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Conference to grapple with major cultural issues

Conference to grapple with major cultural issues

Some big questions surrounding the politics of culture, will be raised at a conference being hosted by the University of Canterbury’s School of Culture, Literature and Society next month.

The Biculturalism or Multiculturalism conference, run in association with the Association for Canadian Studies in Australia and New Zealand (ACSANZ), is being held in Our City O-Tautahi from 1 to 3 September and has attracted a distinguished line-up of speakers from throughout New Zealand and overseas.

Simon During (Johns Hopkins University), whose many books on cultural studies are used as university text books, will get the conference under way with his paper on the global contexts influencing the theorising of culture in Aotearoa/New Zealand today.

Another notable speaker on the first day is Professor of Anthropology Ghassan Hage (University of Sydney) who will give a seminar on multiculturalism in the shadow of the war on terror, a timely topic in light of recent acts of terrorism in London.

In all there will be more than 40 papers during the intensive three-day event with delegates spoiled for choice in a number of parallel sessions.

Topics covered will include 21st century citizenship, the commodification of cultural identity, Asia in Australasia, First Nation rights and immigrant cultures, cultural hybrids, the Pacific diaspora, and the performance of mainstream media in a bicultural framework. The conference will look at the differing but overlapping histories of the terms biculturalism and multiculturalism in New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

Conference organiser Associate Professor Mark Williams (Culture, Literature and Society) said the terms biculturalism and multiculturalism drew attention to an argument in countries where colonial histories still shaped thought and where the effects of immigration had not been assimilated.

“They indicate an unresolved conflict between indigenous sovereignty and immigrant rights. The preference for one or the other implicates the role of the state in shaping ideas of nationalism as whole countries seek to rebrand themselves.”

While New Zealand is officially bicultural, Professor Williams said this could all hang on the result of the upcoming general election, with the National Party indicating they wish to scrap all notions of a bicultural nation and a number of political parties announcing their intentions to put a deadline on Treaty claims.

“If we won’t be a bicultural country, will we become officially a multicultural country? Surely we don’t want to be considered a monocultural country again. There are some urgent questions our country needs to look at.”

Professor Williams said the conference would be about “applying real pressure to the questions being raised not just arriving at easy solutions.”

“We will look at discussion of New Zealand’s cultural options, not only by focusing on New Zealand itself, but by looking at what is happening in other similar societies. One of the other things the conference will address in various ways is the interface between biculturalism and multiculturalism.”


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