Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Who is 'New Zealand'? Publics in Aotearoa/New Zealand General Election Discourse

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posted on 2021-11-22, 10:36 authored by Anderson, Ian

2011 saw the lowest voter turnout in Aotearoa/New Zealand since women won the right to vote (Vowles, 2014). This decline in participation aligns with trends elsewhere in the Anglosphere (Ailes, 2015; Hansard, 2015). This organic crisis poses new questions for notions of the ‘public sphere’ and ‘publics’ – the forms of political engagement with citizens in a mass-mediated society. Fraser (1990) contends that in theorising the “limits of actually existing late capitalist democracy” (p. 57), we need a notion of pluralised and contesting ‘publics’ (ibid). The project asks how political parties named the 'public' (or publics) in the 2011 and 2014 Aotearoa / New Zealand General Elections. In order to consider the dominance of these political articulations, research will also consider whether these invocations of 'the public' found coverage in the national press. This is not intended as a sociological examination of actually existing publics, but an examination of dominant encoding (Hall, 2001). This analysis tests the thesis that dominant cross-partisan electoral discourses defined the 'public' in terms of dual identification with productive work and capital, in opposition to named subaltern publics. This formulation suggests that workers are called to identify with capital, following from Gramsci’s (2011) theorisation of bourgeois hegemony. Research begins with a content analysis of party press releases and mainstream coverage during the 2011 & 2014 General Elections, when official discourses hailing 'the public' are intensified. Content analysis quantifies nouns used for publics – for example, 'taxpayer', 'New Zealander', or even 'the public'. From this content analysis, the project proceeds to a critical discourse analysis, which seeks to historically contextualise and explain the patterns in content. Reworking Ernesto Laclau's (2005a) theorisation of populism to factor in the left/right axis (which Laclau considered outmoded), this critical discourse analysis considers what 'public' alliances are articulated, and what political programmes these articulations serve.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Media Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970120 Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Brady, Anita; Thompson, Peter