Dr Emily Beausoliel

Emily Beausoleil speaks to Trust Democracy’s AGM

Watch the video or read the transcript of Dr. Emily Beausoleil speaking to Trust Democracy's 2024 AGM on whether democracy in settler-colonial societies like ours is a weapon or a tool. Download her presentation slides and access Trust Democracy’s AGM reports, statements and minutes.
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Trust Democracy’s Annual General Meeting was held on 6 May 2024 by videoconference. It featured an empowering and insightful presentation by Dr. Emily Beausoleil, Senior Lecturer in Politics at Victoria University of Wellington, entitled: “Democracy in settler-colonial societies – weapon or tool?” 

The video and transcript of Dr Beausoleil’s address are available below. Trust Democracy’s reports, statements and minutes for its 2023 Annual General Meeting can be accessed by clicking here.

Here’s a quick summary of Dr. Beausoleil’s address.

The 3 D’s of political disenchantment

Opening her address, Emily outlined the inevitable outcomes of individuals becoming disenchanted with the political system: 

One of the things I have a hunch about is that we share a belief that there’s many, many reasons to be disenchanted with politics as usual. Certainly formal politics that prevail in the day. And usually that leads to either disengagement, direct action or democratic innovation.

The Limits of majority-rule tools

Continuing her argument, Emily laid out the challenges our current representative and participatory ‘majority-rule’ system create, especially in a colonial society:

And so taken together, majority rule tools are limited and blunt, and cannot fulfil democracy’s promise to enable all of us to have an equal voice in collective decision making. They can, in fact, obstruct that aim. They can suppress voices that we need to hear. They can limit the equality among us in that collective act of being part of the Demos.

She continued by providing the example of the Voices to Parliament referendum in Australia as a concrete example of a ‘tyranny of the masses’ scenario. Adding “but even if the whole population had voted yes – as they did with same-sex marriage, say, and similarly a majority, the whole population voting on the right of a minority group, it should not be the domain of a majority to vote whether another group that is a minority has a right to a voice at the table, especially those with unceded authority in that land.

The impact of colonisation 

Dr. Beausoleil then focused on how settler colonisation has influenced our democratic systems:

So in Aotearoa New Zealand, and this is the case for any settler colonial society – numbers – not even weapons, not even the spread of disease – yes, those play a role – but numbers is the number one tool of settler colonisation.

These numbers over time impact our collective vision of the world, and our history – something Stephen Turner calls ‘Settler Dreaming’. As Emily says,If enough of us are here carrying this idea about what the world is, it becomes the reality of that place.”

The potential of deliberation

Talking about her experience with the Porirua Project, Emily shared some key insights she’s gained regarding how deliberation can help us honour Te Tiriti and make progress towards decolonisation, sharing a quote from a Pacific leader:

When I hear the word democracy, it leaves me cold. But when I hear deliberation, I get excited.”

Continuing this, Dr. Beausoleil shared “Deliberation seems to hold a promise. It seems to have a lot more common ground.”

The challenges that remain

While there is much to be excited about deliberative democracy, Emily was clear there are still challenges to overcome:

But there are some real risks in deliberation that potentially reinforce the dominance of one group over others against democratic commitments. So the first is most deliberative processes – when they’re mini publics, they work through demographic representation. Ergo, if you have a population whose dominance has been because of demographic dominance, you’re going to actually have the same dynamics brought into the room of who is overrepresented and who’s underrepresented in that space. 

Dr. Deausoleil also outlined a range of external and internal exclusions that can arise; including who is more likely to engage in sortition, whose voices are more likely to be heard in the room, who is even more likely to speak up – and how the deliberative frameworks we often use are incredibly Western in the first place.

Emily closed with an impassioned challenge to all practitioners in this space; passed on from fellow academic Melinda Webber:

Do not mistake Maori for content as opposed to context.”

A big mihi to Emily 

Trust Democracy would like to sincerely thank Dr. Emily Beausoleil for taking the time to share her wisdom and insights with our members and AGM guests.

