• Charles Crothers
Part of the Sociology Transformed book series (SOTR)


A conceptual framework for analysing a ‘national sociology’ is sketched which suggests that knowledge projects move through several stages from problem-choices, through mobilisations of theories, methodologies, resources and data—to produce a variety of types (genres) of outputs for a variety of audiences. Some of the key features of NZ society over time which might shape the development of NZ sociology are outlined, with an emphasis on periods when NZ was seen as a ‘social laboratory’. In turn, the configuration of the NZ university system over time is outlined as the environment within which academic programmes are framed. The methods used in developing this historical sociology study are described and its opportunities and limitations argued. Given the substantial wealth of information available, it is possible to highlight the considerable extension of sociology across many sites within universities and to trace the rise and fall of sociologies and departments over time.


Sociology of sociology New Zealand Sociology of knowledge production National sociology, ‘social laboratory’, study methods 

This chapter surveys the various contexts within which the history of NZ sociology is to be set. The analytical tools of sociology of sociology are considered, followed by a discussion of the data drawn on in constructing this book. The characteristics of NZ society and its history are sketched, and then the configuration of NZ’s universities and research infrastructure are outlined. These backgrounds will be drawn on as providing explanations in the substantive chapters on the history of NZ sociology.

1.1 Conceptualising

Christian Fleck (2015) has recently suggested a set of key areas which provide some guidance for the analysis of scientific enterprises: people, ideas, instruments, institutions, and contexts. Within this framework, Kuhn’s conceptions of paradigms (or traditions) will be broadly drawn on—in the detection of conceptual/methodological shifts—and more generally in pointing to the role of ‘resource mobilisation’ (effects of various available resources at different times/places).

The conceptual scheme being deployed has four levels. The first is the context, at both national and international levels, of university structures, research funding structures, and other institutions. Disciplines (and similar units) operate within these contexts and in turn are composed of departments, disciplinary ‘fractions’ (e.g. mainstream/other), and specialties. Finally, across all these units are the people involved: academic staff, researchers, administrators, students, and ‘consumers’ or ‘audiences’, together with their social characteristics, attitudes and behaviours, and their individual and collective ‘outputs’. Explanation of the outcomes of NZ sociology needs to draw on, not just each of these four levels, but their combinations.

Disciplines lie at the conceptual centre. Academic disciplines are socially constructed, and their boundaries are patrolled by those maintaining them. The foundations for the present international (at least Anglo-Saxon) line-up of social science disciplines was laid in the 1890s, although recent decades have seen a loosening and increasing fluidity of disciplinary boundaries, with the emergence (and occasional decline) of various fields of study. Throughout, though, Sociology (including in NZ) has been able to maintain a strong sense of disciplinary identity. On the other hand, formal Sociology has far from captured the whole range of sociological activity.

There have always (and increasingly) been two sociologies or ‘fractions’: those in the mainstream programmes of mainstream universities and those ‘in the margins’ or ‘other’—perhaps a distinction between Sociology and sociology. Mainstream departments are defined as those formally swearing allegiance to Sociology as a discipline and (mainly) associating with institutions, such as Sociology Associations, which also formally see themselves as centrally attached to sociology as a discipline. Outside this mainstream many scholars or other intellectuals are infected with a sociological perspective but practise their sociology beyond the confines of formal Sociology departments. The relationships between the two fractions changes over time. The wider perspective and siting of sociology has been enhanced in recent decades by a gathering and widespread consensus around a stable of social theorists (e.g. Foucault, Bourdieu) and of social research methods, both of which seem, if anywhere, to be located within (or at least loosely linked with) Sociology as a discipline.

In some countries these fractions are more visible: some apparently ‘Sociology’ specialties have separate institutional lives separate from mainstream Sociology, which can be glimpsed in US sociology by separate associations (e.g. the American Society for the Study of Religion). Some specialties are institutionalised as separate fields within neighbouring disciplines: one is educational sociology within the education discipline, but there are also political, economic and other sociologies which occupy interstitial areas between Sociology and other disciplines. Of course, what in shorthand is presented as a dichotomy in practice is a continuum.

