Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Silencing and institutional racism in settler-colonial education

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Version 2 2023-09-22, 01:43
Version 1 2021-12-07, 13:36
posted on 2023-09-22, 01:43 authored by Liana MacdonaldLiana Macdonald

Twenty years ago, Charles Mills argued that a Racial Contract underwrites and guides the social contract and assigns political, economic, and social privileges based on race. This thesis argues that a settler manifestation of the Racial Contract operates through processes and structures of silencing in the New Zealand education system. Silencing is a racial discourse aligned with state ideologies about biculturalism that supports ignorance and denial of the structuring force of colonisation. Within schools, a state narrative of biculturalism advances the notion of harmonious settler-colonial race relations by marginalising or denying violent colonial histories and their consequences in the present.  Silencing in the education system is examined through the lived experiences of Māori teachers of English language as they teach New Zealand literature in secondary school classrooms. Interviews with nineteen teachers and observations of four teachers' classroom practices (with follow up interviews from the teachers and some of their students) reveal that everyday classroom interactions perpetuate silencing through a hidden curriculum. This hidden curriculum appeals to settler sensibilities by: drawing on teaching pedagogies that soften or mute historical harm, validating “lovely” knowledge about Māori society and assessment approaches that privilege settler-colonial imperatives. This thesis identifies that harmonious notions of biculturalism circulate through the spatial and temporal dimensions of secondary schools because epistemological structures (policy, curriculum, and pedagogy) silence the meanings and effects of colonisation. In this way, a Settler Contract operates to sustain institutional racism in the New Zealand education system and white supremacy in settler-colonial societies.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY 4.0

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Education


Kidman, Joanna; Hubbard, Gillian