Writing as a grindstone. Finished writing, unfinished writing, writing ideas, things that I'll never get round to writing, other things. Grinding it out, grinding away. Writing some more.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

My job

I recently had to come up with an answer to why I love my job, which is at Te Wānanga o Raukawa in the Whakatupu Mātauranga and Ahunga Tikanga groups. I struggle with guilt at being essentially an academic, and it was good for me to think about what I do and why I think it is important work (which is a different question, but related). Now that I’ve finally managed to put something into words, I thought I would share it.

The Ahunga Tikanga programme is premised upon the understanding that tikanga is the first law of Aotearoa. (Mikaere, 2012)
If tikanga is the law, then kaupapa is the philosophy from which that law or ethics develops. Working in both Ahunga Tikanga and Whakatupu Mātauranga gives me the opportunity to explore kaupapa as a philosophical framework—does it align with my values? Does it provide an antidote to the problems caused by the effects of colonisation? Where does it take me when I use it to examine issues that are affecting us now? So far, the conclusions kaupapa take me to have always been fantastic—consistently humane and sensible, and often unexpected. This is both a relief, and very exciting.

The next challenge is living up to these conclusions, finding ways to implement them under the pressure of an imperialistic system based on a very different philosophical framework. In lots of cases, acting according to kaupapa requires us to do things differently to the way our tūpuna would have, because the environment and problems we face are different to those of our tūpuna. Sexual diversity is an example that I’ve written about before on this blog (Sexuality and Tikanga Māori). There is no evidence that our tūpuna cared about same-sex sexual behaviour; it was accepted, and there is evidence that it was occasionally celebrated. Because we now live in a homophobic dominant culture, where the most common messages about homosexual behaviour are negative, we need to talk about sexuality differently—we need to actively celebrate sexual diversity to counteract the poison of homophobia.

Another example is how we value each other’s skills and contributions to the community. Our tūpuna didn’t live in a dehumanising market that attaches value to people based on what they do, that creates workers and bosses whose goals will always be in opposition to each other. According to kaupapa, all work is important and we do it together—some may be cleaning toilets, some growing food, some fixing sick people, but it is all necessary work, without which we can’t function as a community. How can we live up to this when our land and resources have been taken? There are many pathways to reasserting our rangatiratanga, and kaupapa provide a test of their appropriateness.

There are several things I love about my work. There are the people who I learn from, who are fearless at looking to the past, knowing that their tūpuna have an academic tradition as worthy as anyone else’s. There is the exploration of kaupapa. And there is sharing with and learning from students. Exploring what kaupapa mean and how to apply the philosophy in our work is so fun, fascinating and meaningful, I can hardly believe I’m getting paid for it. My confidence in kaupapa as a political framework is growing. It is accessible and relevant in a way a lot of western political theory is not—there is no kudos in making it seem more complicated than it is, nor in abstracting it from our reality. The value is in our ability to use kaupapa to think about our lives and the futures we want, and to work out what we need to do to get there.


  1. Anonymous4:35 pm

    "I struggle with guilt at being essentially an academic"

    At the risk of sounding extremely critical, what is this guilt thing all about? Personally I don't have a lot of time for academia (I just don't see it as very useful), but what is there to feel guilty about? Being paid a liveable wage? Having one's opinions taken seriously? Being able to spend some of one's life thinking about things that matter? Being born into a social system that denies these opportunities to others? (The latter is somebody else's fault, the former are one's due as a human being.)

    Or is there something else I haven't thought of?

    Guilt is one of the most useless and stultifying emotions I know. A huge waste of time and energy and a weapon against social change. I could go on about this a lot, but before I do, maybe you could explain why your job makes you feel that way?


    Sam Buchanan

  2. I'm an academic and proud of it! Why would I be ashamed at teaching adults?! Life is a learning curve after all.

    I felt guilt on the killing chain at Tegal chicken (I was a vegetarian), a little guilt when I was laying terrazo floors for the second extension of Riccarton Mall ($1,500 a week as a glorified labourer, though they were 12 to 14 hour days and we did night shift to get it done in time). Being a barman ran me close to actual guilt more than once...

    And academia not useful?! Mr. Buchanan would struggle to hide from its outputs (an educated society) though granted all those Harvard MBA's didn't amount to much...

    And I look forward to visiting Raukawa one day!
    Of course, no one takes my opinion seriously. Luckier for me than you ;)

  3. Anonymous11:50 am

    "Mr. Buchanan would struggle to hide from its outputs (an educated society)..."

    Do we have an educated society? As academia increases, society certainly seems to be getting less educated. In today's world, academia's main role is training people to carry out the functions required by business, rather than trying to educate people. Honourable exceptions, I'm sure, but exceptions they are.


