Tag Archives: aotearoa new zealand

My tribute to Professor Eric Pawson

From the UC Chronicle 44(12) 2009

Last Friday I went back to my old department, the Department of Geography at the University of Canterbury, to attend the retirement party of Professor Eric Pawson, my former PhD supervisor, colleague and head of department. I wasn’t asked to speak at the event, which is fine because lots of other people did, but I would like to acknowledge publicly how fortunate I was to have worked with Eric for almost 15 years from the late 90s until my departure from Canterbury at the end of 2012. I also want to do so because of a sense that Eric’s style of leadership is something that is sadly in increasingly short supply in the neoliberal university and it is worth reflecting on why it is that is so and how things might be different.

As a PhD supervisor, Eric was wonderful. Although we were both cultural geographers, our research interests were quite different. But he took my feminist thesis on single motherhood in post-revolutionary Nicaragua in his stride and managed to give me lots of academic freedom – something I feel I might not have had to the same extent if I’d stayed in the UK to do my PhD – while also providing significant intellectual input. I didn’t appreciate until later how such a balance is really difficult to achieve. His supervision always felt constructive and Eric never allowed me to doubt my work or myself, although would quite sternly draw attention to my weaknesses, such as whenever I was taking my feminist hyper-reflexivity too far.

As a member of the academic staff after my PhD, Eric was fundamental in helping my career to develop. He is the best head of department I have ever had by far. Given the way that things are changing in higher education, it is likely too that he will be the best I will ever have. Unlike many heads in contemporary institutions across the UK and New Zealand, Eric did not buy into the culture of audit and surveillance that pervades our institutions. He never internalized the “line manager” subject position; he was always a colleague, mentor and advisor rather than someone engaged in “performance management”. He never believed that academics need to be constantly surveilled and always made to feel a bit anxious, because otherwise we will get up to no good. As head, Eric was a senior scholar that cared about people and geography, and about both teaching and research. And his efforts went into maximizing us as researchers and teachers, giving us both autonomy and unconditional support, which was the most effective way to achieve what might now be referred to as “excellence” or “impact”. Of the many complimentary things said about Eric on Friday, one was that he was “on everybody’s side”. That is a form of leadership that I think is increasingly endangered.

Eric was the anti-neoliberal embodiment of the managerial approach. He always maintained a healthy ironic stance towards the neoliberal university and as head he sought bottom-up practical solutions to the challenges that faced us as academics or as a department. Decisions were taken collectively and democratically rather than being imposed in a top-down way. Even when you disagreed with the way forward, you could live it with what was decided because you’d been included in the deliberations. He trusted us completely as colleagues and professionals – any modes of surveillance came from elsewhere (TEC, College, PBRF) but never from Eric. We published a paper together on the PBRF (the New Zealand equivalent of the REF) based on our experiences. Despite the different ways in which we were located in this process, we both saw it as something unfortunate to be negotiated, subverted and turned to our advantage. As Liz Morrish and others have noted writing on UK universities, in many institutions the REF has become a toxic instrument of discipline used to impose unattainable and stress-inducing targets, the casualties of which are staff wellbeing at work, collegiality and learning conditions for our students. Leadership for Eric was however about reflecting with us on the intellectually impoverishing dynamics of instruments such as PBRF and striving to keep their negative impacts to a minimum, while working to help us achieve the highest possible scores we could. To the best of his ability, Eric always tried to remove the obstacles – financial, practical, and intellectual – that stood in the way of my achieving my potential. He helped me to get promoted and was my strongest advocate during those processes. He told me frequently that I was trying to do too much and should cut down. He made sure that I got the funding I needed, especially for fieldwork in Nicaragua, and that I got to do the teaching and research I cared about. He was enthusiastic about my successes, indeed about everyone’s successes, while never engaging in acts of self-promotion himself. I’m especially grateful for the good work we did together – including the special issue of the New Zealand Geographer in 2009 (see image), the 2010 New Zealand Geographical Society conference in Christchurch, the PBRF article, the successful prevention of a forced merger with the Department of Geology – and for his support in helping me to get the Marsden grant on media convergence (that in the end I had to do away from Canterbury) and for letting me reschedule classes right in the middle of the teaching semester so I could go to the UK when my sister had an accident. I realize that Eric’s leadership provides me with resources for thinking about how we can do the kinds of things that Liz Morrish is talking about, how we can make things more sane for ourselves, our colleagues and our students, while still doing excellent research and teaching.

