The past as it appeared to those present : "class" in the eye of the beholder in 1930s and 1940s New Zealand society.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The aim of this thesis is to gain a specific understanding of an important period of New Zealand's social history, from the perspective of people who were actually there. The focus is on how a range of New Zealanders living during the 1930s and 1940s defined, discussed, and disputed the significance of "class" in their society. There is a dearth of historical research about class and the social imagery of class in New Zealand, and particularly in relation to the 1930s and 1940s. While the dearth serves to highlight the uniqueness and value of this thesis, it also exacerbates the methodological and conceptual issues that are inevitably bound up in any study of class imagery. In an age where academics increasingly stress that class is no longer a relevant or worthwhile subject for research, how can the concept be gainfully employed? Do the present-day researcher's a priori assumptions about class inevitably impede finding out how the "insider", or New Zealanders in the past, understood class? Given the methodological problems of previous international class imagery research, and the almost invariable ambiguity of a class image, how can one attempt to bridge the gap between past and present understandings of class? These key questions are addressed throughout the study of a wide range of academic, polemical, political, official, personal, media, and fictional primary sources. Ultimately this thesis shows that in the New Zealand context, class imagery analysis, despite its inherent difficulties, provides much historical insight about national mentalities, myths, and rhetoric related to and about class. In a society that has traditionally prided itself on its egalitarianism and classlessness, this insight is especially intriguing.