    Sam Buchanan

  4. Anonymous11:29 am


    Well, personally, I can understand the guilt attached to the institute of academia relative to the effects it has wrought on indigenous knowledge systems. Academia is the bastion of the western tradition and can rightly be accused of colonising the indigenous mind. The rational discourse supported by the scientific method has reduced our worldview to theirs. The indigene is nothing more than dna and whakapapa is simply cause and effect.

    I have experienced Raukawa and I have to say it is an amazing wānanga and stands apart from other wānanga in its commitment to enacting tikanga rather than simply preach it.

  5. Anonymous8:40 pm

    A rational discourse supported by the scientific method would seem to me to be quite a sensible method to base an education system on, and the best way to keep ones mind free of mystical bullshit. for example a rational person who feels guilty about being an academic would stop being an academic.
    Anonymous two

  6. I should check my mail more. Thanks for the discussion, I have to admit, I didn't expect any about this post.

    Sam, nice to hear from you, as always. I don't find guilt a bad feeling, I find it as useful as any other emotion. It tells me when I may be neglecting a conflict between my values and actions--although in this case, I think the values my job conflicts with aren't really my own. As you can no doubt imagine, I've been involved with groups who glorify struggle, 'protest-against' and poverty, almost for their own sake, and it turns out I've internalised some of this (even though I don't agree with it). So feeling guilt about my job gives me an opportunity to examine that stuff and think about whether what I am doing is consistent with my goals and beliefs. My post was kind of me explaining to myself why it is. (I think some of my guilt comes from previous academic work where I wasn't teaching, and all my work was produced for other academics. I felt as if I was being paid to essentially do sudoku every day, contributing nothing to the world.)

    Simon, I agree about being an academic--I love it, and I think it's really important work. As Sam mentions, we don't work in a political vacuum, and it's frustrating that the government is trying to turn all adult education into vocational training, but I don't actually know anyone who has succumbed to that pressure. I'm glad you love your job, and if you do come up to Ōtaki, look me up.

    Anonymous (1), thanks for your comments. I agree completely.

    Anonymous (2), although I doubt you'll be back to read this, I think you raise a point worth responding to. I'm assuming from your comment that I have more experience of science than you (I have a PhD in Ecology and worked for several years at various universities researching mechanisms of plant evolution)?

    Unfortunately our schools don't teach the uses and limits of science well, so many people think science is value free and can be used to make decisions about what we ought to be doing (such as whether I should be an academic or what we teach in schools). Of course science is practiced according to our values or morality--these decide which questions we think worthy of pursuing, how we attempt to answer those questions, which questions are worthy of funding, who owns our answers, etc. Those values are shaped by our worldview, which is why western science tends to look at things very differently from Māori science, even though both use the scientific method, and why an education system based on mātauranga Māori is very different from one based on western knowledge systems (or epistemology). Neither are based on 'mystical bullshit', and neither are based on the scientific method--each is based on their own epistemology.

    The problem in New Zealand, and many other western dominated states, is that we aren't taught that a western concept of reality is only one of many valid approaches to knowledge. We are taught that it is the only rational epistemology, so many of us leave school with narrow understandings of reality and attitudes like yours. That is cultural imperialism, and it is why places like Te Wānanga o Raukawa are essential.

    Maybe I'll write another post about education, epistemology and cultural imperialism.

  7. Anonymous12:13 pm

    II am back and I am aware you have a PhD which is why I am interested in your views on this. My comment was more in response to anon(1), who suggested that "The rational discourse supported by the scientific method has reduced our worldview to theirs" which makes out that rationality and science are incompatible with an indigenous worldview. which is rubbish. It is perfectly possible to have an indigenous (or any other sort of) world view that is based on rationality. If Anon (1)'s worldview rejects rationality then I think it probably is based on mystical bullshit.
    Kim, the scientific method is value and morality free. the stuff you criticise has nothing to do with the scientific method or rationality, and everything to do with the politics of those making the decisions.I am all for different knowledge systems as long as they are based on reality. I just get annoyed when people like anon(1) suggest that it is rationality that is the problem.
    Anontwo (my new name!)

  8. Anonymous4:33 pm

    "I've been involved with groups who glorify struggle, 'protest-against' and poverty, almost for their own sake, and it turns out I've internalised some of this"

    Yeah, Ive never understood why some people idealise the very things they claim to be opposing.

    But my concern with guilt over a discrepancy between values and actions is that so often people get screwed up by their own failure to model behaviour perfectly in line with their values, due to living in a world in which living according to ones values is a practical impossibility. Capitalist ideologues prey on this by pretending that everyone can live as they choose, and its people's own fault, or a sign of hypocrisy, if they don't do so.

    A while back some idiot at my workplace put up one of those happy-clappy motivational posters which among other absurdities stated "if you don't like your job: quit". Presumably the poster's author lives in some sort of parallel universe where nobody needs a salary to pay for rent or food (or maybe still lives off their parents).


    Sam Buchanan