Video

Transcript

Emily:

Thank you for having me. A little about me besides the blurb; I’m English and French in my family ancestry. You can hear from my voice that I was raised on other shores. I was raised on unceded Coast Salish territory in Western Canada and Vancouver Island. And I’m very privileged to call Te Whanganui-a-tara home, where it’s Te Atiawa, Taranaki Whanui and Natito and Mana Fenuwa. I teach in politics at the University here. And I’m really glad to be with you, because when I think about the commitments that bring us together, the concerns that bring us together in this work in this group and it’s a pleasure to think about what we can ask together in that context.

One of the things I have a hunch about is that we share as I see it there’s many, many reasons to be disenchanted with politics as usual. Certainly formal politics that prevail in the day. And usually that leads to disengagement, direct action or democratic innovation. And I have a hunch that those who are here tonight are really drawn to the last. And also because of a shared understanding that democracy is so much more than its most recent mechanism; newly innovated – a representative democracy, and that that’s not only a recent tool to realize a more fundamental aim. Democratic aims, but also often a really insufficient one.

And so deliberation is often answering a lot of the issues that a more aggregate form of politics present. Whereas added-up tools can be very clear and very much more straightforward to implement, They also presume that all our preferences, and our ideas about the world are fixed rather than improved when we come together and listen to each other. And as much as their effectiveness also hinges, just like deliberation, on our ability to be informed – it’s often not a prerequisite to go and vote or put in your voice on a referendum or a petition and so these tools, also, unlike deliberation, can lead to further polarization rather than finding compromise or mutual agreement, or mutual understanding, or even innovation, all the things we hold dear and desperately need.

But there’s something more fundamental to majority-rule tools that I want to highlight tonight, particularly because they’re much more readily at the reach of people in Aotearoa, as I find it, who are Democrats and say, ‘let’s realize democracy through our through a vote mechanism, a referendum, a petition, etc.’ The majority rule mechanisms that we’ve got. And so I think it’s worth staying with those a little tonight in the context of being in a settler colonial society, and then I’ll pivot at the end to thinking about deliberation in this context, as well. Democracy in these two guises.

So the the real risk, in any context, as we know, I think in this group, you know – If you’re involved in deliberative alternatives the real risk to ‘added up’ mechanisms is majority rule can silence up to nearly half of a population. You know, they can actually be a tool of silencing, you know, up to 49% of a population because of that majority emphasis. And so that, of course, can lead to tyranny of the majority and the loss of really essential voices and perspectives that we say have equal value and equally need to be heard in collective decision making.

Many constitutional and democratic scholars talk about this – that majority rule offers, quote ‘no protection against arbitrary actions, or against actions directed at benefiting a temporary majority at the expense of minorities.’ End quote. And so taken together, majority rule tools are limited and blunt, and cannot fulfill democracy’s promise to enable all of us to have an equal voice in collective decision making. They can, in fact, obstruct that aim. They can suppress voices that we need to hear. They can limit the equality among us in that collective act of being part of the Demos.

The Voice to Parliament was a really great example of this recently. This was a process preceded by one of the most groundbreaking, nationwide deliberative processes – the largest consensus ever among first nations peoples across the country. Through careful consideration and deliberation dialogue. They landed on 3 key recommendations, and one of those went to a vote; one of those went to a referendum. And it illustrates the real risks of majority-rule tools. As in this case, despite that deep consideration, and being deeply informed to come up with these recommendations, the one recommendation that went to the vote – Voice to Parliament – in itself, a core realizing of a democratic aim, which is ensuring the voices of those that get silenced or suppressed or excluded. In this case a single person to represent all indigenous peoples in Australia. Not even one with veto power, not one with even decision making power. But just to be a voice at the table. That’s what the recommendation was. And it was because of a really well organized, well funded ‘If you don’t know, vote no’ campaign. I think I have a little on the next slide. And also because of some quite artificially contrived parameters or thresholds, you know. Not only would it have to be a majority vote, but also a certain number of majorities divided up by these arbitrary lines of the regions in Australia meeting both of those thresholds. Because of these conspiring factors, we ended up with a no, and largely because of a largely uninformed populace in this case.