Disciplines are largely located in various national contexts and can operate in quite different ways across these: hence the concept of a ‘national sociology’ which reflects the particular features the sociology relating to a country might possess, compared to other national sociologies. Such features might reflect characteristics of the society or of the community of sociologists domiciled in it, or studying it, or all of these. There exist several related models of a national sociology which might guide interpretation. A purist disciplinary model would involve a national sociology reproducing (or even adding to) classical or mainstream ‘core’ sociology, especially for students, without much regard to local circumstances—although there might be some local application. A more locally centred model begins with the conception that any society has a set of myths about its own characteristics and that local sociology (together with various other knowledges and ideologies) stands at various removes from that. In this conception, local sociology is in debate with the common myths and with alternative images of the society and is guided in its research agenda by the public’s concerns. Another model is quite different and involves seeing sociology as less of an academic activity and more as cognitive frameworks shaping social action. Broadly, one depiction is that a national sociology is what sociologists domiciled in that country do and another is a sociology focusing on the subject-matter of a particular country (irrespective of where the sociologists involved in such sociology are domiciled). This book will explore the extent to which there is a NZ national sociology.

Raewyn Connell (e.g. 2007) has argued that there is a hierarchy amongst national sociologies: imperial or metropolitan ‘cores’ colonise social research in the ‘periphery’, sucking out its academic talent and its data, which are to be interpreted by theories provided by the core. Metropolitan theories and models of social research methodology are pressed into service without much local adaptation.

Academic departments of Sociology are set within changing university structures, including models of how knowledge is to be structured and its divisions of labour. There is a limited international literature on academic departments, although the sociology of science has devoted much attention to the structure and dynamics of scientific specialties. Academic departments have been moulded by different ‘organisational template’ ideologies over time, although in many ways they remain ‘feudal’ structures with caste lines drawn between their various levels. For a while, NZ departments tended to be organised on a professorial head model, with the professor being locked into the Head of Department (HOD) role and the remainder of the ranks arrayed as subordinates in his (!!) shadow. This is a weaker version of the even more radical German model, in which the HOD was the centre holding the rest of the unit together. Over time, the professorial/head linkage has weakened with rotating chairs and limited-term leadership tenures. Departments tended to be strongly autonomous units with their own support staff, suite of rooms and so forth, albeit more generally under the supervision of faculties.

More recently (over the last two decades), the economies of scale of departments have been seen as not cost-effective, and instead combination into higher scale units (often termed ‘schools’) has been sought. However, some units have been multidisciplinary from their formation—with sociology being tucked into them in complex (and possibly problematic) ways. These changes accompany moves to executive deans and a more overall competitive situation with increasing emphases on research propelled by audit cultures—especially research assessment schema such as NZ’s Performance-based Research Fund (PBRF )—and the costs of teaching and administration. However, while programmes have had some of their former (financial and authoritative) autonomy removed, to a considerable extent many continue to function much as before. Heads of School (HOSs) with a high administrative workload now preside over limited-power Heads of Programme. Embedding disciplines in wider schools takes the edge off their boundaries and provides more linked-up teaching and research, in addition to the more focused administrative support, while putting considerable strain on a HOS to hold together groups not always used to working together.

Disciplines and their constituent components are shaped, or at least limited, by their national contexts. This includes legal and power structures, funding, policies of recruitment and personnel management, and a raft of other mechanisms. In turn, university features are affected by national policies. Some such features have increasingly been caught up in national ‘science and innovation’ systems in which there is a planned and systematic approach to achieving national goals.

There are broader questions, too, about the more active impact of sociology in the form of ‘public sociology’, or that raised by Merton and Wolfe (1995) about the incorporation of sociology into wider society, such as the take-up of sociological terms in public discourse.

1.2 Methods

The small-scale nature of NZ allows a more all-around perception of the discipline as a whole than could be attempted in a history of larger sociology establishments. It is also possible to convey rather more of the finely granulated nitty-gritty of the sociological enterprise rather than only broad brush strokes.