So I am grateful to have had Eric as a colleague and mentor for so long and for the self-affirming and positive environment in which I got to work for a number of years thanks to him. I am also grateful for the good advice on so many matters, and the ongoing support that he has given to both me and Kevin since our departure from UC.

Have a happy retirement, Eric, you really deserve it.


Tenure loss will hit NZ

Last week I published an opinion piece in the Otago Daily Times about the dangers posed by the loss of tenure at New Zealand universities. It has received more than 800 social media shares in less than a week. I am sharing it here today as many students and faculty gather at NZ universities to hold #lovehumanities events and on the 6th anniversary of the Christchurch earthquake which arguably both accelerated and facilitated job losses and departures at the University of Canterbury. screenshot-2017-02-22-11-48-40

The rest of the article can be found at https://www.odt.co.nz/opinion/tenure-loss-will-hit-nz

May 2016 New Zealand talks

I am in Dunedin and Wellington over the next two weeks, speaking at the University of Otago and Victoria University of Wellington on my Marsden funded research in both Nicaragua and Aotearoa New Zealand.

I am attending the Space, Race, Bodies II: Sovereignty and Migration in a Carceral Age conference at the University of Otago where together with Kevin Glynn I am presenting a paper (on 7 May) that explores the intersections and interactions between indigenous people, the criminal justice system and the media through a focus on innovative reality series Songs from the Inside broadcast on Māori Television and on Tame Iti’s mediated activism. I am also going to pick up on these themes at Victoria University of Wellington in the Social Theory Spatial Praxis workshop . I am also running a master class on decolonial theory with a group of geography postgraduate students at the University of Otago on 5 May.

I am speaking about our Nicaraguan research in the Department of Geography at Otago University (Monday 9 May at 1pm) and School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington (Thursday 12 May at 4pm) and giving the following paper (co-authored with Kevin Glynn).

Shifting Nicaraguan mediascapes: Authoritarianism and the struggle for social justice


There are two main threats to the authoritarian rule of the Nicaraguan government led by Daniel Ortega: the first is the Managua-based NGO and civil society sector led largely by educated dissident Sandinistas, and the second is the escalating struggle for autonomy and land rights being fought by Nicaragua’s indigenous and Afro-descended inhabitants on the country’s Caribbean coast. In order to confront these threats and, it seems, secure indefinite political tenure, the government engages in a set of centralizing and anti-democratic political strategies characterized by secrecy, institutional power grabs, highly suspect electoral practices, clientelistic anti-poverty programmes, and the control through purchase or co-optation of much of the nation’s media. The social movements that threaten Ortega’s rule are however operating through dispersed and topological modalities of power and the creative use of emergent spaces for the circulation of counterdiscourses and counternarratives within a rapidly transforming media environment. The primary response to these mediated tactics is a politics of silence and a refusal to acknowledge or respond to the political claims made by social movements. In the current conjuncture, we can therefore identify a struggle for hegemony whose strategies and tactics include the citizenship-stripping activities of the state and the citizenship-claiming activities of black, indigenous and dissident actors and activists. This struggle plays out in part through the mediated circulation and countercirculation of discourses and the infrastructural dynamics of media convergence.

Thanks to everyone for the speaking invitations, especially Marcela Palomino, Christina Ergler, Tony Binns and Holly Randall-Moon and to the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand for the funding that has made this research possible.

