Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Indigenous Philosophies and Education: The Case of Kaupapa Māori

  • Georgina Stewart
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_177


This entry focuses on the relevance and potential benefits for Māori and indigenous education of engaging more strategically and critically with philosophy of education, understood as the examination of educational ideas and theoretical frameworks.

To consider kaupapa Māori as an indigenous philosophy of education offers advantages as well as challenges for Māori education. This entry describes links between philosophy of education and kaupapa Māori and extrapolates some key messages in terms of their relevance to indigenous education more generally, starting from an acceptance that everything in education is of political significance (May 2012; Smith 2012).

Kaupapa Māori at the Nexus of Indigenous Education

Kaupapa Māori is widely acclaimed as an example of best-practice indigenous education and a world leader in the indigenous academy (Smith 2012). The two terms “indigenous education” and “indigenous academy” may seem clear and transparent enough but in fact signal a power-knowledge nexus: a complex theoretical site where contested meanings in education collide. This complexity that characterizes indigenous education has several aspects: First, what counts as “indigenous education” differs between one national or social context and another. Second, there is an inherent tension between local and global levels of indigenous identity since the focus on authenticity privileges the local level, but political and future-focused indigenous aspirations inevitably look toward the global level (Dei 2011).

Paradoxically, the very concept of “indigenous” in a sense homogenizes and thus, arguably, desecrates the local identities and place-based knowledges on which it rests. This paradox is resolved by recognizing that all definitions are limited (Dei 2011): an insight that expresses a weak form of relativism; one that modifies rather than replacing the realist frameworks of universalism.

Seen in this nuanced way, the meaning of “indigenous” as a self-ascribed label (as subjectivity rather than a statistical category) incorporates a political challenge to colonization and Eurocentric subjugation (Dei 2011). In the above statements, a specific identity label such as “Māori” can be substituted for the more general term “indigenous.” The concept of “indigenous” makes a useful translator term, a “place holder” for particular indigenous identity labels, to facilitate meaningful scholarly dialogue among indigenous educators from different places around the world.

The central role of local knowledge in understanding indigeneity ensures that “authenticity” is a key consideration in indigenous education; and the importance to indigenous identity both of symbolism and political collectives, rather than individuals as in dominant economic models, underscores the multilayered concept of “representation” (May 2012). Authenticity and representation are more important concepts in indigenous than in traditional Western accounts of education. But every important educational concept is also important in indigenous education. Logically, therefore, indigenous education cannot achieve its goals without including the entire terrain of education theory. Indigenous philosophy such as kaupapa Māori provides a useful lens through which to reintegrate educational theory into the discourses of indigenous education.

The modifier “indigenous” for nouns such as “education” or “academy” produces a slippage or ambivalence between meanings, which invokes conceptual binaries and raises more questions, including: to which aspects of education or the academy does the adjective “indigenous” refer? Key possible answers are: the identity of groups of people involved in education, in particular students and teachers, and the identities represented in and by the curriculum content, which includes many aspects such as language medium, central concepts and large messages, implicit theories of human life and relationships, lesson formats, classroom materials, assessment, and so on (Dei 2011).

The complexity inherent in indigenous education is both an advantage and a disadvantage. The indigenous nexus provides inherent or philosophical tension that, under favorable conditions, is productive and creative and allows for new, transformative possibilities (May 2012). Given the history and context of political struggle and socioeconomic disadvantage for indigenous peoples around the globe, however, this productive tension is notoriously difficult to maintain, which erodes the criticality of indigenous scholarship. In the case of Māori education, this tendency toward loss of criticality contributes toward the “domestication” of kaupapa Māori (Graham Hingangaroa Smith in Hoskins and Jones 2012, p. 10).

The section below sketches the state of kaupapa Māori research in education after three decades of development, while the third section delineates overlapping theoretical interests for indigenous education and other allied traditions of research. The conclusion draws together these discussions and makes a prediction about likely trends in kaupapa Māori research methodology and scholarship.

Current Practice: What Is Kaupapa Māori Research Like?

Kaupapa Māori theory and research methodology developed first in the academic discipline of education in the 1980s. The emergence of kaupapa Māori as a new form of scholarship capitalized on the success of kaupapa Māori education before later expanding to include other social science domains such as health, legal studies, and many more. Kaupapa Māori research has been a powerful vehicle for representing previously silenced voices and perspectives of Māori individuals and collectives in education in contexts such as school communities. But there is an unhealthy tendency in education research to equate “data gathering” only with conducting interviews, and this trend is even more pronounced within kaupapa Māori education research (Smith 2011).

The need to establish and consolidate kaupapa Māori learning communities and the imperative to continue to engage with real-world political struggles are two substantive reasons why kaupapa Māori research has been understood mainly in empirical terms (Hoskins and Jones 2012). Indigenous research practices and preferences such as “kanohi ki te kanohi” (face to face) foster the maintenance of the overly simplistic view that kaupapa Māori educational research is essentially empirical in nature. One recent article goes so far as to describe kaupapa Māori as “action based” and an “approach [that] cannot exist without practice” (Mane 2009, p. 2). In short, kaupapa Māori theory has so far been mainly understood and utilized in educational research as a set of principles or guidelines for empirical methods of data collection, usually interviews.

Along with the dominant empirical notion of kaupapa Māori research has gone a corresponding lack of kaupapa Māori research of a theoretical or philosophical nature. For example, the above paper avoids labeling kaupapa Māori as a “theory” because “theorising is seen as a luxury not afforded to Māori” (Mane 2009, p. 2). Despite emerging first in education, therefore, kaupapa Māori theory remains under-utilized as a resource for rigorous analysis of ideas and concepts in Māori education, from critical, indigenous, kaupapa Māori perspectives. This means much work in Māori education, and by extension of indigenous education, is still to be done.