This book draws substantially on the material assembled by the array of authors of a 2014 special issue of New Zealand Sociology on the history of sociology in New Zealand (Crothers, 2014), followed by another special issue in 2016 (Table 1.1). These histories covered seven of the ‘departments’ which have been the main institutional sites of academic Sociology, together with essays on many of its specialties. I’ve extended this study to cover the missing specialties and other features. Permission to draw on published material was granted by the current editors of New Zealand Sociology (June 2017).
Table 1.1

Special issues of New Zealand Sociology on the history of New Zealand sociology, 1 = 29 (4) 2014 and 2 = 31 (3) 2016

Charles Crothers: History of New Zealand Sociology: An introductory editorial 1: 2–25

Charles Crothers: Rounding out the picture: Editorial introduction to the second issue on history of New Zealand Sociology 2: 2–18

Part 1 Departments

Chris Brickell, Martin Tolich, and Bonnie Scarth: Sociology Before Sociology at Otago University 1: 26–42

Maxine Campbell : Reminiscing: Waikato takes root 1: 44–59

Allison M. Kirkman: Sociology at Victoria University of Wellington 1: 60–73

Charles Crothers, Cluny Macpherson and Steve Matthewman: History of Auckland Sociology Department (together with AUT) 1: 74–98

Rosemary Du Plessis: Sociology at the University of Canterbury: A very partial history 1: 99–123

Cora Baldock: Appendix: Migrant in New Zealand: 1964–1969 1: 124–137

Rupert Tipples, Michael Mackay and Harvey C. Perkins: Tracing the Development of a Sociological Orientation at Lincoln University 2: 19–38

Paul Spoonley, Graeme Fraser, and Steve Maharey: A New Zealand sociological imagination: The Massey story 2: 39–61

David Thorns: A journey in comparative historical sociology 2: 62–75

Part 2: Institutions and Fields

Chris Wilkes: The journal: Reflections from a founding editor 1: 138–139

Kevin Dew: Health sociology in New Zealand 1: 140–160

Appendix: Interview with John McKinlay with Kevin Dew 1: 161–168

David Pearson: Disinterested relations? Reflections on sociology and history in and beyond New Zealand 1: 169–186

Rex W. Thomson and Steve Jackson: History and development of the sociology of sport in Aotearoa New Zealand 2: 76–107

Phil Harington: Sociology and social work in New Zealand 2: 108–143

Ian Pool: The seminal relationship between demography and sociology 2: 144–165

Liz Gordon: The sociology of education in New Zealand: An historical overview 2: 166–183

Kevin Ward: Religion in New Zealand since the 1960s: Some sociological perspectives 2: 184–204

Alison Loveridge: Rural sociology in New Zealand: Companion planting? 2: 205–228

C. Nicholas Taylor and Michael Mackay: Social impact assessment (SIA) in New Zealand: Legacy and change 2: 229–245

David Neilson: Sociology on the left in New Zealand: Currents and contests in recent and future history 2: 246–267

Charles Crothers: Reverberations from Littledene: Empirical research in New Zealand sociology 2: 268–305

Both the previous histories published and this book drew on a slew of already published sources. To give some indication, the bibliography in Crothers (2014) included some 28 so-called general items, 18 on more specialized sociological fields, 7 describing particular research programmes, 14 obituaries/retirement comments, and another 8 dealing with departments or teaching. This is a considerable slice of the whole NZ sociology literature ! Other historical commentaries include those by Austrin and Farnsworth (2007), Crothers (2005a, 2005b, 2006, 2008a, 2008b, 2010a, 2010b, 2011, 2012, 2013a, 2013b, 2016), Crothers and Pavlich (1995), Crothers and Gibben (1986), Crothers and Robb (1985), Crothers, Tait, Waghorne, and Dwyer (1981), Gidlow and Spoonley (1993), Hancock, Robb, and Thompson (1996), Hansen (1965), McManus (2006), Mol (1968), Scott (1978), Shuker (2001), Spoonley (2003, 2016), Thompson (1967, 1972), and Thorns (2003).