But even if the whole population had voted yes – as they did with same-sex marriage, say, and similarly a majority, the whole population voting on the right of minority group. It should not be the domain of a majority to vote whether another group that is a minority has a right to a voice at the table, especially those with unceded authority in that land. And so we can see the real risks here already of majority vote instruments as they roll out in settler-colonial contexts, even in this case.

So in Aotearoa New Zealand – and this is the case for any settler-colonial society – numbers – not even weapons, not even the spread of disease – yes, those play a role – but numbers is the number-one tool of settler colonization. The sheer weight of demographics over time that tip the scales of whose values, protocols, institutions, sense of commonsense comes to predominate.

Steven Turner, who’s a famous New Zealand historian here, talks about ‘settler dreaming’ – that through the logic of sheer numbers accruing over time, ships upon ships, upon ships arriving, tipping the scales here. As you can see in the change in population over time – making the dreams, the ideas about the world that settlers bring with them into the reality. If enough of us are here carrying this idea about what the world is, it becomes the reality of that place. So demographics is the already identified in the settler Colonial scholarship as the number-one tool of settler dominance across all of these countries. Canada, Australia, US and Aotearoa New Zealand. So that’s not the vision of Te Tiriti. That’s not the vision and in fact, what I think of now – back in 1840, tangata whenua were a super majority. They were somewhere between 98% and 99% of the population. Newcomers from Britain were the equivalent of a really small hapu. In that state in 1840, a super majority looked on this newest group, newly arrived. Their ruler was way across the sea, never to be met. You know, some people had met her – the Crown – at this point, but most had not. She had never visited these shores. Some representatives of that group were acting up in Russell, you know, not really being the best face for Britain at the time.

But nonetheless they extended this incredibly generous granting of the right not only to share a home, which is an exceptional thing, but also to even empower that small group to self-govern. So that’s Kawangatanga, translated from Governor – the word that was used to describe Pontius Pilate in the Bible by the same translators. The word to be be used to describe the British Governor in Sydney at the time that many rangatira had gone to visit over the preceding years to find out about British law – but at the same time, that small group committed to upholding the ongoing political authority, the tino rangatiratanga of those who had granted that right, who were already here with their governance structures, their institutions, their laws, the mataranga. So it was about a vision of coexisting authorities as a vision of coming together, respecting one another’s authority to govern in their own ways over their own people. And the vision that I have for it, that I have heard Helmut Modlik talk about a lot is the waka hourua, right? The double hulled canoe. This balanced coexisting spheres of authority as a vision for – as Te Tiriti talks about – peaceful coexistence and mutual benefit; like a really beautiful vision, especially when you think about the imbalance of minority / majority at the time. And this was the vision that we were given.

So we haven’t done very well in realizing this vision; And we’ll talk about that for the rest of tonight. I hope we can get to the other things I want to talk about – I have so many things I want to share with you. But let’s set the scene a little. So this was from He Puapua, the vision of where we are now in terms of the over-extension of kawangatanga, not in its rightful sense of balance within that waka-hourua vision, and the vision of where we could be is really about realizing the vision of Te Tiriti as it is here in 2040. This is also from Matiki Mai. What would it look like to bring these into rightful relationship with one another where there really is an equality between peoples – and not just an equality between the individuals but an equality between peoples so there’s that restored balance for mutual benefit and peace.

In that context of the over extension, the reaching beyond what was promised in Te Tiriti o Waitangi and through that weight of numbers over time, we see how numbers in what is claiming to be democratic system have very much been used in that dangerous way to silence and suppress, rather than to give voice, especially to those who even gave us the right to have a democracy here at all. In the context of kawangatanga, our democracy is unique because it was granted – its legitimacy comes from Te Tiriti o Waitangi. We have been given that right. So first of all, the Parliament began. Most Maori – only I think a hundred in the entire nation could actually vote – because it was linked to individual ownership. Again, Pakeha ideas about who should vote. Only a hundred Maori were able to. Most were unable to even participate. When that was individuated over time, and more Maori would be able to vote, there was concern from Pakeha that that meant there would be more Maori voice in Parliament, and one of the ways that was very deliberately conceived to limit that voice was the Maori seats in 1867 to try to restrict the ability of having greater representation in Parliament that was limited to four seats – as a way to prevent the proportionate representation, which would have been closer to, I think, 14 to 16 – somewhere like that.

