THE CROWN IN NEW ZEALAND: Anthropological Perspectives on an Imagined Sovereign


  • Cris Shore University of Auckland
  • Margaret Kawharu University of Auckland and Massey University



Maori, government, crown,


The ‘Crown’ in New Zealand is often seen as an essential partner in the Treaty of Waitangi relationship between Maori and the government, yet as some legal commentators have noted, the Crown itself is a ‘legal fiction’ and a ‘shape-shifting’ symbol whose definition is obtuse and whose meanings vary according to context. This paper reports on an ethnographic study that examines how the concept of the Crown is understood and contested in New Zealand. It also examines the different ways in which the Crown as a political, legal and symbolic entity shapes policy and practice. We ask, what exactly is the Crown, how is it imagined and personified, when and why is the discourse of the Crown used, and what are the implications of its continual usage? We argue that the Crown is an imagined yet extraordinarily powerful entity that represents more than simply a proxy for the New Zealand state. It needs to be deconstructed in order to shed light on the symbolic and discursive work it performs in maintaining New Zealand’s political and constitutional order. We also outline some of the key findings of our pilot study and suggest future directions for research.

Author Biography

Cris Shore, University of Auckland

A professor of social anthropology at The University of Auckland




How to Cite

Shore, C., & Kawharu, M. (2014). THE CROWN IN NEW ZEALAND: Anthropological Perspectives on an Imagined Sovereign. Sites: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies, 11(1), 17–38.