Other records are more difficult to source directly, especially absent an organised archive for the association. An oral history programme was begun, but it has faltered, with only a few having been recorded. Other sources include collections of conference papers, series of departmental working papers, theses, and staff publications. A newsletter functioned alongside the journal for many years through the 1990s and 2000s but was extinguished in 2009: many of its news items add more flesh to the historical picture . All NZ universities, and some constituent units, have had at least one (usually celebratory) history written, and these have been scanned for relevant material. Other data can come from the surveys carried out by the BRCSS programme (see subsequent discussion: Witten, 2006) and the PBRF audits (see following discussion).

No particular instructions or templates were developed to guide the histories of departments and specialties, so their coverage is not uniform. Many stories might be told in addition to those touched on and can be left to future historians. Of course, there are stories which will not be told here: difficult characters, betrayals, laziness, lack of competence, and so on.

There is a definite ‘pivot’ between the various earlier accounts and this book. For locals their national sociology is inhabited by an important parade of individuals, whereas for a more international audience lengthy lists of names are quite meaningless. However, those interested can retrieve details from the sources cited.

There is some difficulty in achieving evenness in time coverage. It is easier (and safer since judgements can be more objective!) to concentrate on earlier periods. Fortunately, since earlier periods are not so long ago, it was possible to retrieve much of that kind of information. There is undoubtedly a ‘library bias’ with ‘over-sampling’ of earlier material which has made its way into databases and under-sampling of more recent literature published in journals. There can be a skew towards the present because it allows for detailed contemporary description. The histories are held together by ‘institutional memory’ experienced by or shared with their authors. Some of the constituent studies carried out content analyses of publications, digging into records, while others carried out personal or internet-mediated interviews. I also draw on other studies and data sources, including historical , qualitative, and bibliometric material (e.g. from Sociological Abstracts). While the book is largely historical , explanations for the patterns described are attempted.

1.3 New Zealand Society (Note: This Section Draws on Crothers, 2017)

NZ has some obvious features. It is small (in physical size but more especially in population—currently 4.5 million), with a diverse and rugged landscape (“clean, green and beautiful”) and a temperate climate. It is far from Europe and shares the status of ‘white settler colony’ with the USA, Canada, and Australia (and to a lesser extent the temperate countries of Latin America and South Africa). Large immigration streams from the UK, and more recently from the South Pacific, and now Asia overwhelmed the indigenous Māori population, although this effect has been at least partially countered by the uplift provided by a recent Māori renaissance and greater weight being placed on the Treaty of Waitangi as a constitutional cornerstone. As a semi-periphery country still tied economically, and to some extent culturally, politically, and militarily, to its mother country, to the USA, and now Asia, NZ has tended to produce primary products in exchange for industrial goods and post-industrial services. Because of this emphasis on primary production, the country has tended to be also morally dominated by its rural sector. While it is moderately affluent, it has suffered falling economic fortunes and now lingers towards the tail-end of OECD countries.

The general shortage of labour in early NZ meant that demands such as those for an 8-hour day (far below the norms ‘back home’) were (mainly) met, and the drive towards eschewing social distinctions was considerable. In addition, an ideology of egalitarianism was reinforced by material conditions. Affordable land was fairly readily available, and many workers could supplement wages with home-grown vegetables and fruits. Social hierarchies in various forms inevitably continued, but they changed over time. For example, a wealthy squattocracy reared sheep on leasehold land on the vast South Island tussock plains, with teams of shepherds. But this class was cut into by the land reforms of the 1890s. From this Liberal reform period, too, there was state action on housing, an early version of an active labour market policy, and pensions, all of which decreased the hardships of the poor.

The egalitarian theme continued for well over a century. New Zealanders were what might be termed ‘primitive socialists’ (this ideology was largely unarticulated): They considered it their birthright to receive good schooling (at least through to secondary level and with cheap availability of tertiary education), hospital care (and subsidised primary health care through general practitioners) and, should they fall ill, grow old, or face difficult economic circumstances, they expected the relief of an adequate pension or reasonable quality state housing. There was a flip side to this ‘bargain’ with the state: New Zealanders did not feel much entitled to ‘complain’ about the services provided. However, since the standard of provision was adequate and fairly uniform across the country, this was not a major drawback. It did lead, though, to a homogeneity felt to be stultifying by many, one aspect of which was a ‘tall poppy’ syndrome: Anyone who excelled was cut down to size through mild criticism, so there was a premium on keeping talents and differences hidden.

