Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

The Interregnum - Rethinking New Zealand

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

The Interregnum - Rethinking New Zealand

Article excerpt

Morgan Godfery (ed.) (2016) The Interregnum - Rethinking New Zealand. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books.

In this latest book of essays in Bridget Williams Books Texts series Morgan Godfery and ten other young contributors question New Zealand's social, political, and economic status quo and whether we are entering a moment of 'interregnum' - a reference to Gramsci's notion of a liminal space that exists between the collapsing of an old order before the formation of a new. Characteristic of an 'interregnum' for both Gramsci and the editor of this volume is that "a great variety of morbid symptoms appear". The 11 contributors to the volume give us a commentary on different aspects of a New Zealand failing to look after its people, its environment, and its fraying public sphere. The volume is an edited collection of pieces that have been produced independently of each other but share several themes. We are supplied with commentary on topics as diverse as life in precarious work, the institutional failings of Parliament as a place of work, increasing automation and the future of employment, and an evisceration of New Zealand's feeble climate change policies. Each author grapples with the present conditions of public policy in New Zealand: the primacy of the market; the invisibility of the poor and the worker; the marginalisation of Mäori worldviews and political claims, and the deliberate manoeuvring to shelter industry from responsibility for environmental destruction. The authors do well to highlight the various problems and failings of New Zealand's socio-political status quo from a progressive perspective and we agree with a great many of their conclusions. However, in our reading we see that the contributors collectively struggle with identifying how to reverse the mechanisms and power relations through which social, economic, and environmental marginalisation is created and reproduced. Furthermore, there is not a strong engagement with the reasons for the continued electoral success of governments that are central agents in both cause and replication of marginalisation. Ultimately these are minor quibbles for the authors shed critical light on factors that contribute to marginalisation in contemporary New Zealand: being excluded from political discourse or being unable to contribute, being poor, existing in a social environment that places responsibility on to the individual. The authors also explore the theme of the lack of political discourse, or access to this discourse for various New Zealanders. These themes help to elaborate on identified problems and paint a picture of what progress could look like. As a book written for a broader audience than the academy, The Interregnum - Rethinking New Zealand is often accessible, engaging, and thought-provoking. Our comments on the book are made in the spirit of continuing the important conversations the book has started.

Godfery's opening chapter sets out the context for the book and the contributions of his ten collaborators. Godfery puts forward the core theme - that New Zealand society has been damaged by decades of neoliberal policy practice and that the social, economic, and environmental consequences this has wrought means the status quo can no longer hold. As is obvious from the title, Godfery interprets our current moment to be one of 'interregnum' taking his cue from Gramsci's well known quote: "the crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear" (Gramsci, 1971: 276). Godfery's chapter is not an academic work, it does not engage with Gramsci's work beyond the inclusion of this quote. Nor does his work invoke other contemporary discussions of 'interregnum' on a global scale, for example Zygmunt Bauman's conception of an interregnum arising from a separation of power and sovereignty from the bounds of the nation-state (Bauman, 2012). Godfery's 'interregnum' in the context of the book, then, is not an application of Gramsci's analysis of the politics of ruling class hegemony contained in the Prison Notebooks to the current state of contemporary New Zealand, but rather a literary device for setting up the book as a collection of critical thinking about New Zealand society. …

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