He received his B.A. and M.A. and his Diploma of Social Studies from the University of Melbourne, and his Ph.D from Columbia University in 1959.  In 1966, along with Colin A. Hughes, he published a study of Australia's first ever televised policy speech on 12 November 1963, by then prime minister Sir Robert Menzies. At this time, Western was a lecturer in Psychology at the Australian National University.
Their study comprised 250 voters who viewed the policy speech, examined the effect of this form of political communication, and traced its impact on the knowledge, attitudes, and opinions of this group. This was the first such detailed study undertaken in Australia, providing a testing of theories of cognitive equilibrium in relation to voting behaviour, and an examination of television's use in political communication.
Western moved to the University of Queensland in 1966 and was appointed Professor of Sociology at the University of Queensland in 1970. He specialized in the sociology of mass communication, class and inequality, and the professions in Australia. He also served as a Commissioner on the Queensland Criminal Justice Commission from 1990 until 1994.
- Hughes, Colin A; Western, John S (1966), The Prime Minister's Policy Speech: A Case Study in Televised Politics, Canberra: Australian National University Press
- The Mass Media in Australia, (with Colin Hughes), University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1983 ISBN 0-7022-1692-5
- Hughes, Colin A; Western, John S (1966), The Prime Minister's Policy Speech: A Case Study in Televised Politics, Canberra: Australian National University Press, p. bookcover
- Hughes, C.A. & Western, J.S. (1966). Bookcover & p.1
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