Politics as creative pragmatism: rethinking the political action of contemporary university students in Aotearoa New Zealand
Thesis DisciplinePolitical Science
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis reconsiders the political action and agency of contemporary university students in Aotearoa New Zealand. Although the twenty-first century has witnessed a global growth in student protest (Brooks 2017), there does not seem to have been a noticeable increase in political activism among New Zealand students, with critics variously labelling students as apathetic, selfish, distracted or disinterested (Green 2015; McClennen 2015). However, this thesis argues there is more to contemporary New Zealand student political action and attitudes than has been previously understood. The political attitudes of New Zealand students are examined through 70 in-depth interviews with students at New Zealand’s eight universities, supplemented by observation in the period 2014 to 2015.
The thesis provides a conceptual framework of ‘3 Ds’ for understanding the experiences of contemporary students that inform their political action: desires for different types of politics, demands of contemporary university environments and doubts in an era of political ambiguity. This framework challenges and extends dominant theoretical explanations of student political action in the early twenty-first century, specifically theories of agency, political economy and social network analysis.
In advancing a ‘3 Ds’ framework, this thesis also identifies a particular form of political agency emerging among New Zealand students that can be synthesised and understood through a concept of ‘creative pragmatism’. Creative pragmatism is a term advanced here to describe a ‘realistic’ orientation among students towards their social world, and their creative but cautious negotiation of political environments. The term also acknowledges a willingness amongst students to rethink how they engage politically, while retaining a strong ideal that a ‘different politics is possible’.