Attitudes towards Biculturalism in New Zealand: Social Dominance and Pakeha Attitudes towards the General Principles and Resource-Specific Aspects of Bicultural Policy

By Sibley, Chris G.; Liu, James H. | New Zealand Journal of Psychology, July 2004 | Go to article overview

Attitudes towards Biculturalism in New Zealand: Social Dominance and Pakeha Attitudes towards the General Principles and Resource-Specific Aspects of Bicultural Policy


Sibley, Chris G., Liu, James H., New Zealand Journal of Psychology


Two studies examined Pakeha (New Zealanders of European descent) attitudes towards biculturalism in New Zealand. In Study one, Pakeha who were lower in Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) expressed increased support for an affirmative action policy providing postgraduate scholarships for ethnic minorities only in the absence of material self-interest (i.e., only when they themselves would not be competing for scholarships). In contrast, Pakeha higher in SDO opposed this policy regardless of self-interest. Study two used qualitative responses evoked in the first study to develop a scale distinguishing between attitudes towards (a) biculturalism in principle (general acceptance of a partnership between Maori (the indigenous peoples of New Zealand) and Pakeha as a central aspect of social representations of New Zealand identity) and (b) resource-specific biculturalism (support for policies to redistribute resources in favour of Maori on a categorical basis). In Study two, a majority of Pakeha students supported biculturalism in principle (53% support, 3% opposition) but were opposed to resource-specific biculturalism (3% support, 76% opposition). As expected, SDO moderated this effect. Pakeha low in SDO (and to a lesser extent Right-Wing Authoritarianism) supported biculturalism in principle; however, they were relatively opposed to resource-specific biculturalism regardless of SDO. Consistent with integrated threat theory, we argue that symbolic threats to identity and values must be distinguished from realistic threats to material interests, especially in contexts like New Zealand where biculturalism is part of the national ideology for governance. This distinction is critical for understanding how values, such as group equality, influence perceptions of policy relating to minority-majority group relations.

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The emergence of biculturalism as been one of the most important social and political developments in New Zealand in the last half century (Belich, 1996). The idea of a partnership between Maori (the indigenous peoples of New Zealand) and Pakeha (1) (New Zealanders of European descent) was enshrined in the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840. The Treaty, declared as a legal "nullity" in 1877 and without legal standing for most of the 20th century, began its rehabilitation in the late 1960's as part of the civil rights movement (see Vaughan, 1978). It is now considered to be the most important event in New Zealand history for both Maori and Pakeha (Liu, Wilson, McClure, & Higgins, 1999). The Treaty is regarded as the legal foundation for New Zealand's sovereignty (Orange, 1992), and must be taken into account in all areas of social policy. Although the development of biculturalism as a general principle of New Zealand governance has proceeded quickly since the early 1970's (Ritchie, 1992; Spoonley, Pearson, & Macpherson, 1996), its implementation in specific areas of policy has been slower and the subject of considerable controversy (Barclay & Liu, 2003; Wetherell & Potter, 1992). This investigation focuses on the distinction in attitudinal support among members of the majority group (i.e., Pakeha) for (a) the general principles of biculturalism (termed 'biculturalism in principle'), as a high-minded ideal of egalitarian values and symbol of national identity; and (b) the implementation of bicultural policy influencing the distribution of resources to Maori (termed 'resource-specific biculturalism').

There is reason to believe that this distinction will be central to majority-minority relations in New Zealand in a way that it is not the case in literature emanating from the United States of America (USA). In New Zealand, biculturalism has emerged as a viable (though frequently contested) ideology organising national identity. The Treaty of Waitangi is central and prominent in institutions ranging from the national museum to educational curricula in public schools. Hence, we predict high mean levels of support for the general (i. …

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