But, although NZ was egalitarian in ideology, it was hardly so in material circumstances. It might be thought of as a ‘one-class’ society rather than a classless one. It was dominated by a broad social layer that mainly featured an upper working class or lower middle class commonality. But behind this was a hierarchy. Attitudes and behaviour tended to conform within narrow ranges shaped by a limited range of key institutions (sometimes colloquially referred to as ‘rugby, racing, and beer’). The primary economic force was agriculture, with some ‘import substitution’ secondary industry sheltering behind considerable import barriers.

According to Burdon (1966), writing authoritatively for the Encylopedia of New Zealand on ‘New Zealand Society: Its Characteristics’, discussion of the following topics was required:
  • An equalitarian society

  • Educational advantages

  • Rule of conformity

  • Limitations of urban life

  • The appeal of sport

  • Place of the arts

  • The puritan tradition

  • The effects of insularity

  • Māori-Pākehā relations.

These are the themes which continue to reverberate, although the ethnic dimension has been expanded to encompass a wider range of groupings. Another theme which is particularly pertinent to sociology is the concept of NZ as a ‘social laboratory’ (Martin, 2010).

A brief historical overview (much shared with other countries) might involve phases such as the following:
  • Māori settlement (itself divided into phases);

  • Early exploration and then settlement by whalers, sealers, missionaries, and traders;

  • Official setting-up of a Pākehā state followed by settlement by British;

  • The Liberal period of social innovation;

  • The Depression and further establishment of the welfare state;

  • The ‘golden age’ of the 1960s and 1970s, followed by ‘Think Big’;

  • The neoliberal turn; and

  • The current return to the political centre.

For several decades after World War 2, NZ’s prosperity (and the generosity of its welfare state) grew, but the enjoining of the primary export market—the UK—with the EU threw this into disarray. A large state-directed programme of industry and infrastructure development (termed ‘Think Big’) attempted to stave off economic decline, although it largely failed.

Somewhat in reaction to this situation, in the mid-1980s a neoliberal Labour government came to power and rapidly changed the country’s economic organisation, with far-reaching, mainly negative, social implications. Most of the country’s economic protections were stripped away, leaving the economy exposed to global competition in a situation where its small size meant that economies of scale could not readily be obtained. The social effects included a massive increase in inequality and the clawing back of progress in reducing poverty at the lower reaches of the social order, particularly occupied by Māori and Polynesian workers who had been brought in after WW2 to run the factories of what had for several decades been a steadily expanding economy. Diversification was increased by a large influx of Asian migrants while traditional migratory streams continued; but this is partly compensated for by the many New Zealanders who travel overseas to build up a large diaspora in Australia and the UK. NZ’s simple political institutions (there is only one chamber) and limited political opposition allowed far-reaching political change to be quickly implemented so that NZ became an international ‘poster boy’ of neoliberal change. The succeeding National government pushed further on this agenda.

But since then, from the turn of the millennium, a ‘third way’ Labour government, a subsequent centre-right government, and contemporaneously a Labour-led coalition have reverted to a more centrist approach which has attempted to limit some of the extremes of the earlier periods.

1.4 NZ Cultural Configuration

NZ intellectuals have made efforts to reflect on their own society, which has been shaped by worldwide cultural trends and in turn has shaped some of the issues confronting a local sociology. Much of the cultural features are reflective but also constitutive of the more material foundation sketched earlier.

NZ was settled during a major wave of expansion of imperial expansions (Ballantyne, 2012), and its early years were shaped by a mix of the widespread laissez-faire approach and state and religious paternalism, which ameliorated capitalism’s more rapacious drives. Local considerations were also affected by tropes of the fascinations of the Pacific.

