Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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A Critical Realist Study of Political Identity in Aotearoa New Zealand: Materiality, Discourse and Context

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posted on 2021-11-15, 10:59 authored by Woodhams, Jay

Political identity is a complex phenomenon that is generated within a rich sociocultural context. This thesis examines political identity in informal talk which is situated within a relatively under-explored context, New Zealand’s capital city and political centre, Wellington. Grounding the study within the critical realist model of stratified reality provides the philosophical motivation to explore multi-layered discourses alongside the extra-discursive referents that underpin them. The analysis centres on a model of identity, contra postmodernism, which shows that identities, while socially recognised in discourse, are articulated in reference to physical and social structures. I adopt a comprehensive multi-layered approach to discourse by examining the macro sociocultural influences that appear to pattern interaction across the country, the meso-level subnational discourses that influence dialogue at a more situated level and the micro-level interactional stances taken up in everyday communication. Discourse at all levels is implicated in the identities I examine in this thesis and it is against this backdrop that I unpack political identity into its indexed discourses and constitutive stance acts.  Framed by my ethnographic immersion in the study context and drawing on in-depth semi-structured interviews with twenty-six individuals, I explore the way in which discourse and stancetaking are implicated in the genesis of the participants’ political selves. I first consider the extra-discursive context, including the geographical, economic and cultural structures that underlie New Zealand discourses. This is followed by detailed analysis of sociocultural discourse as it appears in talk. I identify egalitarianism and tall poppy as two related discourses which are embedded within the historical context of the country. I also explore four subnational discourses relating to Wellington city, including the political town, left-wing and small town discourses, which occur alongside a discourse of contrast. These sociocultural and subnational discourses influence much of the talk that occurs in reference to politics in Wellington and are thus implicated in political identity as it is generated in moment-by-moment interaction. To explore this in further detail I examine the micro-level of interactional discourse, more specifically the processes of stancetaking, in two detailed case studies. The two focus participants demonstrate prominent stance processes which I argue are central to much identity work: intersubjectivity, in which the stances of all those involved in the discussion interact in complex ways; and multiplicity, when participants take numerous stance directions that appear to contribute to different aspects of their identities. The intensive focus on the case studies, alongside analysis of the full discursive and extra-discursive context, provides a multi-layered and philosophically anchored approach that seeks to contribute to current understandings of and approaches to the study of discourse and identity.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies


Marra, Meredith; Holmes, Janet