Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Composting arcadia: Stories from Pākehā women “of the land” in Wairarapa, Aotearoa New Zealand

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posted on 2021-12-08, 23:42 authored by Rebecca Ream

I suggest that this thesis is a compost pile from Wairarapa that slowly turns over harmful but potentially fertile tales of arcadia. I narrate this thesis drawing on the fleshly stories of ten Pākehā (colonial settler) women “of the land’ and the ethico-onto-epistemology of Donna Haraway’s compost making. Composting is Haraway’s (2016) latest feminist call to trouble and queer the self-contained secular humanism of Western modernity. Uprooting the Western separation of ‘nature’ from culture, Haraway’s philosophy provides an earthly foundation in which to compost arcadia. Arcadia is an antique ‘nature’ myth that has been enmeshed in the process of Western world making from Classical Greece to the European ‘Age of Discovery’. Arcadia was used by the British to colonise Aotearoa New Zealand in the nineteenth century. As a Pākehā, I have been compelled to explore this myth because of the way it has seeped into transcendent understandings of land for descendants of colonial settlers like myself.  Commonly known as a rural paradise, arcadia was a strategy for ‘normalising’ and ‘naturalising’ European occupancy in New Zealand (Evans, 2007; Fairburn, 1989). British arcadianism arrived on the shores of New Zealand, Victorian and romantic. Therefore, in this thesis I posit that through both settler and romantic ideals, Pākehā continue to use arcadianism to relate to land. For example, presently in Aotearoa there is a populist national debate that has, broadly speaking, pitted farmers and environmentalists against each other. Sparked by recent situations such as the ‘dairy boom’ and the decline in New Zealand’s water quality, tensions have mounted between those wanting to increase agricultural production and those who believe more environmental preservation is needed. After pondering such issues I realised these positions both express contrasting sides to the New Zealand arcadian narrative: A settler arcadia that promulgates the establishment of a small family farm and a romantic arcadia that envisions a pristine ‘natural’ paradise.  I worked through these issues on, in, and with, the ground of Wairarapa with Pākehā women who were engaged in various kinds of rural land practice. Using a critical autoethnographic voice and the idea of geography as ‘earth writing’ I draw on creative qualitative modes, visual approaches and ethnographic adventures to form fulsome stories that compost arcadia. The figure of Pan, the deity of the actual place of Arcadia, helps me with this composting project. Pan is a human-goat hybrid, queer trouble maker, and, as a trickster, has invoked in me my critical autoethnographic, fictional voice.  My encounters with women and Pan showed me fertile ways in which Pākehā have inherited the histories of arcadia and how these histories are corporeally significant and fruitfully challenge the separation of ‘nature’ and culture. Such meaningful matter or matters have, in turn, provided verdant ways to discuss Pākehā becoming and response-ability. Through the material stories of trees, pasture, hills, mountains, waterways, animals and family, compostable arcadias emerged, yielding, what I call in this thesis, landhome making. Landhome making queers the essentialising qualities of ‘homeland’ and ‘homemaker’ but most importantly relates the significance of land in the making of home for the women of this thesis. Landhome making is about exploring, through everyday practice, what it means to be Pākehā for participants and myself that — resultantly — contributes to wider national discussions on how Pākehā might ‘become with’ land (Haraway, 2008; 2016; Newton, 2009).


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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



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Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Kindon, Sara