The Expansion of Sustainability through New Economic Space: Maori Potatoes and Cultural Resilience


The return of Māori land to a productive role in the New Economy entails the innovation and diffusion of technologies relevant to the sustainable development of this land. Sustainable development requires substantive changes to current land and resource use to mitigate environmental degradation and contribute to ecological and sociological resilience. Such innovation is emerging in ‘New Economic Space’ where concerns for cultural resilience have arisen as political-economic strategies of the New Economy converge within a global economic space. New Economic Space comprises policy, technology and institutional innovations that attempt to influence economic activity, thus directly engaging with local ‘place-based’ expressions of geohistorically unique knowledge and identity.

This thesis approaches contemporary Māori development from three perspectives. First, by viewing the changing links between ecosystems and communities as examples of innovation diffusion, the evolution of relevant policies, technologies and institutions can be examined for their impact upon Māori resilience. Second, such innovation diffusion can be described as a form of regional development, acknowledging the integral role of traditional territories in Māori identity and culture as well as the distinct legislative and governance contexts by which this land is developed. Third, by incorporating the geohistorical uniqueness of Māori ideas, values and beliefs, standard concepts of political-economy can be reformulated to show an explicit cultural economy – Māori Traditional Economic Space – in which Māori horticulturalists participate in parallel with the New Economy.

Two methods are used in the analysis of the participation by Māori horticulturalists in New Economic Space. Fuzzy set/Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fs/QCA) allows the rigorous investigation of small-N studies of limited diversity for their partial membership in nominated sets. This thesis uses fs/QCA to organise theoretical and substantive knowledge of each case study to score its membership in agri-food networks, Māori institutions and post-production strategies, allowing the identification of causal configurations that lead to greater resilience for Māori growers and their communities. The second method is Actor-Network Theory (ANT) that incorporates elements of nature and society, showing the extensive and dynamic entwinement that exists between the two. ANT describes the enrolment of diverse ‘actants’ by a range of eco-social institutions and the subsequent translation of the resulting assemblages into resilience strategies. The results of this research first show a ‘System of Provision’ (SOP) in which Māori development strategies converge with non-Māori attempts to expand research and marketing programmes. These programmes seek to implement added-value strategies in supplying novel horticultural products within New Economic Space; parallel ‘cultural logics’ ensure food is supplied to traditional Māori institutions according to the cultural logics of Māori.

In addition to this finding, results also show that the participation of Māori growers in New Economic Space can paradoxically lead to an expansion of the Traditional Economic Space of Māori. This expansion is not simply contingent upon configurations of policy, technology, and institutional innovations that originate in New Economic Space but is directed by Māori cultural logics, located in Māori territories but seeking innovations from an amorphous universal ‘core’. The interface between the global New Economy and the localities of a Māori cultural economy is defined by the ‘interrogation’ of these innovations, and innovators, through eco-cultural institutions in their diffusion to and from Māori land, Māori resources and Māori people. Within the boundaries of this interrogation border resides a malleable assemblage of actants, enrolled by Māori as components of resilience strategies, which can lead to the endurance of Māori culture.

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