Towards a Sociology of New Zealand

25 September 2019

Anthony Giddens (Baron Giddens of Southgate) states that ‘Sociology is the study of human social life, groups, and societies and its subject is our own behaviour as social beings. Learning to think sociologically means cultivating the imagination. A sociologist is somebody who can break free from the immediacy of personal circumstances and put things in a wider context’. As an academic specialising in the sociology of organisations for 20 years, Professor Bruce Curtis has championed the sociological imagination in developing a sociology of New Zealand.

In his upcoming lecture in the University of Waikato Hamilton Public Lecture Series, happening on 1 October, Professor Curtis will start with a discussion of sociology as a problem-solving approach, which often generates counter-intuitive results. He will also make links with his own socialisation which sensitised him to particular sets of problems. Pierre Bourdieu called this form of socialisation ‘habitus’, the embodiment of cultural capital and ingrained habits due to our life experiences. For sociologists it is unproblematic that while the researcher always shapes the research, the research also shapes the researcher. Professor Curtis will discuss four areas of research that are significant to him and have figured in his development of a sociology of New Zealand.

He will first look at the study of agriculture in New Zealand, especially the export-oriented meat sector. As the son of a freezing worker, this was the most personally significant area of research and formed the basis of his PhD. However, the problems he identified at the start of his research differed to those he uncovered in the sector and which had shaped his own ‘common-sense’ understanding. In short, what was imagined as a struggle between bosses and unions in meat plants, turned out to be a by-product of farmers’ control of the sector.

Secondly, Professor Curtis will examine the study of gambling in New Zealand. If the study of agriculture was a conscious choice based on decades of socialisation, the study of gambling was the product of pure serendipity: picking up the phone in an empty office. However, the sociological imagination again produced unexpected results. A research project on the socio-economic impact of the licensed casinos in New Zealand became the basis for the study of the moral and institutional implications of ‘the stupid tax’, and highlighted the deficiencies of our understudying of gambling as opposed to Internet forms of gaming.

Thirdly, the university sector will be discussed, where biography clearly plays a role. This work has produced the sharpest reversal in terms of assumptions going into research and the conclusions drawn. For example, the Performance-based Research Fund which was perceived in 2003 as a threat to ‘traditional scholarship’, has in fact acted as one of its bulwarks. There are also clear definitional issues, foremost being the discussion of the ‘neo-liberal university’, but without any clear agreement about what this term means.

The last topic Professor Curtis will discuss is a study of neo-colonialism in New Zealand. This research synthesizes other sectoral and organisational studies. Much of contemporary scholarship focuses on New Zealand in terms of post-colonial debates, which centre on the transformation of a former colony. However, neo-colonialism is also at play here and may well be the more important trait.

Professor Curtis' lecture, Towards a Sociology of New Zealand, will take place on Tuesday 1 October at 5.45pm in the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts at the University of Waikato.

Latest stories

Related stories

Waikato commuters committed to their travel mode of choice - cars

Waikato people are wedded to their cars and although they want to use more sustainable…

Corruption Perceptions Index ‘biased’ and ‘flawed’

A University of Waikato researcher has called Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, released this week,…

Richard von Sturmer

New writer in residence

Richard von Sturmer has been appointed writer in residence for 2020.

ALPSSGRAD 2019 Graduate and Postgraduate Conference

A very successful ALPSSGRAD Conference was held on 7 and 8 November 2019 at the…

University announced as Headline Partner of NZ Festival of the Arts Writers programme

The University of Waikato has been announced as a headline University Partner of the New…

Maui & Tahu

Fighting for Māori data rights

Two researchers are helping to pioneer a global initiative that seeks to restore control of…

Psychology Research Poster Session 2019

From the topic of memory and attention in everyday driving to the relationship between traumatic…

Hamilton Public Lecture Series - Migration: geography, desire and inequality

In his Hamilton Public Lecture, Professor Francis L. Collins will address the question of migration,…

L to R: Judge Catherine Chidgey, Open Division Winner Sam Keenan, and University of Waikato Pro Vice-Chancellor Allison Kirkman

Kiwi literary talent awarded top prize

The inaugural Sargeson Prize was awarded last night – the country’s richest short story prize.

Armon Tamatea

University of Waikato secures more than $6m in MBIE research funding

The University of Waikato has received more than $6 million in research funding from the…

Todd Henry

Visual masters for prized photographer

Award-winning photographer and filmmaker Todd Henry has just submitted his masters thesis at the University…

Professors Robyn Longhurst and Lynda Johnston

Research looks into ‘belonging’ for disabled people

Understanding why and where disabled people feel they belong is the focus of a joint…