Ethnicity and Identity


  • How are we to understand "cultural difference" and the power relations and inequalities that operate between cultural groups – ethnic, national, indigenous, "racial", migrant and native-born?
  • How did these differences become key themes in the construction of identities and the focus of division and conflict?
  • How do ideas of "race" and "culture" intersect and diverge?
  • How are cultural identities constructed, negotiated and put to use in our everyday lives, discourse and practice?
  • How can we make sense of our own cultural identities in terms of "race", ethnicity and national identity?

We will explore these questions initially through looking at the history of the development of ideas of primitivism, race and nation as ways of defining "a people" and how these histories are intertwined with the history of modernity and European colonialism. We will relate contemporary concepts of ethnicity and indigeneity back to this history and explore a range of key contemporary issues in the politics of ethnicity, racism and anti-racism. The course will draw on international research and examples and, where possible, relate the key ideas to the New Zealand context.

Alongside this course content we will also practice basic critical discourse analysis – learning to identify the subject positions constructed in discourse and to think critically about their effects.

Throughout the course these key themes will recur:

  • The construction of cultural identities in discourse
  • The relationship to place in constructing types of peoples
  • The links between politics, economics and cultural identities
  • The practices of negotiation, boundary-making, inclusion and exclusion

Learning goals

On the successful completion of this course you should be able to:

  • Explain the connections and differences between the concepts of primitivism, race, nation, ethnicity and indigeneity
  • Use these concepts to analyse contemporary instances of contestation between cultural groups, including within New Zealand society
  • Identify the use of these concepts in examples of identity discourse
  • Analyse your own ethnic and national biography in light of concepts taught in the course


Coursework + exam

Availability 2024

Not taught in 2024


Lecturer(s) Miss Erica Lee


Readings will be available via Canvas.


SOCIOL 213: 15 points


30 points at Stage I in Sociology or 15 points at Stage I in Sociology with at least a B+ average or 30 points at Stage I in Global Studies with at least a B+ average, or 90 points passed