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American Anthropologist

Being Explicit about Culture: Māori, Neoliberalism, and the New Zealand Parliament



ABSTRACT  In this article, I explore how people use the culture concept in legislatures to understand the minorities they legislate for and about. I focus on recent debates in the New Zealand parliament over whether the indigenous Māori are a cultural group or a racial group. A Westminster parliament system encourages these debates, in which political parties argue that Māori are either cultural or racial but not both. For the ruling Labour Party and its allies, Māori are cultural; for their opposition, the National Party and its allies, Māori are a racial group. This division is possible only because of the legislators’ neoliberal assumptions about identity categories. To complicate these political divisions, Māori MPs currently belong to political parties from all parts of the political spectrum, and their effectiveness as culture bearers in a parliamentary context can disrupt the terms of this debate.

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