AbstractsPolitical Science

A major left wing think tank in Aotearoa: an impossible dream or a call to action?

by Sue Bradford

Institution: AUT University
Year: 0
Keywords: Social history; Sociology; Think tanks; Social movement knowledge production; Social movements; Political activist ethnography; Left activism; Academic activist relationships; Critical public policy; Activist research
Record ID: 1315501
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10292/7435


Despite the worldwide proliferation of think tanks since the 1970s and the development of a small number of think tanks locally, no substantial left wing think tank exists in Aotearoa. This research was driven by my desire to find out why no such entity had ever emerged and whether the state of the left in 2010–2013 provided fertile ground (or otherwise) for such an initiative. Working definitions of the terms ‘left’ and ‘think tank’ were developed specifically for the purposes of the thesis. The research paradigm guiding the study is an emergent form of critical inquiry methodology called political activist ethnography. Reflexivity is a key component of this approach, and I am transparent in bringing my experiences, beliefs and bias to the research table. Data was collected from individual semi-structured interviews with 51 left academics and activists and from a methodically maintained research journal. Nine international left think tanks and seven community-based think tank-like organisations in New Zealand were examined for what any future think tank implementation project might usefully learn from their experiences. The study is significant as it is the first piece of academic research ever undertaken into issues around the absence of a major left wing think tank in Aotearoa. It is also a rare and reasonably comprehensive look by the left at itself at a specific point in time. The stories of the community-based organisations outlined here start to fill a gap in the community and voluntary sector’s knowledge of its own history. The thesis also appears to mark the first time political activist ethnography has been used at doctoral level in New Zealand, and adds to the growing body of literature about activist ethnographies and social movement knowledge production internationally. Many ideas for possible future research are offered. Key findings from the study are that while the New Zealand left was fragmented and weak in 2010–2013, the ground for developing one or more major left wing think tanks was fertile. The challenges to any implementation projects were substantial, including the pervasive issue of funding. The thesis concluded that the idea of developing one or more major left wing think tanks is indeed a call to action rather than an impossible dream.