Book Review: Social Science Research in New Zealand: An Introduction, edited by Martin Tolich and Carl Davidson

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_social_science_research_in_NZThis is a very useful multi-authored collection that covers many aspects of social science research, but mostly from an academic perspective. The editors are both sociologists, and they appear to have already written a number of other books on the subject. However, Davidson has worked in the public sector and there is also an emphasis on applied social science research and policy analysis.

The focus is both very specific on methods for qualitative and quantitative analysis of empirical data, but also includes examples of research from academics and writers who are not, strictly speaking, social scientists. Indeed, apart from the study of Sociology there remains a small question of what exactly is ‘social science’. Students from across the humanities disciplines will gain from reading the book, but only some post-graduates will actually get to create their own empirical research projects.

Another way of putting the problem is that, if social science is defined broadly, it is rather obvious that most graduates will not get jobs as social scientists. The only positions as researchers appear to be in some government departments, unless one includes the type of public surveys that one of the authors is involved in for the private sector. Early in the introductory chapter the editors include a position statement from a former departmental official (now deceased) about what is required to be a policy analyst. In this she effectively states that social science methodology is only for academics.

The particular point about policy analysis was that it mixed up qualitative and quantitative methodology as required, depending on the policy problems to be solved, but also that the methodological distinction has no particular meaning. Yet, the authors maintain that there is a distinction which aligns with significant logics, based on inductive or deductive approaches. The deductive logic is aligned with quantitative analysis; and inductive logic involved the qualitative analysis of empirical material. The idea seems to be that the latter allows for theories to be tested once a qualitative assessment has been made; whereas deductive research begins from a strict form of research design in which a statistically significant sample of evidence is deemed to be important.

It is rather difficult to maintain this distinction between inductive and deductive research, especially given that so few academics really get their students to create formal empirical research projects. Most postgraduate research involves the student beginning with a literature review, based on international theories, and then adding some empirical material from published sources to buttress a preferred theoretical position. In other words, most academic research is deductive in logic, but based on pre-determined theoretical positions that academic supervisors expect students to follow.

But despite my misgivings about the content of the early chapters, there are still some significant approaches that are examined, and things to consider when any new empirical research is being considered. One of the most interesting is the chapter on research ethics by Lindsay McDonald, which refers to the study of the Canterbury earthquakes. Any participants in a research project, and particularly those who have experienced trauma, need to be clearly consenting to be in the project and especially if they can be identified in any way. Of course, there are many examples of health related research that has not had participants who have even been informed, let alone consented to being involved. Another aspect of research ethics can be seen via Jarrod Gilbert’s ethnographic fieldwork on gangs. It’s rather hard to see how to get ethical approval to participate in certain gang activities, just to maintain their trust: especially when it involves brawling with Russian sailors.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Social Science Research in New Zealand: An Introduction
Edited by Martin Tolich and Carl Davidson
Published by AUP
ISBN 9781869408848

Book Review: Ko Taranaki te Maunga, by Rachel Buchanan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_ko_taranaki_te_maungaIn this short but powerful text, Rachel Buchanan uses the tools of an archivist to scale what she calls the paper mountain – the records and documents surrounding the events at Parihaka – to give new meaning to the echoes of invasion that still sound throughout Taranaki.

Buchanan describes the personal journey she undertook while her essay on beating shame began to take on a life of its own. The story, like Buchanan, her family, and her iwi, moves back and forth between Wellington and Taranaki. Taranaki the maunga, a misty presence on Wellington’s horizon; Taranaki the people, whose presence in the capital is seen not only in the odd selection of fringe lands returned to them, in street names that recall the lofty peak, but also in the people who say ‘we used to be here – this is our place’.

The story unfolds around the passing of the author’s father, Leo Buchanan, paediatrician, advocate for his people, and meticulous record-keeper. Working through the records of the brutality at Parihaka and a parent’s illness and death, Buchanan is guided by an enigmatic ancestor, who unexpectedly reveals himself to be a talented interlocutor between peoples at war, a man of traits Buchanan comes to recognise in herself and in her father.

A key symbol in this work is the koru, a metaphor gifted to the author by former MP and Parihaka descendant Mahara Okeroa to describe the proximity in the present of people and events in the past. Buchanan’s research traces this pattern, binding time, place and people, unravelling in an unexpected twist and then winding together again, in a spiral that expands and contracts.