In the closing decades of the nineteenth century a wave of social progressivism bloomed worldwide, taking somewhat similar forms and content everywhere. NZ historian Coleman (1987, p. 4—see also Rodgers, 2000) suggests that there was a ‘worldwide reform movement remarkably similar in its description of problems, diagnosis of underlying causes, and formulation of solutions’ which was unified through correspondence and meetings, conferencing and publishing, and reading amongst the leaders. Political ideas drawn on included ‘…Britain’s Christian and Fabian Socialism, France’s syndicalism, Germany’s statism, or Russia’s anarchism’. And their environmental scanning was wide: ‘They looked to Ireland for ideas on land reform, to Britain for guidance on town planning, to Denmark and the Low Countries for rural credit models, to Germany for social insurance program, and to Switzerland for ways to democratise political life’. In modern parlance we might talk of ‘policy transfer’, with this being carried out through intellectual visitors (academics and journalists) rather than through policy advisors and researchers who might be the type of personnel more involved in recent decades. The Antipodes were of interest since they shared with the USA similarities of newness and doctrines about their fate which attempted to keep at bay re-imposition of the social evils of the Old World. It was therefore thought that policy transfer might be easier, and that therefore heightened attention was relevant. Indeed, there was sufficient interest that ‘New Zealand-isation’ (i.e. emulating New Zealand social policy) was widely discussed amongst progressive circles in North America). The tours of NZ by eminent UK social researchers, such as the Webbs in 1907 (Hamer, 1974), did not inspire local social science research activity, although their travellers’ accounts have some utility. Another later-to-be-eminent visitor of this period was Andre Siegfried (1914: see also David-Ives, 2015). As the NZ welfare state continued to develop, it was driven by a continuation of similar ideas, extending into the ‘golden age’ of post-WW2 economic expansion.

One of the preoccupations of NZ writing from at least the 1930s onwards was about the essence of New Zealandness, and this became further enhanced in early social scientific writing, especially by historians. In this local tradition, attention has been drawn to the aforementioned features and their social implications.

Another major phase was NZ’s intricate enmeshment in the neoliberalism drive spearheaded by Reagan and Thatcher. The NZ Treasury sent officials to learn their doctrine from the Chicago School, and several key politicians were also involved. In this era research into either the adaptation of neoliberal ideas to the NZ context or into its social consequences tended to be suppressed since it was considered that the neoliberal models were sufficiently self-confirmatory that evidence was unnecessary. Attempts to understand and to consider ways to outflank neoliberal doctrines have continued to reverberate ever since.

1.5 New Zealand Universities

A university system was set up not long after Pākehā settlement. The University of Otago was established in 1871, and by the turn of the century the four main centres each had a university college, organised under a federal University of NZ. Agricultural colleges were added in the 1870s (Lincoln University ) and the 1920s (Massey University). A further greenfield university (Waikato ) was added in the 1970s and a polytechnic converted to a university at the turn of the millennium (Auckland University of Technology). A supplementary set of technical institutes has an emphasis on pre-degree education, although some also offer degrees. Three Māori universities (Wananga) and an extensive roster of private providers round out the tertiary education picture. Table 1.2 shows that the numbers of students steadily increased until around 1960 and then rose sharply, only to fall back again after the late 2000s. Part of the reason for the drop is that the 2010 was higher due to the Global Financial Crisis; when times are tough, some people stay on in their tertiary institution an extra year to achieve a better qualification or return to study to obtain higher-level skills. As the economy improves, some will take a job rather than studying.
Table 1.2

Student numbers by tertiary institution type




College of education


Private training enterprise





































































































































Source: NZ Official Yearbook & updates

In their earliest phase NZ universities were tiny, aimed at providing education for some professionals in part-timer evening-only operations with a minimal research ethos. Each was confined within a set of ‘provincial’ geographical boundaries and long remained tied to the UK whence exams were sent for marking until the 1940s. Massey University was given the job of offering distance education. As the university system grew, there was competition for gaining special schools , with University of Canterbury and University of Auckland, for example , scoring engineering schools while OU (and much later University of Auckland) were awarded medical schools.

