Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Shared landscapes: Ownership and governance of Ōhiwa Harbour (Aotearoa New Zealand)

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posted on 2021-11-15, 21:00 authored by Rother, Tanja

This thesis explores narratives of property and ownership in natural resources, particularly common property resources such as the foreshore and seabed. Using the Ōhiwa Harbour as a case study, I investigate property relations between Māori, Pākehā and official agencies in respect to the natural environment in an evolving ‘third space’ in Aotearoa New Zealand. In this space, conflicting narratives on the ‘ownership’ of common property resources hold centre stage. This research addresses a gap in the literature concerning everyday Māori-Pākehā relations in owning and governing natural common goods, taking both the community and local government levels into account. Its principal questions are: How do property relations inform people’s capacity to act collectively across cultural meanings? How might intercultural communities utilise legal pluralism to facilitate decolonisation in natural resource governance? Can nature be given the agency it is sometimes declared to have? Overarching these and other research questions is an investigation of how far commoning has progressed in the case-study area and whether this might form the basis for new developments for the concept of the commons.  Informed by theories relating to both the commons and institutions which embody collective action, I employ a three-layered approach to property that distinguishes cultural ideologies, legal-institutional frameworks of rights, and actual social relationships and practices. I show that this mixed theoretical and empirical approach can be usefully tested through in-depth ethnographic fieldwork. In particular, my participation in everyday interactions of kaitiaki, care groups and the Ōhiwa Harbour Strategy partnership has revealed important nuances, synergies and differences between the different layers of property relations.  I propose separate institutions for collective action are emerging at the community level that have started to borrow cultural concepts from each other, although their practices remain largely disconnected. At the local government level, too, the Ōhiwa Harbour Strategy partnership embodies common and intercultural ownership and offers an important stage for iwi and hapū representation. There are rich ‘commoning’ opportunities at both the community and the local government levels for the exercise of transformative power regarding the local normative order. The self- and multi-level governance of common properties such as the Ōhiwa Harbour could be fostered if ideas of the commons would be embraced more broadly, including at a national governmental level. The sense of shared ownership in the landscape that tāngata whenua and Pākehā express provides, moreover, opportunities to move beyond the formal Crown-Māori reconciliation processes that have largely excluded Pākehā.  For these reasons alone, future research into the knowledge commons is crucial. The thesis contends that commons research in Aotearoa New Zealand needs to critically engage with concepts such as rangatiratanga, kaitiakitanga and stewardship, both per se and because their realisation appears to be a quest not only for Māori but for a growing number of Pākehā who question ongoing marketization and seek alternatives to public and private ownership. The thesis findings also point to other areas of research which could benefit from a commons approach, such as Pākehā and Māori memory of the transformation of landscapes, and issues related to farming, forestry and particularly freshwater.  Based on an in-depth study of both the current imaginary of the commons, and practical progress on institutionalising collective action at Ōhiwa Harbour, this thesis contributes to and opens the way for future thinking on shared, socially and ecologically sustainable landscapes.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Social Anthropology

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Bönisch-Brednich, Brigitte; Hill, Richard