Settler colonial spaces: Avery Smith, Hine Funaki, Liana MacDonald, ‘Living, breathing settler-colonialism: the reification of settler norms in a common university space’, Higher Education Research & Development, 40, 2021, pp. 132-145


Abstract: Common university spaces are often lauded as inclusive spaces where everyone is welcomed, but is that really the case? Universities in Aotearoa New Zealand receive social, material, and financial benefits from positioning themselves as ethnically and culturally diverse, yet these institutions were established through acts of colonial invasion that severed Indigenous communities from land, language, and culture. The silencing of violent colonial histories is typical of settler societies and in institutions like universities in order to progress the idea of harmonious settler-Indigenous relations. Historical amnesia caters to settler sensibilities and the need to feel a sense of belonging to migrated territories, yet colonial violence continues to negatively impact Indigenous peoples’ lives. In this article, we consider how the logics of settler-colonialism underpin the workings of a large communal university space at one Aotearoa New Zealand university, to explore how the ideals of equity and inclusion function in normal day-to-day operations. Our research applied collaborative focused ethnographic methods to the performative and cultural dimensions of whiteness, to reveal ways in which settler normativity – settler ways of being, thinking, and doing – were evident in this communal space. Settler normativity was constructed by the predominance and location of settlers in space, the comfort settlers displayed, design of the space, and normalisation of wealth. We argue that common university spaces function as a microcosm of settler colonialism, where indigeneity is displaced, settlers assert their permanence, and universities profit.

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