In 1961 the University of NZ was devolved into separate universities (See further Table 1.3), while retaining intermediary structures to coordinate funding and planning. The University Grants Committee was removed as the buffer between the state and universities in the tertiary education reforms circa 1989 and instead a Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) was set up as a state agency in its place to cover the whole sector. Quality audit remains separate. Increasingly, after 1990 the universities, which were one of the last sectors to be subject to neoliberalism, have been reined in. The extent of state financial support has massively declined, leaving the funding gap to be taken up by students and capitalism. A wave of other changes has cascaded through the system. The organisational changes of deconstructing departments into programmes within schools has been universal, and a major sector of state research funding has been pulled in to the centre and then reallocated out in terms of measured research performance. Most recently, a wave of dismissals has followed a demographic downward blip and stretched student finances and therefore numbers studying. Nevertheless, the NZ university system scores well in terms of international reputation and remains sound in its essentials.
Table 1.3

The New Zealand university system



Main centre

Establishment year

Students (EFTS)

Staff (FTE)


University of Auckland






AUT University






University of Waikato






Massey University

Palmerston North, Auckland, Wellington





Victoria University of Wellington






University of Canterbury






Lincoln University






University of Otago









Source for FTE/EFTS: NZ universities website, 2017. FTE, full-time equivalent academic staff; EFTS, equivalent full-time student

NZ has followed the UK system of university ranks. For a long time, until around 1980, junior lecturers combined half teaching duties with half completion of PhDs in a 3–4 year appointment. Senior lecturers were the ‘career grade’, bifurcated by a difficult-to-surmount bar. Higher ranks were Associate Professors (sometimes Readers) and Professors. Promotions were usually handled by faculty committees, often with little documentation. Teaching and service could substitute (at least in lower ranks) for research, although service and leadership in one’s discipline were expected of professorial appointees. More recently, the documentation required has been more extensive, while generational peculiarities have propelled many sociologists into the Associate Professor rank, which appears to be a new ‘career grade’.

1.6 The New Zealand Social Research System

Support structures for social science research and teaching remain thin, and of any heft only since the 1990s. The establishment of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) in 1934, with support from Andrew Carnegie, allowed it to sponsor a range of research, and the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR) was an international grouping established in 1925 which was also facilitative (Thomas, 1974). Funding and a modicum of directional steering gradually developed from the 1950s on through the National Research Advisory Council (which had a social science committee), the Social Science Research Funding Committee, the Foundation/Ministry of Research Science & Technology, and, most recently, the Science & Innovation grouping within the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE). This is the largest source of science funding which is allocated towards government goals and where there is stakeholder support to ensure uptake of findings. Substantial money is allocated to universities and other research bodies through the PBRF system, which reallocates the virtual research component of earlier bulk funding on a performance basis. There are also more targeted funds allocating smaller amounts. Some funding processes are subcontracted out to the Royal Society of NZ (RSNZ): e.g. the contestable Marsden Fund was established by the government ‘to fund excellent fundamental research’, although its good effect is undermined by the tiny probability of any proposal securing funding. There is a separate Health (previously Medical) Research Council.

There have been many studies of the performance of the PBRF system and its effects on university staff (e.g. Curtis, 2007, 2017). The main line of interpretation has been that, as with other research performance evaluation systems, it has tended to socially construct academic staff as research-article-outputting machines, concerned only with their international reputation. This is seen as discouraging critical, long-term, and NZ-orientated research work, let alone community engagement, service activities, and teaching excellence.

While the various disciplines (and some fields of study) have long had representative associations, there has only been a limited overarching association. The Royal Society has, from the early days of the colony, represented the sciences but did not include the social sciences, let alone the humanities. This exclusion became increasingly frustrating, and, led by then SAANZ President Spoonley , the Federation of NZ Social Science Organisations (FoNZSSO) was established. Most social science disciplinary organisations became committed to FoNZSSO, which lobbied RSNZ for the social sciences to be included, which they were from 1994, being grouped into a social science committee. This represented an attempt at some sort of coordination, and from 2007 the organisation published a multi-disciplinary social science journal (Kotuitui). A number social scientists—including those from sociology—have since been appointed fellows, and projects involving social scientists have been developed, such as a review of the implications of the 2013 census (RSNZ, 2014).

