'Towards a Sociology of New Zealand' by Professor Bruce Curtis
Anthony Giddens (Baron Giddens of Southgate) states that ‘Sociology is the study of human social life, groups, and societies and its subject is our own behaviour as social beings… Learning to think sociologically means cultivating the imagination. A sociologist is somebody who can break free from the immediacy of personal circumstances and put things in a wider context’ (Giddens, 2012). C. Wright Mills succinctly called this the ‘sociological imagination’ (Mills, 1959). As an academic specialising in the sociology of organisations for 20 years, Professor Bruce Curtis has championed the sociological imagination in developing a sociology of New Zealand.
In his Hamilton Public Lecture, Professor Curtis will start with a discussion of sociology as a problem-solving approach which often generates counter-intuitive results. He will also make links with his own socialisation which sensitised him to particular sets of problems. Pierre Bourdieu called this form of socialisation ‘habitus’, the embodiment of cultural capital and ingrained habits due to our life experiences.
For sociologists it is unproblematic that while the researcher always shapes the research, the research also shapes the researcher. Professor Curtis will discuss four areas of research that are significant to him and have figured in his development of a sociology of New Zealand.
Firstly, is the study of agriculture in New Zealand, especially the export-oriented meat sector. As the son of a freezing worker, this was the most personally significant area of research and formed the basis of his PhD. However, the problems he identified at the start of his research differed to those he uncovered in the sector and which had shaped his own ‘common-sense’ understanding. In short, what was imagined as a struggle between bosses and unions in meat plants, turned out to be a by-product of farmers control of the sector.
Secondly, is the study of gambling in New Zealand. If the study of agriculture was a conscious choice based on decades of socialisation, the study of gambling was the product of pure serendipity: picking up the phone in an empty office. However, the sociological imagination again produced unexpected results.
A research project on the socio-economic impact of the licensed casinos in New Zealand became the basis for the study of the moral and institutional implications of ‘the stupid tax’, and highlighted the deficiencies of our understudying of gambling as opposed to Internet forms of gaming.
Thirdly, is the study of the university sector. Obviously biography plays a role here. This work has produced the sharpest reversal in terms of assumptions going into research and the conclusions drawn. For example, the Performance-based Research Fund was perceived in 2003 as a threat to ‘traditional scholarship’, it has acted as one of it bulwarks. There are also clear definitional issue, foremost being the discussion of the ‘neo-liberal university’, but without any clear agreement about what this term means.
Fourthly is the study of neo-colonialism in New Zealand. This research synthesizes other sectoral and organisational studies. Much of contemporary scholarship focuses on New Zealand in terms of post-colonial debates, which centre on the transformation of a former colony. However, neo-colonialism is also at play here and may well be the more important trait.
This 35-minute public lecture will be held at the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, starting at 5.45pm. Complimentary drinks and nibbles served from 5.15pm. Free parking is available on campus via Gate 2B, Knighton Road, Hamilton.
Please register your attendance by visiting the website and clicking on the Register Here button. You will need to bring your ticket with you on the evening.