of political economy in Australia, and it was my great pleasure to have him as a teacher from 1983-86, and to work with him as a colleague from 1987-90. The commemorative events at U. Sydney include a Conference, a Dinner, an Exhibition and Reflections event, and a Book.

As I was unable to travel to Sydney, I prepared a statement for the Farewell Dinner, which is below.


I would like to congratulate Emeritus Professor Frank Stilwell on his many achievements as a Professor of Political Economy at the University of Sydney. As an undergraduate doing the Political Economy major at the University in the 1980s, I recall Frank being the lecturer who had the greatest impact on me. This was partly about his analysis, and how way of aligning questions of theory to political issues of the day, but also because of how he presented material as a teacher.

To this day, I continue to make use of presentational insights from Frank’s lectures, such as the one-hour lecture being based around one main topic with four sub-topics. An exemplar of the teacher/researcher nexus, Frank’s skills in knowing the right amount of material to convey for different levels of student also carried across to his approach to writing.

The Accord and Beyond was by far the most lucid and reader-friendly account of issues facing the Australian left and the trade union movement during the Hawke-Keating years. His Political Economy: The Contest of Economic Ideas is a book that I routinely go to when needing explication of a key political economy question, such as how power is approached in different economic theories. *

The experience of doing political economy at the University of Sydney in the 1980s was of course a politically charged one. It involved occupying clock towers and tearooms, and generally being politically engaged, with the likes of Anthony Albanese and Greg Combet. It is interesting to see both figures now playing key roles in areas such as urban and regional policy, decisions about transport infrastructure, the economic geography of industry development, and how to incorporate externalities into pricing and investment decisions. All of these topics were ones that were introduced to me by Frank Stilwell when I was an undergraduate in political economy.

The other point about Frank’s work is that he has stuck to his guns politically and intellectually, and identified strands of thought that were not fashionable in the climate of the time, but which are very influential now. Honours preparation in urban and regional political economy involved an intensive reading of the works of Manuel Castells and David Harvey at lunch-time (thanks Frank for ruining my digestion with such hard-to-digest writing!).

But I would now suggest, from the vantage point of the Humanities and Creative Arts sector in Australian higher education, that David Harvey and Manuel Castells are the two most cited social theorists among arts and humanities scholars.

Similarly, the contemporary influence of Joseph Schumpeter as a thinker about the creative/digital economy, or Thorstein Veblen on consumption and status, was something that few neoclassical theorists were discussing at the time, but Frank’s work always gave a central place to the institutionalist tradition, as represented by the likes of Veblen, Schumpeter, and John Kenneth Galbraith.

Not all of Frank’s ideas were great ones. I recall when Frank received a computer as an Associate Professor – in the days when the operating manual was chained to a desk – and in a grand gesture of “gift economy” giving, had the machine placed on wheels so that it could be shared among the Political Economy staff. That moment was not to last long.

But as a teacher, a researcher, a scholar, a comrade, and a friend and colleague, Frank has always been someone with much to give, and much to learn from. All the very best for the future, Frank.

* In case you question my assessment, here is the “five star” review of Political Economy: The Contest of Economic Ideas to be found on the GoodReads site from someone who I – and probably also Frank – have never met:

abatage’s review Dec 24, 10
5 of 5 stars
bookshelves: non-fiction
Read from March 26 to December 24, 2010

Five stars for a text-book?! Holy crap!

Stilwell deserves it.

This wasn’t a core text for my political economy course, but I read a chapter in the library and had to order it. Stilwell has it all set out in very short chapters that are simple and very easy to digest. Each concept is discussed plainly and there is barely any jargon used throughout the whole book. The layout is perfect for me (big margins and no gigantic blocks of tiny font text) and the order of chapters is logical and sensible.

In short, this book made political economy interesting, which is a damn good accomplishment!

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About Terry Flew

I am Professor of Media and Communication in the Creative Industries Faculty at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia. I am the author of New Media: An Introduction, the fourth edition of which was published by Oxford University Press in 2014. I am also the author of Understanding Global Media, published by Palgrave in 2007, and The Creative Industries, Culture and Policy, published by Sage in 2012.

2 replies to “Farewell to Frank Stilwell

  1. Wayne McMillan

    Hi Terry,
    You probably don’t remember me but I was there during the Sydney Uni PE demonstrations in 1983 as an older entry student, who had already been radicalised by TUTA . Having worked as a factory worker and later public servant plus coming from a family of union reps, I was already a social activist. I remember you, Maria Barac, Anthony A, Greg C, Mark Latham and Adam Rorris.

    Frank was for me the standout teacher who enthused me to delve deeper, think harder and read widely! I wish Frank all the best in his new life after teaching PE!

  2. Post Author tflew

    Wayne, I do indeed remember you. I was always intrigued by people in the class who had previously had “real jobs”, particularly if they also had a union connection.

    What are you up to now?

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