Indigenizing and decolonizing higher education: From Aotearoa New Zealand to Nicaragua to Scotland

sjtgI work at what could be called a mainstream Enlightenment university. Like many old universities in the western world, the University of Edinburgh is proud of its Enlightenment tradition. It names prestigious lecture series after the Enlightenment as if it was a good thing. While the Enlightenment undoubtedly had its merits in terms of calling into question the tyranny of royals and God, and in the notion that we could as human beings think for ourselves and by so doing create a better world, all to be applauded, it was abysmal in its treatment of women, people of colour and indigenous peoples, whose epistemologies were deemed too irrational, too emotional and too superstitious. Their perceived incapacity for rational thought was a key justification for sexist, racist and colonial practices. It made it justifiable to exclude them from franchise, to deny them access to spaces of economic or educational opportunity, to take their lands and resources and to kill them when they got in the way of “progress” and “civilization”. And it had profound implications for knowledge and for the administrative organization of knowledge in the academy, splitting the natural and physical sciences off from the humanities and social sciences.

As many indigenous scholars have noted, including Sami scholar Rauna Kuokkanen (see for example Kuokkanen 2007) and Māori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith (see for example Smith 2010), the mainstream Enlightenment university is a colonial and monocultural institution that functions on a basis of epistemic ignorance regarding indigenous cultures. For indigenous faculty and students, working or studying at such an institution means therefore being engaged in a struggle against racism and coloniality. It is this experience that led a group of Miskito and Creole intellectuals on Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast to create URACCAN or the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast (www.uraccan.edu.ni ), a university in which indigenous ways of knowing form the basis of scholarly and pedagogical practices. URACCAN’s project forms the basis of a recent article that Kevin Glynn and I (Cupples and Glynn 2014) have just published in the Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, an article that forms part of a special issue on Advancing Postcolonial Geography, edited by James Sidaway, Chih Yuan Woonan and Jane Jacobs at the National University of Singapore (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/sjtg.2014.35.issue-1/issuetoc ). Drawing on insights from the modernity/coloniality/decoloniality (MCD) paradigm and focusing in particular on research and teaching in both communication and health, we outline how western epistemologies are displaced and indigenous ones productively foregrounded. We are inspired by what we have seen as URACCAN. Indeed, we wrote this paper after working for a decade at a New Zealand university that has repeatedly failed indigenous staff, students and knowledges. In the late 1990s, a doctoral student in education, Hazel Phillips, recruited a group of Māori students at the University of Canterbury. Her thesis documents their struggles to succeed in a hostile and colonial institution that repeatedly invisibilized or silenced their perspectives. Sadly, none of the research participants recruited at the start of the study completed their degrees. In the decade since Phillips’ thesis was completed (Phillips 2003), there is no doubt that the University of Canterbury is undergoing an indigenization of sorts. There is a visible indigenous presence on campus, strategic planning documents and appointments articulate aims to strengthen linkages with Māori communities, support Māori research initiatives and enhance the capacity of Māori researchers (see for example www.canterbury.ac.nz/theuni/documents/uc_research_plan_february_2010.pdf) and there are institutional opportunities available for non-indigenous staff and students to become proficient in Māori language and protocol. Such attempts to indigenize the university are however constantly undermined by vertical and undemocratic modes of governance, particularly “line management” (see Cupples and Pawson 2013; Johnston, Sears and Wilcox 2012) and by the privileging of western science and engineering over interdisciplinary and critical cultural and area studies, which are undermined through closure, attempted closure and downsizing through attrition.[1] Such managerial moves compromise the indigenization of the university, for as both Kuokkanen (2007) and Smith (2010) write, it was the development of critical and anti-positivistic cultural, feminist and area studies that emerged from within in the academy that provided an opening for indigenous knowledges to gain legitimacy and flourish (see also www.kaupapamaori.com ).

The library at URACCAN

The library at URACCAN

URACCAN, like other intercultural and indigenous universities that are starting to emerge in Latin America and elsewhere, provides important lessons for those of us working in postcolonial settler nations such as New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the United States with indigenous populations organized in pursuit of decolonization. It also provides lessons for those of us working in the UK, where funding regimes and the pressure to get grants undermines the kind of long term, in-depth and ethnographic work required for doing research with indigenous communities and where our students are mostly (but not exclusively) very privileged and so one of our most important tasks as educators is to help them unlearn their privilege (Spivak 1988) so that they might become more than individualized and compliant consumers when they graduate[2]. In my experience, students are receptive to anti-capitalist, feminist and decolonial thought but they need to have time to think through their implications and be exposed to them over the course of their degrees. URACCAN also provides important lessons for those of us who are deeply concerned at the intense neoliberalization and corporatization that has taken hold of our public institutions in ways that are profoundly damaging. Neoliberalizing threats to humanities and social sciences and the privileging of STEM subjects are therefore also threats to the necessary indigenization and decolonization of the university. At URACCAN, with far fewer resources than both Edinburgh and Canterbury, they have quite a different approach. You can find the article here. If you don’t have an institutional subscription to the Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, and would like a copy of the article, please email me. This article is part of the project Geographies of Media Convergence funded by the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand.


