A Counter-Colonial Pedagogy of Affect in Early Childhood Education in Aotearoa New Zealand

Jenny Ritchie

Abstract: This chapter takes a theoretical approach inspired by the work of Paulo Freire, Michel Foucault, Giles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari, to reflect upon an assemblage that is constitutive of a series of studies of early childhood practice in Aotearoa, the lens being the facilitation by educators of the involvement and engagement of Maori parents and their children within mainstream early childhood care and education (ECCE) settings. The three studies (Ritchie, Duhn, Rau, & Craw, 2010; Ritchie & Rau, 2006, 2008)1 were conducted in collaboration with educators committed to implementing the expectations of the ECCE curriculum. These teachers are seen to have generated lines of flight that transgress previously striated spaces, territorialized through colonization, via a pedagogy of affect grounded in kaupapa Maori (Maori philosophy) values.

Ritchie J., and M. Skerrett. Early Childhood Education in Aotearoa New Zealand: History, Pedagogy, and Liberation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. doi: 10/1057.9781137375797.0010.


At the time of writing, it is 17 years since the publication of Te Whariki, the ECCE curriculum for Aotearoa New Zealand (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 1996). Te Whariki was radical, revolutionary even, in its socio-cultural, holistic orientation and its validation and inclusion of Indigenous (Maori) epistemology. It posed, and continues to pose, a huge challenge to the largely monocultural ECCE teacher workforce. We have already described in previous chapters of this book this biepistemological frame as being based in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the 1840 agreement between the British Crown and Maori Chiefs that allowed for colonial settlement in exchange for upholding the independence of the Chiefs to maintain their lands and other resources in order to sustain their peoples.

The “holistic” integration of the curriculum is seen in explanation of the principle of Holistic Development—Kotahitanga, which affirms that: “Cognitive, social, cultural, physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of human development are integrally interwoven” (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 41). Learning and development are to be fostered by ensuring the “recognition of the spiritual dimension of children’s lives in culturally, socially, and individually appropriate ways” (p. 41). Under the principle of Empowerment—Whakamana, the curriculum requires that: “Particular care should be given to bicultural issues in relation to empowerment. Adults working with children should understand and be willing to discuss bicultural issues, actively seek Maori contributions to decision making, and ensure that Maori children develop a strong sense of self-worth” (p. 40).

The Te Whariki strand of “Belonging—Mana whenua” is the only strand to focus on both children and their families. It is a key professional responsibility for educators to ensure that “Children and their families feel a sense of belonging” (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 54). The document elaborates further, that “Children and their families [should] experience an environment where: connecting links with the family and the wider world are affirmed and extended; [children and families] know that they have a place; [and] they feel comfortable with the routines, customs, and regular events” (p. 54). It is recognized that this feeling of belonging is paramount to well-being: “The feeling of belonging, in the widest sense, contributes to inner well-being, security, and identity” (p. 54).

The families of all children should feel that they belong and are able to participate in the early childhood education programme and in decision making. Maori and Tagata Pasefika [Pacific Islands peoples] children will be more likely to feel at home if they regularly see Maori and Pacific Islands adults in the early childhood education setting. Liaison with local tangata whenua [Indigenous people, Maori] and a respect for [P]apatu- anuku [Earth Mother] should be promoted. (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 54)

This was a significant shift for many ECCE educators in New Zealand, particularly within the teacher-led sector (rather than whanau/family and parent-led settings such as Kohanga Reo and Playcentre), who had previously perceived their role to be one of working with children, rather than engaging more than peripherally with whanau/families.

A further interpretation of the implications of Te Whariki is that in 1996, early childhood educators were suddenly cast into the role of cultural workers (Freire, 2005) engaged in education as a “political practice” (Malewski, 2005, p. 72). As cultural workers, educators take steps to come to “know the concrete world in which their students live, the culture in which their students’ language, syntax, semantics, and accent are found in action, in which certain habits, likes, beliefs, fears, desires are formed that are not necessarily easily accepted in the teachers’ own worlds” (Malewski, 2005, p. 72). Particularly when working with young children, relationships with families form the bridge to gaining deeper insight into the child’s habits, likes, beliefs, fears, and desires.

Michel Foucault (1991, 1995) alerted us to the insidious hidden effects of our embodiment within instruments and vectors of power, whereby technologies of power operate through oppressive though often subtly coercive systems of punishment and surveillance. Neoliberalist gov- ernmentality allows governments to side-step direct responsibility and accountability for provision of public services, power effects being ostensibly diffused and de-centered via capitalist/corporatist “privatization” under the guise of liberalist individual “freedom” and “choice.” Deleuze and Guattari offer ways of dissembling the seductions of the machinations of capitalism, offering considerations of a-centered nonhierarchical rhizomatic mutiplicities (Deleuze & Guattari, 2004). Te Whariki as an assemblage is constituted through multiple desirings. “The rationality, the efficiency, of an assemblage does not exist without the passions the assemblage brings into play, without the desires that constitute it as much as it constitutes them” (Deleuze & Guattari, 2004, p. 440). Desire is thus recognized as an intrinsic driver, revolutionary in its pursuit of further connections and assemblages (Deleuze & Parnet, 2002; Tuck, 2010). Teachers can be seen as enablers/dis-ablers of desire(s), via their positioning, which potentially enables them to create spaces that allow for ethical unfoldings of space(s) driven by intrinsic desires for new becomings:

Drawn together with the concepts of smooth and striated space, the notion of the fold enables an ethical evaluation of space according to the kinds of bodies and social relations it makes possible. Connected to Deleuze’s concept of affect, it becomes possible to articulate the ways in which even a small alteration to a socio-spatial assemblage can affect ethico-political changes. (Hickey-Moody & Malins, 2007, p. 12)

In Deleuze-Guattarian thinking, desire is associated with passion, and with lack, or yearning for what is lacking (Deleuze & Guattari, 2004). Affect is seen as a felt “intensity corresponding to the passage from one experiential state of the body to another and implying an augmentation or diminution in that body’s capacity to act” (Deleuze & Guattari, 2004, p. xvii). The everyday presence, or becoming-ness, of teachers is in this view a powerful source in service of ethical unfoldings, of pedagogies that are mindful of desirings and affects. In this chapter, I use examples from recent studies (Ritchie et al., 2010; Ritchie & Rau, 2006, 2008) to demonstrate ways in which educators moved into experimenting with new “pedagogies of affect” (Albrecht-Crane & Daryl Slack, 2007); whereby multiplicities of new lines of flight emerged (Deleuze & Parnet, 2002), involving previously un-thought ethical trajectories, the dismantling of former practices, and the emergence of destratifying processes of becoming.

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