Can you decolonise without undoing capitalism? Danielle Webb, Marxism, Rangatiratanga, and Māori Economies: Can the rangatiratanga sphere be built within settler capitalism? MA dissertation, Victoria University of Wellington, 2022


Abstract: The dynamics of settler colonialism, of which capitalism is a dominant feature, continue to constrain the ability of Māori to assert tino rangatiratanga. Before the arrival of Europeans, rangatiratanga over every aspect of life, including the economy, lay with the rangatira of hapū and iwi. Now there are other sites of power to contend with. The state and those who control capital have significant influence over the lives of Māori, including the capacity for self-determination. Māori have long asserted rangatiratanga against the state through various campaigns to change New Zealand’s constitution to reflect the agreements between rangatira and the Crown in te Tiriti o Waitangi. The most recent effort is spearheaded by Matike Mai Aotearoa, the independent working group on constitutional transformation. Matike Mai focuses on the legal and political dimensions of constitutional transformation, including the construction of a new governance system in which a ‘rangatiratanga sphere’ (under Māori leadership) would govern in partnership with a kāwanatanga sphere (under the Crown). Little attention is paid, however, to the economic implications of constitutional transformation or to the role of capitalism in constraining rangatiratanga. I argue that for rangatiratanga to be fully realised, radical economic transformation is required to the same degree as constitutional transformation. Indigenous Marxist conceptions of the political economy highlight the relationship between the state and capitalists in the construction and perpetuation of settler capitalism. In posing the question, ‘can the rangatiratanga sphere be built within settler capitalism?’ this thesis aims both to draw attention to how settler capitalism has shaped Māori economies and to explore the role of Māori economies in restoring rangatiratanga. I develop a theoretical framework by drawing on Marxist scholarship, alongside contemporary literature on Māori economies, to help interpret the interview data from my research. A thematic analysis of the interviews suggests that the assertion or restoration of rangatiratanga is a central concern to participants in Māori economies. Far from being straightforward, however, rangatiratanga must be negotiated with the state and in the capitalist market, the very forces that have historically constrained it. I refer to this as the rangatiratanga paradox. Building the rangatiratanga sphere may be possible within settler capitalism, but it will always have to contend for power with the state and owners of capital.

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