Buchanan’s is a close, personal history of the events at Parihaka, of the impact of flawed apologies on those who give and those who receive them, and of the ripples that continue to radiate from the injustices of the past. It adds new colour to the landscape of wartime Taranaki and to portraits of well-known figures– Te Whiti o Rongomai, Tohu Kākahi, Tītokowaru, while also revealing new personalities, like the author’s translator tupuna, Charles Wallace.

Buchanan’s contribution to Parihaka is to resignify the legacy of invasion. By immersing herself in experiences of trauma conveyed through waiata and other first-hand accounts, Buchanan turns shame on its head and shows that the only result of disingenuous apologies for perpetrating past wrongs is to further compound the shame of those who truly bear it, who live with the pain and the consequences of this loss.

This is a tale of separation and return illuminated by experience. The experience of being a woman, a daughter, and a curator of a feminist great; of belief and disbelief in the official version of facts; of the burial of shame; and of the healing of the spirit and the rebirth of awareness, self-knowledge and pride.

As an archivist Buchanan asks what becomes of memory painstakingly shared and then reverently filed away? What does it matter if it is denied a living place in our national life and consigned to death by archive?

Buchanan’s answer is record-keeping as resistance. And, as is often happens when archives are opened, it is a discovery. A proudly cherished ancestor reveals how deep his influence runs, a daughter offers a poroporoaki to her father spanning more than a century, and the breath of life continues to flow, at Parihaka under the maunga.

Reviewed by Paul Moenboyd

Ko Taranaki te Maunga
by Rachel Buchanan
Published by BWB Texts
ISBN 9781988545288

Book Review: We Can Make a Life, by Chessie Henry

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_we_can_make_a_lifeChessie Henry’s We Can Make a Life is a powerful, affecting memoir. Spanning a family history of adventure, love, bravery and loss, Henry writes tenderly about her family’s journey through multiple traumatic experiences – including the Christchurch and Kaikōura earthquakes – and their unbending courage in the face of them.

We Can Make a Life leaves a lingering imprint. It demands to be felt; emotionally impactful, it invites the reader to empathise with and reflect on the shared experience of trauma. A freelance writer based in Wellington, author Chessie Henry is a Master of Creative Writing graduate of the IIML. A book ‘that’s been swimming around my head for the last couple of years’, We Can Make a Life is her debut work.

The book opens with an email from Christopher Henry, Chessie’s father, describing his burnout following years of non-stop work as a rural GP. Written one week before he received a Bravery Medal for his role in the Christchurch 2011 earthquake, the placing of this desperate email is deliberate. Not only a call for help from Chris, the letter is a warning against the overwork of our New Zealand medical (particularly rural) personnel.

Jumping back to the ‘beginning’, Henry details her parent’s childhoods and schooling in England; Chris and Esther’s escapades as young adults; their serendipitous meeting through Esther’s brother Andrew – Chris’s best friend – and their adventurous (and, on occasion, terrifying) one-year honeymoon trekking across Africa. Henry describes her parent’s early life and marriage with a gentle warmth which dips but never delves into sentimentality. We get the sense that Chris and Esther are wanderers: people content to embrace every possible opportunity no matter where it may lead. When Esther was seven months pregnant with Chessie, the couple emigrated to Sumner, Christchurch.

Four younger brothers – Finn, Matt, Rufus, and Rocky – soon followed, and Henry depicts the fun (and challenges) of growing up within such a large family. When Chessie was nine, the family (with five children under ten) moved to Tokelau, where Chris worked as GP to the tiny island community. Facing multiple stressful – and dangerous – trials, the year in Tokelau was the first massive upheaval in the Henrys’ lives.

Following moves back to Sumner, then Kaikōura, and then the beautiful rural area of Clarence where Esther worked to create the perfect family home, the reader is completely emotionally invested in every member of this close-knit, warm and hilarious family. This makes the chapters on the 2011 Christchurch earthquake even more hard-hitting. The unedited interviews with Chris and Esther are both poignant and harrowing, depicting first-person accounts of the devastation the February 22 Christchurch earthquake, and the 14 November 2016 Kaikōura earthquake, caused. Chris’s honest account of the rescue mission at the collapsed CTV building is particularly difficult to read, but so important.

