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Pākehā Practice: Music and National Identity in Postcolonial Aotearoa/New Zealand

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Version 1 2021-11-22, 17:03
posted on 2023-09-26, 01:35 authored by Prince, Liam

National discourses specific to Aotearoa/New Zealand — for example, biculturalism, which reimagines Māori-Pākehā relations as a partnership based on the Treaty of Waitangi — help to construct, express, and articulate connections between music and New Zealand identity. Yet unquestioned nationalisms — however benign or ‘official’ they seem — can marginalize some ways of being, knowing, organizing, and music-making, through their capacity to advance and reinforce undisclosed social values and political agendas. In this way, nationalism often disguises the consequences of those values and agendas. This thesis demonstrates how, by unproblematically invoking nationalisms for various purposes, significant New Zealand music-related institutions inadvertently reproduce Eurocentric national identity narratives which overlook the social, cultural, economic and political inequities of Aotearoa/NZ’s postcolonial present. Such narratives normalize conceptions of ‘New Zealand music’ dominated by historic and evolving cultural and economic connections between New Zealand society and the broader postcolonial Anglosphere. Consequently, identifications of ‘New Zealand’ culture and music often reflect dominant Pākehā norms, against which other musical traditions are contrasted.  Several prominent ‘national’ institutions involved with music are examined through three cases studies. The first considers how state-supported music policies and agencies construct and legitimize economic, artistic and democratic ideologies as national values, and explores the consequences of a frequent failure to distinguish between a cultural identity, based on dominant Pākehā norms and values, and a culturally plural civic-based national identity. The second case study examines events during and surrounding two major music awards ceremonies, the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards and the Silver Scroll Awards, showing how these ceremonies construct and reinforce a prestige hierarchy of ‘New Zealand music’ in which Anglo-American popular music styles are privileged over other musical expressions. The consequences for cultural representation in relation to New Zealand identity are considered. The final case study analyses the New Zealand popular music heritage presented at Auckland Museum’s exhibition, Volume: Making Music in Aotearoa. Volume’s displays and stories, contextualized and informed by Auckland Museum and prominent entities in New Zealand’s music industry, are shown to reinforce a dominant New Zealand music ‘Kiwiana’, neglecting divergent cultural perspectives and political positions.  The thesis draws on comparative analyses of qualitative interviews conducted by the author, documents and reports, press media and journalism, audiovisual broadcasts and recordings, promotional material and museum visits. These primary materials are contextualized in wider literatures — particularly on nationalism, postcolonialism and music — to provide critical perspectives on historic social, political and cultural issues regarding New Zealand national identity and its relationship to music.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Music

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

New Zealand School of Music


Cannady, Kimberley; Legg, Robert