Māori Indigeneity and Commodity Fetishism


  • Steven Sebastian Webster Social Anthropology, The University of Auckland, New Zealand




Maori indigeneity, political economy, commodity fetishism, ethnicity


The Māori have survived at least three different sustained efforts to assimilate them since colonisation. I would argue that each time they have emerged as a substantially different culture as well as a different part of New Zealand society, and new efforts to assimilate them have had to confront the unpredictable results. To generalise, the first effort of assimilation was propelled by enlightened colonial arrogance, and finally by force; another effort started in the 1920s and sought to help them be ‘more Māori' by preserving their traditional culture. The most recent form of assimilation took shape in the 1980s but, facing what has come to be called indigeneity, became a kind of welcome (even a pōwhiri) into the new world of neoliberal opportunities. In the 1990s I traced some of the results since the 1920s, but I was only vaguely aware that this latest neoliberal phase of assimilation efforts had already begun. Fiona McCormack has, I think, best drawn together the critiques of this latest development, and furthermore appreciated its results as essentially unpredictable. In this essay I want to review some of her examples, and suggest that Marx's image of the fetishism of commodities better captures the ambiguous contradictions and unpredictabilities of the situations she describes. Key words: Maori indigeneity; political economy; commodity fetishism; ethnicity

Author Biography

Steven Sebastian Webster, Social Anthropology, The University of Auckland, New Zealand

Steven Webster immigrated with his family from the USA in 1972 and taught courses in social anthropology and Maori studies at the University of Auckland until retiring in 1998. He continues there as an Honorary Research Fellow. His PhD thesis from University of Washington was on kinship, ecology, and ethnicity in the Peruvian Andes, but in New Zealand he took up research among Maori in the Urewera and the university. His courses developed from kinship, ethos and worldview, ethnicity, history of anthropology, and Maori land history in colonial New Zealand, to political economic critique of ideologies. Since retiring he completed research for the Waitangi Tribunal on the Urewera District Native Reserve, Crown purchase campaign, and Consolidation Scheme 1894-1926, and continues ethnohistorical research on that era. Email address: swebster2@yahoo.com




How to Cite

Webster, S. S. (2016). Māori Indigeneity and Commodity Fetishism. Sites: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies, 13(2), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.11157/sites-vol13iss2id329