Henry’s personal story is the glue that connects the disparate chapters together. The memoir is partly a story of Henry writing the memoir; of conversations and interviews with family members and friends – be they in the car, over dinner, at the bar, or in a leaky Wellington flat. The memoir recalls important talismans in Henry’s life that hold significant personal importance – such as a broken seagull ornament – that are catalysts and anchors for unravelling memories. We Can Make a Life is the story of Henry working as a curator of her family history: sifting through the pieces that make the cut, choosing those which do not – and being open about this process and its difficulties. The result is a neatly ordered memoir: each chapter tells a segment of the family story.

A starkly current book, it opens the floor for multiple discussions. It highlights the issues facing the New Zealand medical scene: not only the inadequate funding of rural centres and personnel, but also the problems facing overworked staff in an understaffed system. The memoir highlights the present mental health crisis, particularly the insidious ‘black dog’ that haunts not only the Henry family, but people across New Zealand.

We Can Make a Life is a timely, evocative, empathetic and finely crafted memoir. Written in beautifully detailed prose (‘Even the hills seemed colourless, wet rocks that had slid out of the ocean like tired swimmers, their spines curling back towards the sea’), this memoir will provoke multiple conversations. My recommendation: go read it, and then send it on – mine is winging its way towards my parents as I write.

Reviewed by Rosalie Elliffe

We Can Make a Life
by Chessie Henry
Victoria University Press
ISBN 9781776561940

Book Review: Government for the Public Good: The Surprising Science of Large-Scale Action, by Max Rashbrooke

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_government_fo_the_public_goodMax Rashbrooke’s book is an analysis of what good government would like if it was essentially based on policy analysis, rather than being determined by an overriding ideology. Governing in the ‘public good’ and utilising ‘large-scale action’ could be seen as the same old 20th Century formula for imposing big government. So it obviously goes against the prevailing economic ideology labelled as ‘neo-liberalism’.

Of course, ‘neo-liberalism’ was a term adopted by the academic critics, so what Rashbrooke has done is distil the views of mostly academic writers who have been analysing why right wing policy prescriptions have failed, with regard to what they discern as the ‘public good’. However, it is not clear why the book is subtitled the ‘surprising science’ of large-scale policy action: it is not really surprising that there has been a lot of analysis of activist government policy by other social scientists, if not economists; and also not surprising that the evidence supports collective action.

If it were just a matter of ‘bring the State back in’, then this has already been done, with a well known American academic using the exact phrase for a book title long ago. Rashbrooke proceeds by looking at the evidence about the ‘strange half-death of government’ in the Western world. He is mainly concerned with what he calls the Anglosphere, or English-speaking countries, which are apparently the key examples of the neoliberal philosophy and market-based solutions. Rashbrooke then suggests a new model of government of policy action based on ‘ten habits of highly successful governments’, and compares this to the market-based model. From there he examines very specific policy areas: urban planning and infrastructure, health and education, economic management and income distribution, and law & order. He finally proposes more public participation in policy-making, a concept he calls ‘liquid government’.

For those familiar with academic writing about policy-making, and social science approaches, this will no doubt be a triumph. It is certainly readable, and Rashbrooke explains complex ideas very well, being able to simplify things down to the essential points. However, this is very much a compendium of writing by overseas professors and a few New Zealand academics, with some authors outside of the academy. So there are a lot of quotes from international experts, but I’m not sure it is much more than a useful synthesis of the overseas literature. Some of the local experience doesn’t fit that well with the European examples, such as in urban planning where our ‘State Housing’ is barely mentioned, and he seems to favour a new social housing tenure.

There is a more significant problem with the term Anglosphere and its key feature, which involves international finance. Rashbrooke acknowledges that the Anglosphere countries control the tax havens, or secrecy states, which allow the large corporations and richest individuals to hide their money. Besides not examining New Zealand’s role in the ‘offshore world’, it seems rather naïve to think that the Anglosphere is going to lead the way in policing the tax havens or re-imposing financial regulation. Rashbrooke quotes from an IMF report, which apparently recognises that the State should be able to control the flow of international funds and thus prevent speculators destabilising national currencies. However, these are very policy tools that have been systematically removed by the right wing parties in government, and this has been mostly accepted by social democratic parties, due to the power of offshore finance.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Government for the Public Good: The Surprising Science of Large-Scale Action
by Max Rashbrooke
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9781988545080

Book Review: Memory Pieces, by Maurice Gee

Available in bookshops nationwide.

