Kōrero: Social sciences

Whārangi 5. New developments

Ngā whakaahua

Women’s studies

From the 1960s the social sciences were influenced by political and social changes, and new university disciplines were created. In 1966 a group of women volunteers set up the Society for Research on Women. Concerned over the lack of information on women in society they carried out surveys and other studies, combining activism with research. In 1974 Rosemary Seymour pioneered the teaching of women’s studies at the sociology department of Waikato University. Waikato established a women’s studies degree, with universities around the country following suit. Seymour was also involved in setting up the Women’s Studies Association in 1984.

Māori, Pacific and indigenous studies

Māori activism grew in the 1970s and 1980s, along with increased Māori participation in tertiary education. Over this period universities began to create independent Māori studies departments. This was to some extent a response to Māori demands for a leading role in research concerning Māori. Similar demands from Pasifika students and activists led some universities to create departments of Pacific Island studies. In the 2000s some institutions had indigenous studies departments covering Māori, Pacific Island and other indigenous people.

Ethnicity and migration

In the 1970s and 1980s Cluny Macpherson, David Pearson and Paul Spoonley began studying ethnic groups and migration. Spoonley went on to lead the Integration of Immigrants Programme, studying the way immigrants were absorbed into New Zealand society. As a general trend, from the mid-1980s social scientists in New Zealand concentrated more on ethnicity than class as a basis for studies of inequality and social differences.

Class and inequality

In the 1970s Marxist ideas had some influence on New Zealand sociology, but played a fairly limited role compared to the ideas of Max Weber. The 1980s did, however, see studies on the various forms of inequality existing in New Zealand, including those by David Pitts, David Pearson, David Thorns, Bev James and Kay Saville-Smith. The neo-liberal reforms of the 1980s and 1990s led to studies of the impact of resulting unemployment and increased inequality. Poverty and inequality re-emerged as major issues in the 2010s.

Longitudinal studies

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries New Zealand researchers conducted a series of longitudinal studies, following the development of a cohort of people from early childhood through their lives. The first studies were in Dunedin with children born between 1967 and 1973 and in Christchurch with children born in 1977. They began largely as medical research, but came to involve a substantial social research component. A range of other longitudinal studies have been started including studies on Māori development, migrants, ageing and older people.

Social science in the universities: the 2000s

In the 2000s aspects of social science were taught in all of New Zealand’s universities, with many of the individual disciplines incorporated into wider schools of social science. The universities all taught psychology, but this generally remained in separate departments. Criminology was taught at Victoria, Canterbury and Auckland universities and Auckland University of Technology (AUT). Some academics expressed concern that combined schools of social science had less emphasis on teaching the theoretical basis of core subjects such as sociology.

The introduction of the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) in 2003 encouraged academics to publish more journal articles. Some critics argued this was largely aimed at overseas publication, adding little to greater understanding of New Zealand society and social change. In 2003 the government funded the BRCSS network (Building Research Capability in the Social Sciences), enhancing the social science research capability across the universities. Digital technology increased the capacity for collecting and analysing social statistics, but in the 2010s only a few social scientists were involved in such studies.

Acknowledgements to Charles Crothers

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Peter Clayworth, 'Social sciences - New developments', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/social-sciences/page-5 (accessed 25 August 2019)

Story by Peter Clayworth, published 22 Oct 2014, updated 30 Jun 2015