Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (1.72 MB)

Narratives of Incorporation: An Anthropological Analysis of Same-Sex Civil Unions in New Zealand

Download (1.72 MB)
Version 3 2023-03-14, 23:31
Version 2 2023-03-13, 23:59
Version 1 2021-11-13, 11:00
posted on 2023-03-14, 23:31 authored by Steven, Dionne

In this thesis I examine civil unions from the perspective of New Zealand-based same-sex couples who have chosen to formalise their relationship. My approach is qualitative and in-depth and focuses on interpreting participants' own meanings and beliefs while also recognising the need for broader contextual knowledge. Through participants’ narratives, I explore why it was important for couples to have a civil union, how they chose to mark or enact the occasion, and the meanings they attribute to their choices and actions. Rather than treating the civil union as an isolated event, my analysis situates the civil union within four longer processual trajectories: individual biographical narratives, partner interactions, close social relationships, and trajectories of a socio-political nature. I then explore the contours of participants’ civil union ceremonies in terms of scale, style, and symbolic content. Throughout the thesis, I argue that civil unions facilitate incorporation for same-sex couples on a number of levels: incorporation in terms of inclusion in an important ‘meaning-constitutive’ practice; familial incorporation; and incorporation into mainstream society more generally. The incorporating effects of civil unions owe much to the symbolic capacities of law, the meaning inscribed in the socially dominant cultural model of marriage, and the characteristics of ritual. The importance of ritual to the anthropological enterprise is reaffirmed through this study; not only do rituals provide an important lens through which to examine the normative values of society but also the origins of social revitalization.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Bönisch-Brednich, Brigitte; Trundle, Catherine