Memory Pieces cover.jpgMemory Pieces is made up of three separate pieces of memoir – the first, Double Unit, is the story of Maurice Gee’s parents, the second, Blind Road, is about Maurice’s own life until he became a writer at the age of 18, and the third part, Running on the Stairs, is the story of Margareta Garden, prior to meeting her future husband Maurice Gee.

On the face of it, this is just another memoir. However in the hands of a writer as talented as Maurice Gee, (and also of his mother Lyndahl Chapple), you become completely involved in the life and times of these people, in a way that simply draws you in to continue reading.

The Chapple family were quite possibly a little unusual in that James (Our Father in Lyndahl’s story) shifted most of his large family to the United States for a time, as he was a pacifist who would likely have landed up in jail in New Zealand. That’s a pretty brave move for anyone, but seems particularly so for the time (just prior to World War 1). Lyndahl’s story is a delightful picture of a childhood in the early part of the 20th century, and I just wish she had not stopped so abruptly. The reasons for her not continuing a potential career as a writer become clear in Maurice’s part of the story.

Maurice’s story also captures time and place brilliantly. It made me think– as I frequently do – that we need to get our family stories told before those who can provide much-needed facts and anecdotes are unable to do so.

Told in Double Unit, Lyndahl and Len are an interesting couple with not a great deal in common: Len a practical and pragmatic builder, a hard worker, providing for his family, keen on racing, while Lyndahl’s interests were not quite on the same page. Len did build her a writing desk, though!

As with most families, all was not smooth sailing and as a parent, Lyndahl had some dark times, which took their toll on the family. Again, you realise that these things are far more common than we imagine, and there are few families untouched by trauma or difficulties of one kind or another.

Margareta’s story, told by Maurice in Running on the Stairs, brings a young Swedish girl to NZ with her mother to reunite with their husband and father, Oscar Garden, a renowned pilot. Again, trauma and difficulty are apparent, and the marriage does not last. Margareta comes across as a strong, determined young woman, adapting with apparent ease to constantly changing circumstances.

There’s a great deal in this book to reflect on, and in which to find similarities of upbringing, belief and experience. I found it a fascinating read – it’s sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes drily humorous and often extremely touching.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Memory Pieces
by Maurice Gee
VUP 2018
ISBN 9781776562077

Book Review: Godley: the Man Behind the Myth, by Terry Kinloch

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_godley_pg.jpgAuthor Terry Kinloch ends his biography Godley: The Man Behind the Myth withIf this book gives readers a more rounded and balanced understanding of Godley -the man and the general – it has achieved its purpose.’  This book does exactly that.

Major General Bernard Freyberg of the Second World War might be uppermost in New Zealanders’ minds if asked to name a prominent influencer on New Zealand’s military tradition. However, Freyberg was a leader of a Division which formed part of an army and a military structure, which had been conceived in 1910, built and trained through to 1914 and then,  with the NZ Expeditionary Force  component,  led to war in Gallipoli, Palestine and Europe  by  the British general Sir Alexander Godley.

Godley was hired by the New Zealand Government from the British army with the aim of transforming New Zealand’s military structure into a modern, sustainable force that could help defend not only its own country but be inserted with ease into the armies of the British Empire.

This contribution from New Zealand to the Empire’s armies was sustainable because the transformation from the rather irregular nature of the country’s involvement in the Boer War, to  the establishment of regional,  part-time territorial units and even school cadet forces. It could be said the “Godley Structure” lasted through to the 1960s.

But Godley’s reputation is often blackened severely by his supposed responsibility for the heavy casualties and eventual failure of the Gallipoli campaign and then again at Passchendaele. One New Zealand military historian titled a whole chapter of his book as “Godley’s abattoir”referring to the Passchendaele tragedy. The label was first coined in relation to the Gallipoli battle at The Nek, where Australian troops were sent mindlessly  “over the top” and into a hail of machine gun bullets.

Author Kinloch lists the above two disasters, and other ‘recently published accounts’ including the view that ‘every ANZAC solider who had the misfortune to service under Godley’s command loathed him. In return, he detested the Australians and tolerated the New Zealanders. It has also been stated that Godley was trained by his father, that he had never seen a machine gun before 1914 and that he was a cavalry officer.’

‘None of these statements are true,’ writes Kinloch, ‘some are simply wrong, while others are misinterpretations or exaggerations.’

