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Māori Indigeneity and the Ontological Turn in Ethnography

Steven Webster


This essay proposes an understanding of commodity fetishism that can mediate between divergent understandings of Māori indigeneity in a politically progressive way. To do this, an account of the Māori concept of whakapapa in terms of a recursive ontology is held up to a critique of such ontological turns in ethnography. The comparison shows that both approaches pursue ethnographic understanding in terms of a paradoxical relationship between creativity and politics. It is argued that the actual convergence of these apparently divergent ethnographic approaches places them, like postmodernist ethnographic forms developed since the 1980s, in the prolonged but still promising historical materialist critique of surrealism begun in the 1920s by the modernist avant-garde.


Keywords: Māori indigeneity; ontological ethnography; commodity fetishism; whakapapa; surrealism.

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