Patterns of thought and politics: Maori in Wakefield’s New Zealand

Having had some time off from blogging to go to exams, I’m now back and first up I’m posting another essay I wrote a couple of years ago – this one is about how Edward Gibbon Wakefield presented Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand) in his plans for colonisation of the country. It’s not technically on the subject of international relations but it does tie into some of the themes about nationalism, national myths and identity which I have been exploring recently in this blog.  Because Wakefield was heavily influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers like Adam Smith, it also covers some of their ideas about the relationship between the means of production in a society and its political structure. Although there are some obvious flaws in the way this was presented I do think there is some merit to these ideas. Personally, I  find the first contact/pioneer/colonial part of my country’s history fascinating, and the impacts of the actions of a few people at this time are still being felt today. However there is a tendency within New Zealand to oversimplify the narrative about the dynamics of the early interactions between Maori and Europeans (pakeha) and I think that hinders our understanding of contemporary race relations. Knowing our past is vital for understanding our present and building our future. (I know that sounds cheesy as crap but I honestly believe it is true). Anyway, the essay itself is in PDF form on this page:


One response to “Patterns of thought and politics: Maori in Wakefield’s New Zealand

  • identificatory

    My wife did a considerable amount of work on colonisation and cultural genocide some years back, under the auspices of her work on international human rights law. It is difficult at this remove to assess the extent to which the intent was altruistic (or religious) versus economic or commercial. Whatever the intent, the effect was essentially homogenising, however, distrusting the other (a la Edward Said) and making them more like the dominant coloniser so that they could be more easily managed. For the English in particular, there was a strong sense of the importance of the rule of law, even in international law, and there are countless instances of interpretations of context being deliberately skewed in order to fit with the law, such as the terra nullius declaration in Australia. In Ireland, similar processes took place, but they were altogether more complicated for two reasons – first, proximity meant that a greater proportion of people in Britain had had exposure to Ireland and Irish people, and therefore even in the twelfth and thirteenth century there was less of the exotic about them; and second, the Irish were white – and clearly therefore more like the Gauls or the Norse or even the British themselves than was perhaps comfortable.

    This is absolutely about international relations. The “them and us” narrative is every bit as vital in understanding how nations interact as it was back then. How we relate to each other as peoples, whether in the context of a power imbalance or not, colours how we think, and guides the evolution of world affairs.

    Great blog, keep it up. Never mind those exams, they’re only a distraction 😉

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