Sue Bradford’s PhD thesis went online this week. I have had a skim through it, and it looks to me like it will be a valuable resource for left wing activism in Aotearoa/NZ for some time to come. I aim to read it in full. I think only some of us will do that, as academic writing has appeal to only some who are interested in politics.
The main strength of the thesis seems to be that it paints a pretty comprehensive picture of the Left in NZ. Bradford seems to conclude that more analysis and left think-tanks will help to counter what many see as the fragmented, and rudderless state of the country’s activist Left at the moment.
Simon Collin’s review in today’s NZ Herald, says this:
[Bradford’s] doctoral thesis, published this week by AUT University, says many of the 51 activists and academics she interviewed see “a rise in mindless activism, actions undertaken without sufficient collective analysis and planning”.
She believes the answer is a left-wing think-tank – or perhaps several of them – to develop well-researched policies for the left in the same way that the business-funded New Zealand Initiative and the Christian-based Maxim Institute do for the right.
The thesis is available online here: A major left wing think tank in Aotearoa — an impossible dream or a call to action?
The research takes an approach that I prefer: one in which the researcher acknowledges their underlying values and political positions. It means that perspective is part of the research and open to critique. Bradford uses and “ethnographic” approach, based mostly in interviews with academics and political activists. She identifies her approach as that of “political activist ethnography”.
Bradford defines the Left thus [p.18]:
Left: a commitment to working for a world based on values of fairness, inclusion, participatory democracy, solidarity and equality, and to transforming Aotearoa into a society grounded in economic, social, environmental and Tiriti justice.Note on ‘progressive’Later in the thesis the term ‘progressive’ is used at times as a synonym for ‘left’, particularly when discussing left wing think tanks internationally, as in some countries this is the preferred terminology.
She quotes Bryce Edwards, who claims that in NZ, civil society is relatively “thin”. The state, political parties, and the media are very dominant, while, in contrast, participation in things like “politics, protest, community organisation” is weak [p.122].
Towards the end, Bradford lays out a way forward [p.226]
1.Take the decision to proceed
ie. to set up one or more Left think tanks.
2.Strengthen effective union and community-based left activism
Currently this is pretty weak in NZ. Bardford argues that a strong community base is necessary to enable the development of ideas, innovations and direction in conjunction with think tanks.
3. Do more to find each other
Bradford concludes that her research shows that the Left in NZ is
potentially far more powerful than any of us individually realises.
Intersectionality.“Intersectionality, the assertion that social identity categories such as race, gender, class, sexuality, and ability are interconnected and operate simultaneously to produce experiences of both privilege and marginalization . . . ” (Smooth, p. 11)..Neoliberalism.“My view is that it refers to a class project that coalesced in the crisis of the 1970s. Masked by a lot of rhetoric about individual freedom, liberty, personal responsibility and the virtues of privatisation, the free market and free trade, it legitimised draconian policies designed to restore and consolidate capitalist class power” (Harvey, 2010, p.10)..