Various government agencies have sponsored social research or established social research units starting in the 1960s, but none was particularly sociological. Departments with research sections included Agriculture, Education, Health, Housing, Internal Affairs (community and recreation), Justice, Police, Science, Social Welfare, and Statistics. (Even the treasury employed a sociologist.) These units varied according to department ‘cultures’, and most remained small while only a few were significant. Their activities included routine statistical work and literature reviews, but surveys were sometimes commissioned. Over time their resources and personnel tended to develop with some lapses and some restrictions. As neoliberalist doctrines swept through the public service, economics approaches tended to be given more weight. Some interdepartmental agencies were important. The Public Health Commission provided sociological commentary on health issues, while the (recently disestablished) Families Commission—with a broad research remit across the welfare domain—has been particularly pertinent. In particular, the Ministry of Social Development’s Social Report (2002–2016) developed a broad set of social indicators to measure NZ’s social progress. Statistics NZ has moved far more into the collection of subjective attitude and satisfaction data, having been reluctant to do this earlier, and now features a General Social Survey on NZ social conditions. A wide range of social data is now available, and there have been developments of linked data systems which allow administrative data to be assembled. This unsteady but gradual expansion of social research capacity was driven by broad doctrines of increasing professionalism in the public service which emphasised evidence-based effectiveness and a more sympathetic orientation to welfare and other clients. Personal intuitions and experiences of policymakers needed to be replaced by sound knowledge, and departments developed their knowledge base to provide better policy advice.

In earlier decades there were direct and indirect strictures from the state on ‘radical’ (and especially Marxist) views, and this may have had a dampening effect on some social research. Sociology was doubtless seen by many as a strange and unwelcome beast readily muddled with socialism, although again it is unclear whether the effects have been limiting, beyond creating difficulties to be navigated around.

A notoriously unethical medical experiment on women with cervical cancer led to widespread focus on research ethics issues and the establishment of university ethics committees (Tolich and Smith, 2015), which, being founded on a ‘medical model’, tended to better suit experimental over qualitative research. Clearly, while this has introduced a layer of control, it has also allowed the exercise of responsibilities to potential research-subject communities. Again it is unclear what the limiting effect may have been.

The market research industry in NZ has steadily grown since the 1950s and provides much of the field force for carrying out survey fieldwork as well as absorbing some of the sociologically trained as analysts. It also produces some studies of sociological relevance whose results are in the public domain or can be brought in.

There is a broad array of NZ-based social science journals covering the main disciplines and some—often on an Australasian basis—which cover narrower fields of study. Many of these journals are published by the various social science associations. A few others are departmentally based.

Profitable book production is difficult when there is such a thin market. Certainly, there has been room for textbooks, with publishing from both for-profit (e.g. Allen & Unwin, Cengage) and university presses. However, beyond this, very few research monographs or more specialist Sociology texts have been possible, although one way or another there has been a considerable stream of NZ social science books. The various university presses are the backbone of such publishing, and their tastes have run more to poetry and history, but perhaps they have not been offered that many sociology manuscripts. On the other hand, a range of publishing formats exists to support publications. Earlier, departments would self-publish some material, often in working paper series. Spoonley negotiated a short book series through the local branch of Oxford University Press and has been active in developing textbook publishing opportunities. Various niche publishers have stepped up, too, including a low-budget publisher, a Māori-orientated publisher, and, most recently, an e-book publisher. The Māori and Pacific communities have developed perspectives on social research and have advanced collaborative frameworks for conducting research with their respective subject communities, e.g. several guides to cultural appropriateness in local research have been developed.

Academic enterprises are pushed and pulled by the institutional frameworks and resources available to them. Over time these frameworks and resources have thickened, and while most developments have been facilitative, others have been limiting.

Having sketched the evolving frameworks within which sociology had to operate, I now turn to the substance.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles Crothers
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Social SciencesAuckland University of TechnologyAucklandNew Zealand

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