Redefining belonging: how Kiwis connect to NZ

Thursday 11 April 2013, 2:38PM
By Massey University

A Massey researcher is examining how YouTube and other online “social worlds” are redefining New Zealand’s national identity.

Professor of Applied Linguistics Cynthia White is investigating how people see themselves, their sense of belonging and how this has changed.

“The question of where do people belong has been replaced by questions of how do people belong in the modern world and how do they show that belonging,” she says. “That belonging is now very complex.”

With the internet, migration and globalisation, there are new opportunities for people to express themselves and create social worlds to belong to.

“People now have connections to many parts of the physical world and many communities, and the web allows us to see those diverse connections and how important they are for people.”

As part of a four-year project, the Palmerston North researcher is studying versions of the national anthem on YouTube, and the thousands of comments they generate.

She says people post their own compilations using photos and videos and by doing so assert their own idea of the New Zealand character and how we should be.

Professor White says the comments talk of memories of home, or stories of how while they may be abroad their heart is in New Zealand. Others express their connection to the country after travelling here or through family links – showing the complexity of belonging to New Zealand.

“This projects will tell us what it means to belong in the 21st Century, and the emotions connected to belonging to a nation, such as pride, ambivalence, a longing to be back or a longing to belong,” she says.
“I think these are very contemporary issues to do with migration and the fact people belong to multiple worlds.”

Professor White says last century there was a quest for a single national identity and “we used to see ourselves defined by our sporting achievement, a can-do mentality, number 8 wire, the bicultural nation”.

While traces of these earlier themes remain, people are mixing them with their own personal narratives and emotional connections. It shows national identity in the 21st Century is no longer so fixed for people, she says.

The national anthem research will form part of a wider study that will compare the findings with more formal definitions of national identity, collected from official websites and public and political speeches.

Focus groups and in-depth interviews with New Zealanders who live overseas or have returned home will also be conducted. The research builds on Professor White’s past work on language and migration.