Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Music as Critical Social Theory: Developing Intersectional Feminist Praxis Through Music in Aotearoa (New Zealand)

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posted on 2023-11-29, 21:17 authored by Bonnie-Estelle Trotter-Simons

This thesis explores music as critical social theory, by looking to how intersectionality, praxis, and music might be interwoven in an Aotearoa (New Zealand) context. Through deploying a range of methods situated in reciprocity, intersectional understandings of positionality, and art as enquiry (Allen, 2012), this thesis explores the musical critical social theories of four Aotearoa-based musicians, Sam Howard-Tawhara, Nikau Te Huki, Marika Pratley, and Cee Te Pania, to build a conceptual framework for developing intersectional feminist praxis through music in Aotearoa. Inspired by Collins’s (2019) recent writing about intersectionality and critical social theory, the thesis begins by conceptualising how intersectional feminism as praxis might be deployed to understand music as critical social theory in the neoliberal, settler colonial context of Aotearoa (New Zealand). Drawing from intersectional applications of positionality and standpoint, the thesis addresses hegemonic whiteness and settler-colonial legacies which impact upon listening and other elements of musical practices and relationalities. Accordingly, my theoretical framework proposes an intersectional feminist praxis shaped by feminist and queer notions of musical affect and resonance. Through analysing the aesthetic and affective dimensions of collaborators’ musical performances, and through the intersectional theoretical framework of the thesis, I propose six integral threads of an intersectional feminist musical praxis rooted in Aotearoa. The first examines the relationship between Blacksound and racial erasure in the creation of popular music, and local and global manifestations of white supremacy (Morrison, 2019; Maultsby, 2016; Norris & Mire, 2022). Drawing from Henderson (2018) and Shilliam (2015), I consider how a practice of naming one’s musical whakapapa or genealogy might be a step towards disrupting both unwitting and ambivalent forms of participation in racial erasure and commodification of Blacksound. Secondly, I propose how an affective love politics might inform the nurturing of the relational webs which make up one’s musical whakapapa or genealogy. Third, I discuss hope within musical resonances, and its vitality to driving praxis. Fourth, I connect hope to honouring both the relational possibilities in Te Tiriti o Waitangi and recent transformative constitutional work in Aotearoa. Fifth, I conceptualise an intersectional ethics of care in hearing music as critical social theory and for moving towards concrete solidarity, beyond the limitations of benevolence (Barber, 2020). Finally, I reflect on how these aspects of developing intersectional feminist praxis come together to engage with two interrelated questions: how music might be simultaneously a site to resist and a site of resistance, and how might the university simultaneously be a site to resist and of resistance. This thesis develops these six threads of intersectional feminist musical praxis in Aotearoa, offering a conceptual provocation inspired by resonant critical theories of the four collaborators in this project.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Discipline

Gender and Women's Studies; Musicology; Sociology

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

280123 Expanding knowledge in human society; 280109 Expanding knowledge in education

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


de Saxe, Jennifer; Wilson, Dave