[1]Over the past few years, the management of the University of Canterbury has closed American studies, Religious Studies, Gender Studies and Theatre and Film Studies, subjects in which critical, cultural, and non-positivist perspectives could be found and in which some faculty were working on and with Māori. I do of course acknowledge that in New Zealand there are Māori scientists and engineers (see Victoria Guyatt’s Masters thesis on Māori female scientists for a discussion of how competing worldviews are reconciled (Guyatt 2005)) and that there are a small number of non-indigenous scientists and engineers who are trying to incorporate indigenous worldviews into their teaching and research, but they are few and far between and are hindered by their embeddedness in western scientific epistemologies.

[2]I am however delighted that I have a Masters student, Laura Mariana Reyes, who is about to depart to do fieldwork with Unitierra, a similar initiative in Oaxaca, Mexico.


Cupples J and Glynn K (2014) Indigenizing and decolonizing higher education on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 35(1): 56-71.

Cupples J and Pawson E (2012) Giving an account of oneself: The PBRF and the neoliberal university.  New Zealand Geographer 68(1): 14-23.

Guyatt V (2005) Reconciling Multiple Identities: Māori Women Scientists in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Unpublished MSc thesis, Department of Geography, University of Canterbury.

Johnston J, Sears C and Wilcox L (2012) Neoliberalism unshaken: A report from the disaster zone. Excursions Journal 3(1): 1-25.

Kuokkanen R (2007) Reshaping the University: Responsibility, Indigenous Epistemes, and the Logic of the Gift. UBC Press: Vancouver.

Phillips H (2003): Te Reo Karanga o nga tauria Māori: Māori Students, their Voices, their Stories at the University of Canterbury 1996 – 1998. Unpublished PhD thesis, Department of Education, University of Canterbury.

Smith LT (2010) Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. 2nd edition. Sage: London.

Spivak G (1988) Can the subaltern speak? In C Nelson and L Grossberg (eds) Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. University of Illinois Press: Urbana, pp. 271-313.


My research in a one minute video

You can find out about my research in just one minute at the link below.  This video is part of the University of Edinburgh’s research in a nutshell project.  If you would like to read more, and would like copies of any the articles listed, get in touch.


In this video, Julie Cupples outlines her interest in questions of media convergence and cultural citizenship in development contexts.


My work sits at the intersection of cultural geography, development studies and media and cultural studies. I have been working in Central America, primarily Nicaragua, for many years and have published on development/postdevelopment; geographies of neoliberalism, gender and sexuality; disasters and environmental risk; municipal governance, elections and indigenous media. I am a principal investigator on a research grant, funded by the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand, being conducted in collaboration with Kevin Glynn at Massey University. This project is entitled “Geographies of Media Convergence: Spaces of Democracy, Connectivity and the Reconfiguration of Cultural Citizenship”. It explores the relationship between political culture and popular culture in an age of media convergence. In particular, it seeks to understand how mediatized forms of popular culture can contribute to the construction of democratic citizenship. It involves the empirical exploration of a series of media texts and practices which can be understood as negotiations of hegemonic projects. To this end, I am exploring indigenous television channels in both Nicaragua (BilwiVision and Canal 7) and in Aotearoa New Zealaland (Māori Television) as well as analyzing the popular geopolitics of prime time TV drama.

Some recent publications from this work include:

Cupples J (2013) Latin American Development. London: Routledge

Cupples J. and Glynn K. (2013) Postdevelopment television? Cultural citizenship and the mediation of Africa in contemporary TV drama. Annals of the Association of American Geographers (in press).