After three decades of successful development, kaupapa Māori research in educational theory and philosophy remains a fledgling approach, with great potential to expand beyond current dominant conceptions, in order to develop further possibilities for Māori empowerment and emancipation (Hoskins and Jones 2012; Mahuika 2008). Despite the success of kaupapa Māori research methodology and its popularity as a basis for many conference papers and postgraduate research dissertations, there is little traditionally published scholarship (i.e., journal articles and books) on kaupapa Māori theory and research methodology. Other than the short reference list given below, small collections of published and unpublished writings on kaupapa Māori, including several literature reviews, are available through the websites www.kaupapamaori.com and www.rangahau.com.

Political Alliances and Intersecting Theoretical Concerns

As a key principle of kaupapa Māori, Māori exercise the right to assert cultural difference from the dominant Pākehā or mainstream culture in Aotearoa New Zealand (Smith 2012). At the same time, Māori practices in contemporary social contexts, including in education, are clearly adaptations of Māori traditions. Hence contemporary Māori forms including kaupapa Māori are, by definition, hybridized cultural forms (May 2012). Implicit in the recognition of Mori difference is a renewed acceptance of social binaries and cultural hybridity. The complex nature of the theoretical nexus of indigenous education intersects with other critical philosophical traditions, including feminism, postmodernism, poststructuralism, and postcolonialism, plus newer forms such as posthumanism, ecofeminism, and new materialism (Ahmed 2000). In each of these traditions, ethnic, gender, class, ability, or other social binaries are refracted through mutually reinforcing sets of social structures (legal system, media, education, health, police, etc.), which maintain and reproduce extensive networks of power relations within society, generation on generation.

Shared theoretical concerns for indigenous education, including kaupapa Māori educationa research and other traditions, ultimately derive from the philosophical shift in the paradigm of science, famously sparked by the book titled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. A revolution in epistemology has since unfolded, with consequential and ongoing effects across the entire academy, including the important question for Māori education of what counts as “social science” (Smith 2012).

The indigenous perspective in education, like other critical traditions, pays attention to the changing boundaries between disciplines of knowledge at local, national, and global levels, which, among other things, influence the ranges of methodologies considered acceptable in each field and subfield. Conservative forces line up with societal power bases, in Māori and indigenous contexts no less than in the mainstream, and therefore contribute to the unfortunate tendency to equate or reduce kaupapa Māori research to empirical (mainly interview) research, as discussed above.

A second related result of the twentieth-century revolution in epistemology was the collapse of the “objective researcher” position in social science. This collapse has given rise to, among other things, the “auto” turn in social science research methodologies. The auto turn in research has included various educational traditions of autoethnography and self-study. These are closely related to traditions of writing as methodology and furthermore linked to the recent blurring between social science and literature (King 2003). On the basis of these connections, narrative theory and data find a place in researching indigenous education.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, the Māori-Pākehā ethnic binary has been effectively exploited in local arts and literature, with the short story proving one of the most effective literary forms. Narrative research is able to capitalize on Māori and indigenous traditions of storytelling, with Jenny Lee’s “pūrākau” methodology being an example of kaupapa Māori educational research heading in this direction (Lee 2007). The importance of language and oral traditional texts and narratives in indigenous traditions also aligns with narrative research (King 2003). A narrative is a vehicle for portraying more complex sets of ideas than quantitative data or interviews, so is fitting for research in the complex contexts of indigenous education.

A narrative can include authentic indigenous and cultural texts by being presented in a bilingual format or entirely in an indigenous language. Narratives are thus able to adequately represent and express the nuanced details that comprise the experience of cultural difference, also referred to as “world view.” The world view concept emerged in the 1970s, again as a result of the epistemological revolution in concepts of science and knowledge discussed above. One of several short stories to explore the consequences of differing world views in Māori contexts is the story Parade by Patricia Grace, published in her 1986 collection, and Waiariki and Other Stories, which generated a small amount of social science scholarship.

Conclusion: The Future of Kaupapa Māori Educational Research

A key message promulgated in the work of two leading kaupapa Māori scholars, Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2011) and Graham Hingangaroa Smith (Hoskins and Jones 2012, pp. 10–20), is that kaupapa Māori is less a fixed “thing” and more a set of ideas that can be used as an indigenous toolkit for guiding practice, including scholarship, in a wide range of domains (Hoskins and Jones 2012; Smith 2011). Kaupapa Māori in this sense remains something to be created rather than a fixed body of knowledge to be taught and learned. Kaupapa Māori as theory and philosophy allows for creative possibility; that is, for its own change and development, in response to turbulent, unpredictable, and changing external and internal social conditions. Without such an open flexibility, there is no possibility that the dreams of the iwi (people), which largely rest on the potential of kaupapa Māori ideas, could ever be realized.

From this perspective, the future possibilities for kaupapa Māori research are literally open-ended and therefore unable to be determined in advance. But clearly there is a logical, if as yet largely unexplored, role for narrative and autoethnographic methodologies within kaupapa Māori educational research. Accordingly, to predict that significant growth will occur over the coming years in the number and diversity of kaupapa Māori educational research publications employing these sorts of approaches is a relatively safe bet.



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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Education and Social WorkUniversity of AucklandTai Tokerau CampusNew Zealand