Academic careers have many beginnings. I did not start out with the intention of becoming a ‘Māori sociologist’ or a sociologist who writes about the social worlds of Māori. As an early career academic, my dream was to have a day job that took me to less familiar worlds. Originally I wanted to study social elites — people with straight teeth and expensive haircuts who went to the same schools and married the sons or daughters of their parents’ friends. I imagined my academic work as an endless round of afternoons in the hush of the staff common room drinking from china teacups and occasionally making a quip in Latin or ancient Greek.
It didn’t work out that way. I was pulled into the noisy, messy, sometimes chaotic lives of young people who were growing up Māori in small towns, city suburbs and rural hamlets across New Zealand — and well… alea iacta est.
THE THROUGH OUR EYES STUDY
The first project that took me into the lives of Māori young people was Through Our Eyes: The Social Worlds of Young Māori. This was a collaborative research project involving young people, their families and hapū communities and a Māori research team based at Victoria University of Wellington in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The study ran for two years between 2004 and 2006 and was funded by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, the Māori Centre for Research Excellence at the University of Auckland. It was a touchstone project for me and one that has shaped much of my later work.
AIMS OF THE STUDY
One of the ways we come to understand the world is by telling stories about it. The Through Our Eyes research team worked with young people (aged 14–16 years) in four Māori communities to document their stories, using digital cameras, about their families, peers and the communities where they live.
The aim was to provide a forum where young Māori could convey their social landscapes and the ways they ‘see’ the world they live in (literally through a camera lens). I also wanted to test new methodologies in the field of visual sociology to evaluate their usefulness as research tools for other indigenous academic researchers in New Zealand.
‘DANGEROUS’ AND ‘ORDINARY’ TEENS
Aside from being the study that defined much of my later work, Through Our Eyes was important for two other reasons. The first was that in the early 2000s a series of highly ethnicised moral panics erupted in New Zealand about ‘dangerous’ and ‘out of control’ young people.
This sequence of panics was kicked off by a notorious murder case centred on New Zealand’s “youngest killer” (at the time) — a 12-year-old male named Bailey Junior Kurariki. In 2001, Kurariki was convicted of manslaughter, along with five associates, for his part in the death of Michael Choy, a pizza delivery worker, who was lured to a house to drop off an order. The killing of Mr Choy by a group of young people seemed, to a horrified public, to point to a breach in the social imaginary — a dystopic world where children with sharp knives and ill intentions slouch, blank-eyed and dangerous, into the widening gyre.
Two years later, in a separate incident, three females aged between 14 and 15 years were convicted of the murder of Kenneth Pigott, a Waitara resident living in the Taranaki region. After the killing, the group stole Piggott’s car and went joy-riding through the small town. As well, a number of media reports focusing on youth gangs and inner city violence began to surface and public anxieties about ‘dangerous’ children with lethal and ‘out of control’ impulses mounted.
As Fiona Beals (2006), who is incidentally one of my former PhD students, writes, accounts of young people in the media and by policy makers and government officials at that time suggested that “all youth pose a threat but […] some youth posed a stronger threat.” (p.75). And therein lies the rub. These anxieties focused not only on fears about young people’s bad behaviour but also on their ethnicity.
Maori and Pacific youth, in particular, were manufactured in the public gaze as ‘fallen’ children — morally corrupt, depraved or evil young people who had drifted far from the norms of ‘decency’ and civic virtue. For a while, these calamitous visions took over the public conversation about youth. Ordinary young people leading fairly ordinary lives seemed to simply disappear off the radar.
I wanted the Through Our Eyes project to speak back to these grumpy denunciations. I wanted to look for the small, everyday moments in Māori young people’s lives. I wanted to capture the ordinary. Whatever that was. But there were also stories about being Māori and growing up in New Zealand that I wanted to hear and that played a large role in the way I developed the study.
THE PHOTOGRAPH AND THE iPHONE
The second thing worth noting about the Through Our Eyes study I realised only in retrospect. When I began the research in the summer of 2004 smartphones and iPhones hadn’t been invented and few people owned mobile phones with built-in cameras or video recorders. Digital cameras were expensive and some of the technology was still in its infancy. Internet access was expensive in many regions and speeds were often agonisingly slow. A lot of people still used dial-up at home and even after the network was ‘unbundled’ in 2005, it took a while for people to hook up to faster internet speeds.
