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CONFERENCE: Social representations of ethnicity in Aotearoa-New Zealand

Next April at 18:00 (6:00 PM), in the Silva Leal Auditorium, Autonomous Wing Building of Iscte, as part of the Lectures in Psychology Or in Other Social Sciences and Humanities of the Doctoral Program in Psychology, Dr James Liu from the Massey University (New Zealand), will give a talk titled Social representations of ethnicity in Aotearoa-New Zealand: Different kinds of Europeans and their role in the identity politics of decolonization.

© 2020 Meg Jerrard | Unsplash


New Zealand is a country where ethnicity is predominantly understood as a feature of culture more than race. State sovereignty is based both on a Westminster government (the King of Britain is its head of state) and the Treaty of Waitangi, signed between Maori, the indigenous people of this land, and the British Crown in 1840. Treaty promises were broken during the colonization of New Zealand subsequently, leading to the current situation where Maori are a 16% minority, and Europeans/British are a 75% majority. A decolonization movement begun in the 1970s has resulted in different categories of people of European descent wrestling with what name to call their ethnic group. Three labels have come to be commonly used to describe people of European ancestry in New Zealand: Pakeha (a Maori word), New Zealand European (the standard label used in the census), and New Zealander (an “ethnicity” where the majority group refuses to identify itself other than as a nationality). They each have distinct political meanings with respect to both their ideal of the relationship they ought to have with Maori, and with respect to liberalism-conservatism (or leftward vs rightward political leanings). I report the results of a national online survey, completed by more than 75000 voting eligible individuals in 2020 prior to a general election won by the Labour Party and its leader Jacinda Ardern, at a moment when fear of COVID-19 was high. In a nutshell, those who self-identified as Pakeha were the most pro-Maori and leftward leaning of all ethnicities, including Maori (sometimes). Self-identified New Zealanders, by contrast, were the most anti-Maori, and among the more rightward-leaning ethnicity, and NZ Europeans were somewhere in between. Pakeha, for example, were the most in favor of taking down statues associated with colonization than any other ethnicity, and they were proudest of NZ as a bicultural nation than any other ethnicity (including Maori). Self-identified NZers were just the opposite. Despite the political polarization between Pakeha and New Zealander, a large number of people chose to identify with BOTH of these labels, showing a high degree of local nuance in how people understand ethnicity and ethnicity labels. While some people attach a significant amount of meaning to how they understand their own ethnicity, others do not. Understanding identity politics is to understand the dynamics between the passionately involved and those who don’t care about politics very much. I conclude by theorizing about how social representations of these three terms produce and reproduce significant elements of the political psychology of New Zealand today, and what this means for demographers and social psychologists.

Access via ZOOM – Meeting ID: 988 8761 3688

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