Frank Stilwell (economist)

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Frank Stilwell
Frank Stilwell at Political Economy Society.jpg
Born Southampton, England, United Kingdom
Alma mater University of Southampton (BSc)
University of Reading (PhD)
Occupation Emeritus Professor in Political Economy, University of Sydney

Franklin "Frank" J.B. Stilwell (born 1945)[1] is an influential Australian political economist and professor emeritus. He is known for establishing, with Evan Jones, Gavan Butler and Ted Wheelwright, an independent political economy department at the University of Sydney.[2] His research interests include theories of political economy, urbanisation and regional development, Australian economic policy and the nature of work.[3] His textbooks on the subject are standard teaching material for all university students in Australia studying the field of Political Economy.[4] Stilwell's contribution to heterodox economics makes him a central figure of the Australian New Left.[5]

Early life[edit]

Frank Stilwell was born in Southampton, in 1945. His mother was an infant school teacher, and his father was a junior clerk in the department of Customs and Excise.[6] His father enjoyed local politics and later became mayor. As Stilwell claimed in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald: "[My father] was initially an independent... but he later joined the Conservative Party as a Conservative councillor. That was after the Conservatives threatened to stand a candidate against him … he was pragmatic till the end."[7]

Disputes within the University of Sydney Economics Department[edit]

Frank Stilwell at the University of Sydney in December 1978

Stilwell arrived at Sydney University in 1970, to an economics department that was deeply divided on the teaching of the qualitative and quantitative methods in economics. Students and teacher in the faculty of economic had claimed that the economics being taught was too narrow, too technical and neglected consideration of current world problems. In 1975, students protested outside the Sydney University Senate, because the senate had decided to appoint a conservative economist from Britain to chair, over radical Ted Wheelwright. Ted Wheelwright had argued that mainstream economist had ignored the issue of power, and this was undermining the transparency of economics at University of Sydney. The political economy dispute, which started in 1973 would continue until 1980s. Anthony Albanese was involved in the 1983 protests to protect the first year political economy unit. Future Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull were involved in the dispute as undergraduate students.[8]

We were certainly very conscious of what was going on, not just in Australia, but particularly with Thatcherism and Reaganism as well... So this was the context of the debate, and the great benefit of university education is enlarging your perspective on the world, rather than reinforcing existing views. And Political Economy is certainly in that tradition.

Anthony Albanese on the Political Economy disputes in the 1970s[9]

Academic career at the University of Sydney[edit]

Frank Stilwell's research interests centre on Australian economic policies, urban and regional development and economic inequality. He is the author of eleven books, is coordinating editor of the Journal of Australian Political Economy,[10] and is on the editorial boards of Regional Studies, Social Alternatives, Australian Options and Industry and Innovation.[11] He was a colleague of Edward Lawrence Wheelwright,[12] who was also a prominent political economist who taught at the university until 1986. Some of the topics in Stilwell's works include urban and regional development, economic inequality, Australian economic policy and the contest of political economic ideas.[13]

Public influence[edit]

With a lecturing career spanning 40 years, many of Frank Stilwell's students have come to occupy prominent positions in Australian public life. In politics, these include: Mark Latham, Anthony Albanese, Greg Combet, Carmel Tebbutt, Michael Costa, Morris Iemma, Peter Kell (ASIC), and professors Steve Keen and Clive Hamilton. In Journalism: Stephen Long, Eleanor Hall, Jessica Irvine and Michael Janda. Stilwell estimated that he had taught 15,000 students by the time of his retirement.[14]

Political economy certainly addresses economic issues, but it does so in a more useful way. It emphasises the social and political context within which economic issues need to be considered. Mainstream economics is notably deficient in this regard...So the challenge for modern political economists is to try to redress this situation. That requires a thoroughgoing critique of mainstream economics. It requires the development of alternative analytical approaches. It requires reintegration of economic inquiry into the broader corpus of social sciences, alongside sociology, politics, geography and history. It requires development of educational approaches that introduce students to more insightful ways of understanding economic phenomena. It also requires vigorous participation in the public arena, so that more progressive public policies and strategies for change can be considered.

— Stilwell interview with David Primrose, 2013 [15]


Year Title Publisher
Political Economy Now! : The Struggle for Alternative Economics at the University of Sydney (Co-written with Gavan Butler and Evan Jones) Sydney University Press
Who Gets What?: Analysing Economic Inequality in Australia (Co-written with Jordan, K.) Cambridge University Press
Economics as a Social Science; Readings in Political Economy (Co-edited with G. Argyrous) Pluto Press
Political Economy: the Contest of Economic Ideas [16] Oxford
Changing Track: a New Political Economic Direction for Australia Pluto Press
Economic inequality: who gets what in Australia Pluto Press
Reshaping Australia: Urban Problems and Policies Pluto Press
Understanding Cities & Regions: Spatial Political Economy Pluto Press
The Accord and Beyond: the Political Economy of the Labor Government Pluto Press
Economic Crisis, Cities, and Regions Pergamon Press


  1. ^ viewed 03/05/2017
  2. ^ G Butler, E Jones, FJB Stilwell (2009) Political economy now!: The struggle for alternative economics at the University of Sydney Darlington Press
  3. ^ viewed 03/04/2017
  4. ^ "Evatt Foundation: Frank Stilwell". Evatt Foundation. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  5. ^ Williams-Brooks, Llewellyn (2016). "Radical Theories of Capitalism in Australia: Towards a Historiography of the Australian New Left", Honours Thesis, University of Sydney, viewed 20 April 2017,
  6. ^ viewed 03/05/2017
  7. ^ viewed 03/05/2017
  8. ^
  9. ^ from 2:49-3:25
  10. ^ "Home Page". Journal of Australian Political Economy. JAPE. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  11. ^ "Staff: Professor Frank Stilwell". University of Sydney Department of Political Economy. USyd. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  12. ^ Stilwell, Frank. "Obit of Ted Wheelwright". History Cooperative. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  13. ^ "Profile of ASSA Member". Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. ASSA. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  14. ^ viewed 03/05/2017
  15. ^ viewed 03/05/2017
  16. ^ Stilwell, Frank (2006). Political Economy: The Contest of Economic Ideas. South Melbourne: Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-555127-3. 

External links[edit]