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The Economic Possibilities Of Decolonisation

‘The future of Aotearoa depends on how Māori engage with capitalism.’

What might decolonisation’s economic impact hold for Aotearoa’s future? Scholars Matthew Scobie and Anna Sturman address this question as they explore the relationship between tangata whenua and capitalism in The Economic Possibilities of Decolonisation, new to the BWB Texts series.

Scobie and Sturman begin by exploring the history of Māori economies, showing that before they were systematically dismantled, these economies functioned in ways where profit was not the driving factor. They were – and to an extent still are – driven by the accumulation of mana. While there are individual endeavours, for larger economic activities people contribute to collective supplies and draw on this according to relative need. As with all other things, this distribution is bound by tikanga, and usually regulated by rangatira whose mana accumulates according to how much passes through their hands rather than how much they retain.

With the arrival of European settlers came various manifestations of the capitalist state, including Te Tiriti/the Treaty, which Scobie and Sturman argue set up the enduring contradiction at the heart of New Zealand.

‘Te Tiriti e~ ectively established at least dual economies by guaranteeing rangatiratanga over whenua, taonga and kāinga: that is, self-determining authority over land, resources and lifeways. But colonial-capitalism’s insatiable need for land trumped its benevolent or otherwise contractual obligations. The large-scale dispossession of Māori land was a genesis moment for capitalism in this place.’

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By weaving together historical insights and contemporary analysis, Scobie and Sturman demonstrate how capitalism and decolonisation are intrinsically linked, and how Māori economic principles can drive radical transformation to more sustainable and equitable models.

‘Māori economies can stabilise capitalism by providing care for people and places that capitalism needs but does not value, but this care for people and place can be used to demonstrate the possibility of alternative futures.’

Matthew Scobie is Kāi Tahu (Kāti Huirapa) and Tauiwi. He grew up in Christchurch with limited exposure to Kāi Tahutanga but has been trying to slowly and humbly reconnect over the last decade. He teaches Indigenous economics and corporate responsibility in the Business School at the University of Canterbury. His research is committed to Indigenous reconstruction and draws from political economy and critical accounting.

Anna Sturman is a lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Sydney, on the unceded lands of the Gadigal peoples of the Eora Nation, where she works on the political economy and ecology of climate change. Anna was born and raised Pākehā in Te Waipounamu and much of her work brings together the two colonial-capitalist frameworks she knows best, Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia, in conversation with critical perspectives from across the world. She is committed to just futures for all.

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