Old questions and 'New Biography'

labour activism, William Murphy and Racialisation in 1880s Victoria

Leigh Boucher*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)


The work of Patrick Joyce and Joan Scott asks scholars to rigorously historicise experience, identity and, as a consequence, subjectivity. This article suggests the combination of their insights with biographical techniques has the potential to offer new explanations for intransigent historiographic problems such as the explosion of racism in late nineteenth-century Australian labour politics. The practice of biography, moreover, provides an opportunity for Australian scholars to re-engage with the challenge of post-structuralism and resist the temptation to isolate its influence to analyses of culture and representation. Using these methodologies to investigate the subjectivity of labour activist William Murphy, this article then argues that late colonial 'racism' emerged as a discursive resolution to a much wider set of questions about the legitimacy of labour in public life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-106
Number of pages18
JournalAustralian Historical Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2012

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