Public Anthropology in New Zealand: What’s the Haps, by Josh Connolly

As discussed in my earlier posts, Public Anthropology concerns itself with broader issues in society, often focusing on issues of social justice. In a country where as many as 28% of children grow up in poverty, and one that has the highest teen suicide rate in the ‘developed’ world, it is clear that there are a number of important conversations that need to happen within our society. As such Public Anthropology is well situated to offer another perspective on a number of concerns that currently exist. In this final blog post I explore a number of the ways Public Anthropology is engaged in in New Zealand and how this enriches discussion on particular issues.

One of my favourite sources of Public Anthropology, especially during my undergrad, was the Anthsisters blog. This blog was started by three Cultural Anthropology Masters students at Victoria University of Wellington as a means of exploring theory, their own research, and anthropology in general. One of the most useful and engaging features from the perspective of Public Anthropology was their #TheoryThursdays. This series illustrates how anthropological theory can be made more approachable and easy to understand and can then be applied to specific case studies as a way of enriching the dialogue or conversation around them.

Within a New Zealand context a particularly striking use of anthropological theory was their explanation of ethnocentrism. Defining ethnocentrism, they go on to apply the concept to a specifically New Zealand example, in this instance it was Stan Walker’s response to criticism of him saying “yous” instead of “you” where he stated that “Yous get Māori right, I’ll talk proper English”. As such he was highlighting the inherent hypocrisy between criticising the mispronunciation and misuse of English language while accepting the same when it happened to Māori language. What the Anthsisters blog illustrates is not only the way anthropology can be made more accessible and easier to understand, but also the relevance it has to a specifically New Zealand context.

Another example of Public Anthropology in New Zealand comes from a friend of mine who was also part of my honours studies in 2016. Harriet Lane-Tobin, like me, had an internship this year with ASAA/NZ. In this role she was responsible for a number of things, however a particular aspect of her role was contributing to the ASAANZ blog with a weekly “What’s Up in the World?” column that looked at anthropological theory and tied it into events happening in the world at the time. In doing so she took an anthropological view and framework, applying it to world events and offered a new perspective on issues ranging from nostalgia to Hilary Clinton reinforcing the value of Public Anthropology in broader discussions. Of particular note was an interview she did with Dr. Lorena Gibson and Dr. Catherine Trundle of the Victoria anthropology department on “Fostering Anthropological Thought Through Facebook”. This interview offered particular insights as to the ways Facebook can be used as a means of encouraging anthropological approaches and perspectives on issues. As Dr. Trundle notes during the interview regarding the anthropology department’s Facebook page “the sorts of discussions that have been had on the page around issues of homelessness in New Zealand, issues of everyday racism, have been really a good way to apply the ideas they are learning in class to issues that aren’t just relevant to New Zealand but are actually relevant to the students’ own thoughts about how they live their lives, their own sort of ethics to the world.”

Harriet’s blogs and other posts reflect the role Public Anthropology can play in enriching particular dialogues and offering new and valuable perspectives on issues. This is evident in her interview, however this interview in itself acts as a testament to the value of Public Anthropology, especially in a New Zealand context when considering issues such as homelessness and everyday racism. In this respect the Anthsisters blog is also a valuable resource, highlighting with specific New Zealand examples the way anthropology and anthropological concepts can offer a lot to discussions that are already occurring in New Zealand and can be made approachable to a wider audience. These blogs and Dr. Trundle’s comments further highlight an exciting aspect of Public Anthropology’s nature, that it can be accessed and engaged with easily. Public Anthropology has a lot to offer as a perspective, especially in New Zealand. While this may be the case one may tempted to ask “well, how do we know when we’ve offered enough?” in such a case I can certainly see the appeal of Alex Golub’s response: “when we can send our students to Wikipedia and Amazon knowing that they will get high-value information about our discipline from them.” As anthropologists if we truly want to make valuable contributions to society by offering anthropological perspectives it makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, the more people anthropology is available to, the more people it can benefit.

ASAA/NZ would like to thank Josh for his contributions to our blog and we wish him all the best as he embarks on research for his Masters degree in Cultural Anthropology at Victoria University of Wellington.