That statement is on page seven of the 319-page book. Much of the rest of the book is taken up with a deeply researched study of the man and his deeds from early childhood until his death. The quality of Kinloch’s research can be attributed to the access he had to Godley’s letters, a great many to his wife, Louisa but also to many contemporary soldiers politicians and others – even the King. Much of this material was written contemporaneously with the events and thus presents a valuable record within the context of the time.

There are many photographs and maps which add to the understanding of this man. None of the photos show him smiling. Clearly Godley was an “Empire Man” with great self discipline, ramrod appearance  and a rather aloof manner which  made him appear  uncaring. His first battles were in the Boer War where he established a good reputation as a  an organiser, leader and fighter.  Much praise came from Baden Powell, whom he served under at the historically famous siege of Mafeking.

Despite the difficulties of the Boer War, Godley, accordingly to Kinloch, decided that the years between 1910 and 1914 (in New Zealand) were the ‘most challenging of his career to date.’ There were grumbles among the kiwis at Godley bringing in other British officers but he was determined to set up a balanced structure resulting in a highly efficient and sustainable force. The need for it can be best understood by a quote of a New Zealand territorial offer, Andrew Russell , ‘The inefficiency of the officers, and the utter absence of any standard on which to model ourselves, is the root of our inefficiency.’ (Russell later became once of New Zealand’s most distinguish Generals).

Kinloch provides a comprehensive account  of Godley’s role in the  establishment of the what might be called the first professional New Zealand army, not large  but well  resourced  and trained across all the necessary  ingredients  of a modern fighting force from infantry, through mounted rifles, artillery, specialist machine gun  units, transport, pioneer and medical corps.  There was even a Cyclist Corps.

Having conceive it, organised it and trained it, Godley took a division to war in 1914 as the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

Kinloch then traces the story of Godley’s war, almost battle by battle examining the myths and legends, criticism and praise attributed to the General , often  clarifying and even correcting long held  ‘understandings’ of  battles and also of the character of the man. A battle for which Godley received praise, rightly, was the Battle of Messines, where the planning, resourcing,  training  led to a famous victory for the New Zealanders and Australians under Godley’s command.

This is a very important book, well illustrated with photographs and maps, which will reshape our view of a man who played such a huge role in New Zealand’s engagement with the First World War. As military historian Chris Pugsley has written in a cover endorsement, this book ‘has brought this controversial commander….out from the shadows.’

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould
CEO, Booksellers NZ and owner of Messines Bookshop : Military History

Godley: the Man Behind the Myth
by Terry Kinloch
Published by: Exisle Publishing
ISBN 9781775593638




Book Review: Not for ourselves alone: belonging in an age of loneliness, by Jenny Robin Jones

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_not_for_ourselves_aloneThis is a very comprehensive and detailed book which deals with how we can, may, and already do manage the modern world with its present emphasis on the individual, and our very particular needs to be part of society. ‘No man (or woman) is an island’ seems quite a pertinent thought when reading this work.

Jenny Robin Jones clearly did her research well. The book fires off in different directions via an almost bewildering number of avenues, thoughts and connections, from the entirely dissimilar – Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Age of Reason and Eleanor Catton – through stories of family members, references to early New Zealand settlers and the tangata whenua, immigrants to New Zealand – until she ends with positive thoughts about how we can best get on with living despite being torn in apparently different directions.

It’s an interesting and complex read. Some of the people interviewed turned out to be people I knew, which is hardly unusual in New Zealand, but it did pique my interest more, in what turned out to be a challenging read.

How to feel not alone – or how to cope with those feelings and acknowledge that they are normal for many of us – makes up the backbone of the book. To put this into some kind of perspective, Jones uses her researcht o develop her case for the need for compassion. In one of those odd coincidences of which life is made, I recently read and reviewed Gigi Fenster’s memoir, Feverish, which also deals with the importance of compassion – she sees it as the single most important attribute for human beings to aim for.

Jones’ book is divided into three major parts, with subsets in those – Getting Started, World Face to Face and World Big Wide. Getting Started is self-evident, face to face is about personal relationships and stories, and World is more on politics and philosophies.

As I said, it’s very wide-ranging and I did find it hard to follow the thread at times.
However I think it addresses several important issues, and it is definitely worth a read.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Not for ourselves alone: belonging in an age of loneliness
by Jenny Robin Jones
Published by Saddleback
ISBN 9780995102507