Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Cultural Pragmatics and the Re-Fusing of Collective Memory: A Study of Trade Union and Community and Voluntary Representatives' Collective Memory of Neoliberalisation in Aotearoa New Zealand

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posted on 2022-04-26, 21:37 authored by Brent Neilson

That there has been sudden and significant social transformation resulting from neoliberalisation in Aotearoa New Zealand is clear. Few Western liberal democracies experienced the impacts of neoliberalisation to the extent and with the speed New Zealand did beginning in 1984. Owing to the speed and scale of reform, coupled with its implementation by a traditionally social democratic Labour Government, 1984 is itself collectively remembered by many communities within New Zealand as being symbolic of a significant rupture within New Zealand history, as a breach within the Labour Party, as a break from the values and principles of the labour movement, and as heralding a period of monumental social, cultural, economic, and political change.

Through interviews with twenty-one representatives of the trade union and community and voluntary sectors, my research presents a collective memory of neoliberal structural reform in Aotearoa New Zealand. In doing so, I argue a case for the application of cultural sociologist Jeffrey C. Alexander’s theory of cultural pragmatics in the analysis of collective memory, in which social performance is collectively and mnemonically dramatised and analysed as analogous to theatrical performance.

I utilise analysis of collective memory of this period in order to delve deeper into what these memories can tell us about the narrativisation of social memory and change, the continued impacts of neoliberalisation, and the present social, cultural, political, and economic conjuncture. By examining communities’ narrativisation of the past through collective memory, and the work of sense-making on the part of those who remember, the theoretical framework adopted in this study can aid the researcher in bringing to light the enduring meaning of events in a shared past, and the continued construction of this meaning through the present and future. In doing so, the applicability of Alexander’s theory of cultural performance, in exploring the narrativisation of drama in social and political life, is shown to aid in mnemonic re-fusion—or the memory and meaning-work of amalgamating component parts of cultural performance for the purpose of constructing a collective narrativisation of the past.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

130705 Understanding New Zealand’s past

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


el-Ojeili, Chamsy; Dew, Kevin