Music and videos that could be quickly and easily downloaded on a home computer were still a few years in the future so if there was nothing much to watch on television, people did something else. At that time, sharing photographic images on social media was not even a ‘thing’. In fact, FaceBook was launched on February 4, 2004 — the same day I began work on the Through Our Eyes project.
This was a world in transition although we didn’t realise it at the time. The use of expensive digital cameras now seems almost outlandishly quaint but at the time it was a relatively new approach in some of the New Zealand social sciences. Cultural anthropologists and visual sociology researchers have long used these kinds of methods but people in the field of Education still mostly relied on audio-recordings (they still do!)
The proliferation of camera phones has ‘normalised’ photographic representations of daily life in new ways and I would argue that it has shifted how we think about the ordinary and the everyday. Certainly, the boundaries around public life and private life have changed with the advent of social media. But in 2004, that was something that was yet to come and the images that were captured in the Through Our Eyes project represent a place and time where private and everyday moments were demarcated and bounded in different ways.
More than ten years later, I have come back to this research (see Māori Youth and the Future on this website) to find that the social landscapes of young Māori are virtually unrecognisable from what we found in the Through Our Eyes study. So much has changed in such a short time for young Māori. In many ways, I think the world is a much darker place. The centre does not hold and perhaps never has — yet still I believe there is hope.
Academic publications from the project are listed below but I have also included some photo essays that I wrote after the research concluded. You can find these in the Photo Essays tab.
Photographic images: Permission for the use of images on this site has been negotiated with the individuals and groups involved. Research involving photographic images received institutional ethics approval and participation in the project for young people under the age of 16 years was subject to parental/guardian consent.
Beals, F. (2006). Reading between the lines: Representations and constructions of youth and crime in Aotearoa/New Zealand. (Doctoral thesis). Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand. Downloaded from: http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10063/71/thesis.pdf?sequence=2
Kidman, J. (2014). Representing Māori youth voices in community education research. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies. 49(2), 205-218. PDF 1. Representing Maori youth voices
Kidman, J. (2012). The land remains: Māori youth and the politics of belonging. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples. 8(2), 189-202. PDF 2: The land remains
Wood, B. & Kidman, J. (2013). Negotiating the ethical borders of visual research with young people. In K. Te Riele & R. Brooks, (Eds.). Negotiating ethical challenges in youth research. (pp.149-162). New York & Oxon: Routledge.
Kidman, J. (2009). Visual methodologies: Exploring indigenous constructions of self and environment. In D. Zandvliet, (Ed). Diversity in environmental education research. (pp. 65-76). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Kidman, J. (2007). Engaging with Māori communities: An exploration of some tensions in the mediation of social sciences research. Tihei Oreore Monograph Series. University of Auckland: Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga. 118pp. PDF 3: Engaging with Maori communities
Kidman, J. (2008). Māori youth, education and the politics of location: A methodological approach. The influence of school, place and culture on indigenous children’s learning. Providence University, Taichung, Taiwan, January 4–12.
Kidman, J. (2008). Claiming the middle ground: Representations of indigenous Māori youth in New Zealand. Re-presenting Childhood 2nd International Conference. 7–9 July, Sheffield University, UK.
Kidman, J. (2008). Māori youth, education and the politics of location. Influences of Ecological Literacy, Culture and Place on Indigenous Children’s Learning Planning Workshop. 4–12 January, Taichung, Taiwan.
Kidman, J. (2008). Māori youth in New Zealand: Issues and Priorities. Shifting Margins, Shifting Centres: Negotiating Difference in Education in the Twenty-First Century. 17–19 April, Institute of Education, University of London, UK.
Kidman, J. (2008). Through our eyes: Cultural identity and visual literacies amongst Māori youth. Kimihia, Rangahaua: Inaugural Annual Toihuarewa Symposium. 15 October, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
Kidman, J. (2008). Through our eyes: Cultural identity amongst Māori youth in New Zealand. Critical Issues: 2nd Global Conference – Visual Literacies: Exploring Critical Issues. 30 June–2 July, Oxford University, UK.
Kidman, J. (2007). Shadows across the land: The landscapes of indigenous education in Aotearoa New Zealand. The 4th International Conference on Indigenous Education: Asia/Pacific. 20–22 July, First Nations University of Canada, Vancouver, Canada.
Kidman, J., (2007). Through our eyes: the perceptions of Māori youth about education and the politics of location. The 4th International Conference on Indigenous Education: Asia/Pacific. 20–22 July, First Nations University of Canada, Vancouver, Canada.