This issue of Arena Journal emerges from a day-long symposium held at the University of Melbourne in 2013 marking fifty years of publications by the Arena group. The event was composed of diverse presentations, some from among the original editors of the first series of Arena, some by contributors to that first series and others by editors and contributors from more recent times. The day was marked by an unusual vitality as well as recognition of a unique contribution made by the publications, not only to Australian political and cultural history but also to the development of a theory of social transformation not found in publications elsewhere. There was a strong sense that something of this contribution needed to be reflected upon in a further publication looking back on those past fifty years.
The Arena Publications editors approached a number of writers to develop chapters dealing with topics that have been significantly reflected in the pages of both the first series of Arena and the two publications that emerged after the first one hundred issues of Arena twenty-five years ago: Arena Magazine and Arena Journal.
Readers will be aware that these fifty years spanned momentous events and developments: significantly, the Cold War and the transformation of warfare by nuclear weapons; the demise of the communist movement; the rise of the student and social movements; the slow loss of vitality of working-class movements and union organisations; the contradictory waves associated with Indigenous relations, from land rights to the Intervention; the renewal of the capitalist market and profound shift towards globalisation in the 1980s; the collapse of the Soviet Union; the Global Financial Crisis and its aftermath; the growing realisation of the depth of social crisis implicit in our destructive relationship to our environment.
In relation to all these developments the Arena editors have argued the case for the emergence of a distinctive material social force in the world that has largely been overlooked by other writers and approaches. While many acknowledge the importance of the sciences in material processes, there has been no sustained attempt to theorise the techno-scientific turn in late captitalism in terms of the distinctive social relations that contribute to the transformation of material relations in the world, and capitalism in particular. This has been carried out in various ways and with different foci over the last fifty years by the editors, all influenced in more or less profound ways by the work of Geoff Sharp.