From Progress to Process: Locating the Transformation of ‘Progress’ within Australian History

Thomas Grainger


This article explores how the Enlightenment values of reason, freedom and progress has shaped and continues to shape the social welfare practices of Australian society. It demonstrates how the idealisms of colonialism cemented the universal narrative of progress into the very framework of civilisation, mapping the government’s quest for perfection in light of its founding as a place of correction, a penal colony for Great Britain. Through an analysis of progress’ manifestation into the realm of institutionalisation, it questions the very validity of Enlightenment sentiments and its latent paradoxical nature as a rationale for freedom, yet simultaneously, confinement and restriction. Using the development of the Female Orphan School Parramatta, from an early colonial orphanage to a mental asylum, it unlocks the possibility of modernity acting as a form of cannibalism, ironically consumed in destroying its own inherent structures and ideals through the practical manifestations of its ways of thinking. Drawing upon the work of Nietzsche and Baudrillard, the denunciation of metanarratives such as progress, is unveiled through an analysis of history’s relativity. The postmodern conception of individual truth, Foucault’s professing of discourse, gives rise to the notion of history as a product of contemporary society’s knowledge, rather than an objective reflection of the past.

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