Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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What's Left? - an Exploration of Social Movements, the Left and Activism in New Zealand Today

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posted on 2021-11-10, 05:08 authored by Taylor, Dylan

Surveys of the situation and prospects of the contemporary Left over the past three decades have frequently underscored themes of fragmentation, decline, even terminal demise. This thesis explores the question of the contemporary Left through interviews conducted with participants in New Zealand social movements. The general theoretical literature around the Left and social movements has consistently highlighted a number of social changes and challenges facing the Left today: the split between old and new Lefts following the rise of the new social movements; economic transformation (for instance, post-Fordism), and changes in class composition; the rise of neo-liberalism, and the dislocating effects of globalization; intellectual challenges, such as the demise of Marxism and the rise of post-modern philosophy; challenges to the state, and the arrival of a "post-political" condition. Analysis of the New Zealand literature around the Left and social movements shows congruent arguments and themes, as well as suggesting Antipodean specificities. To examine these contentions, a series of interviews were conducted with participants in "Left" social movements. These interviews suggest both congruence with some of the arguments in the literature and complexities that do not confirm these generalizations. In particular, the suggestion that a third phase of the Left is emerging, characterized by the joining of culturalist and materialist emphases, appears somewhat confirmed. In addition, a number of the challenges signalled in the literature were singled out by interviewees as pressing - for instance, neo-liberalism and the mediatisation of politics. With respect to the modes of action of social movements connected to the Left, there was here too some confirmation of themes from the literature - for instance, the importance of networking. On the other hand, the widespread theme of the wholesale decline of collective actions was put into question by those interviewed. While no definitive conclusions can be drawn from such a study, the interviews suggest the Left may be entering a period of renewal.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Grey, Sandra; el-Ojeili, Chamsy