Springer S., Chi H., Crampton J., McConnell F., Cupples J., Glynn K., Warf B. and Attewell W (2012) Leaky geopolitics: The ruptures and transgressions of WikiLeaks. Geopolitics 17(3): 681-711.

Cupples, J. (2012) Wild globalization: The biopolitics of climate change and global capitalism on Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast. Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography 44(1): 10-30.

Glynn K. and Cupples J. (2011) Indigenous mediaspace and the production of (trans)locality on Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast. Television & New Media 12(2): 101-135.

Cupples J. (2011) Shifting networks of power in Nicaragua: Relational materialisms in the consumption of privatized electricity. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 101(4): 939-948.

Cupples J. and Larios I. (2010) A functional anarchy: Love, patriotism, and resistance to free trade in Costa Rica. Latin American Perspectives 37(6): 93-108.

Pokarekare ana

The news has been full of the most depressing horror this week. On Monday 42 people were killed in bomb attacks across Iraq and three people were killed in the bombings at the Boston marathon. The US Senate was unable to honour the first graders slaughtered in their elementary school and pass universal background checks for would-be gun owners, despite the fact that 90 per cent of US Americans are in favour of such checks. Here in the UK, we have been exposed to incessant accolades and tributes for a former prime minister who destroyed lives and communities across Britain, while making friends with some of the nastiest political leaders around, including Augusto Pinochet, while her disastrous legacy 23 years after her party booted her out of power is ubiquitously felt in the UK today. The idea that we could spend £10 million of taxpayer money on a state-funded funeral (for someone who didn’t like the state and wanted to roll it back) while the benefits of the most vulnerable in our society are cut in the name of austerity is nothing short of disgusting. The mainstream media coverage has been dire and while I have found alternative narratives circulating vigorously on social media, the whole thing was making me sick. Surely, if you adore Thatcher and Thatcherism, you must be either very rich or very stupid. I know it is much more complex than that (and we do need to articulate a different narrative that doesn’t pit the working poor against the unemployed and the immigrant) but that is what the mainstream media coverage (which I often vigorously defend in my teaching and research) was doing to me. But this week has also seen the parliament of Aotearoa New Zealand do something really really beautiful and that is pass the marriage equality bill, a move which legalizes same-sex marriage. On one level, it is incredible to think that this has taken so long, 120 years after New Zealand gave women the right to vote for example, and to know that New Zealand is only the thirteenth country in the world in the world to do so (Uruguay was the 12th).  Gay kids in New Zealand continue to experience heartbreaking forms of homophobia and bullying that schools and society in general urgently have to find ways to deal with and I wish I knew where to start with this. Denying some people in a given society the right to marry while others have that right unproblematically is as insane as giving people the right to keep assault weapons and high capacity magazines in their kitchen cupboards. That is the world we live in. But the announcement of the outcome of the vote in parliament this week (77 in favour, 44 against) resulted in the most wonderful display of love, inclusion, and hope for the future, when the packed public gallery and MPs began to sing. They sang a Māori song, Pokarekare Ana, originally sung by Māori soldiers leaving Aotearoa New Zealand to fight in the First World War in Europe.  The fact that it was a Māori song, sung in Māori by those present, makes it all the more special, as it is a reminder that as we make progress against entrenched forms of homophobia, we must also continue to struggle against ongoing forms of coloniality and racism, that we need positive change for all those who are discriminated against or denied full citizenship.  What is truly wonderful is not just the impact this has had on New Zealand but the way in which has made international news all around the world, appearing on the front pages of so many news sites alongside the depressing news outlined above. In the past few days, the clip has appeared over and over again in my Facebook newsfeed, circulated by friends in the UK, US, Nicaragua, Portugal and Canada as well as by many New Zealanders.  It has been watched hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube and other sites already. All of this global sharing of a special moment in New Zealand history raises hope that other countries will now fall like dominoes and also pass marriage equality. It is already evident how good this is for people, gay and straight, and for a nation and its sense of self. I am so proud of you, Aotearoa New Zealand, and look forward to attending a gay wedding there one day soon.   The clip, if you haven’t seen it already is here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DW4DXOAXF8U