Immigration and national identity in 1970s New Zealand

Group identity Cultural awareness Immigration New Zealand

This thesis is an attempt to understand the evolution of national identity in New Zealand through an examination of New Zealanders' evolving attitudes to immigrants and immigration. It begins with the premise that through selecting whom to admit to New Zealand as immigrants and become New Zealanders, we are collectively expressing what we believe a New Zealander to be. A rapidly evolving body of international literature sparked by Benedict Anderson's 1991 work "Imagined Communities", places the self and the process of identification at the heart of understandings about national and other forms of collective identity. I draw on these models of national identity to critically evaluate the 'ethno-cultural' model of the New Zealand nation adopted by writers such as Keith Sinclair and James Belich. I contend that, in trying to write national histories which stress the unique cultural elements of the nation, these writers have produced artificially homogenous and static models of New Zealand's cultural identity. My thesis proposes that a model of national identity as a state of shared consciousness attained by a defined and mutually understood group of people is inadequate. Instead, I argue that notions both of what constitutes the nation and who belongs within its boundaries are a source of constant debate and evolve over time. I examine national identity in relation to immigration on two levels: at the level of immigration policy, which determines who is formally admitted to the nation-state, and at the level of public debate over immigration which is a more popular expression of a nation's boundaries. The 1970s in New Zealand provides excellent material for examining both of these aspects of the relationship. The decade witnessed both significant changes in immigration policy and bitter public debate about immigration. Before the 1970s, New Zealand's immigration policy was based around a popular identification with Britain and the assumption that New Zealand was part of a British family of nations. Consequently, immigration policy strongly favoured white people from Great Britain. Britain's entry into the European Economic Community in 1973, however, forced New Zealanders to reevaluate the idea that New Zealand identity was part of a broader British identity category and this had implications for immigration policy and attitudes to British immigrants. At the same time, the arrival of an increasing number of Pacific Island immigrants, a group which fell without the boundaries of a culturally defined nation, contributed to debate about cultural diversity and national culture. The presence of Pacific Islanders presented a challenge to the idea of the nation should or could be defined in terms of a single unitary culture. In this way, the 1970s debate over immigration can be understood as part of a broader debate about the place of multiculturalism in New Zealand. This thesis interprets the 1970s as a pivotal time in the evolution of New Zealand identity. At the same time, by examining contestation over immigration as a manifestation of a broader uncertainty and debate about national identity, it makes a case for a broader understanding of New Zealand identity as a debate and as an evolving process.

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