They would have had that number of seats if it had just been voting, as other seats were filled by proportionate representation. The Maori Roll, in 2 independent studies at the last elections, Speaking much more recently, we saw a real, disproportionate resourcing knowledge of staff and even understanding of the Maori Roll. And so many people were turned away from being able to vote to exercise their right to vote if they were Maori, and wanting to vote on the role. In the last 2 elections many people were lining up for hours and hours and often drifting off as a result. Many people, because they were misguided, mis-told mistakenly how to fill it out, had their votes disqualified, and some were even told the Maori Roll didn’t even exist; that there was only the General Roll. And so you had this real difference in the way that people could exercise the rights to vote even now, even very recently, with our current elections.

And most recently, we’ve seen this turn and it may turn again. We have in some cases particular seats reserved, because we know that even though they would be outvoted, it’s still precious like, we know we need to have those voices at the table, those minority voices. One of them is, say, rural seats, you say ‘yes, no matter what we need to be able to hear from people from the rural regions. We need to ensure that voice.’ Maori wards are the same, except they’re the only special reserve seat that has the provision that can have our numbers mobilized against it as a weapon. In this case, if even 5% of a local population – again Pakeha-dominant population, if even 5% sign their names to say, ‘I object to this one assured seat that allows for those who hold authority in this region to have a voice at the table’, then that catalyzes a referendum, which is again in a Pakeha-dominant community, again without any assurance about understanding how this is working, why this is just, why this is democratic, why does Te Tiriti honouring – can actually overturn it unlike any other special seat. So we have a a contradiction in how we treat these seats. Again, numbers being mobilized in this case to silence and suppress and exclude those who actually hold political authority, those who gave us our democracy today.

All right. So in this context, yes, numbers are a problem insofar as they are a blunt instrument and in themselves, will never fully realize, in fact, might work at cross-purposes with democratic aims of making sure people get to the table. Well, what about deliberation? One of the great privileges of my life is working with the Porirua project. And one of those conversations was with a number of Pacific leaders. And about this design in process of the citizens assembly, and one of the Pacific leaders in this conversation said, ‘When I hear the word democracy, it leaves me cold. But when I hear deliberation, I get excited.’ Like there’s something about it I find really familiar. It sounds like Pacifica ways of making decision are actually catching fire everywhere else. So there’s something really resonant. It’s interesting to hear that difference of how that lands. Deliberation seems to hold a promise, It seems to have a lot more common ground.

But there are some real risks in deliberation that potentially reinforce the dominance of one group over others against democratic commitments. So the first is most deliberative processes – when they’re mini publics – they work through demographic representation. Ergo, if you have a population whose dominance has been because of demographic dominance, you’re going to actually have the same dynamics brought into the room of who is overrepresented and who’s underrepresented in that space.

You’ll also – often in deliberation, we’re not very good at thinking structurally, or looking at broader structural conditions that affect who can even get into the room, or even in that room who ends up speaking, who ends up being heard. Iris Young calls these external exclusions and internal exclusions. So there are reasons why, you know, for scarcity of resources, a very well deserved distrust, maybe, in Western Pakeha-run systems, not being able to see yourself reflected in it – same reason why people don’t vote really – might mean that people don’t get to the table or want to come to the table. But also in the room, who gets listened to, who takes up more time, whose voice is heard as more of a ‘knower’, just by virtue of speaking in a certain way or carrying a certain kind of credentials into the room that are valued. Having a certain confidence even affects, who ends up speaking more and certainly who ends up listening – what Tanya Dreyer calls ‘economies of attention’ – those are really unequal – of who gets heard.

So we we don’t necessarily design for that very well, we don’t necessarily talk about that in deliberation very well. It’s becoming more of an area where people are looking. Anna Drake and others are trying to draw attention to those broader conditions, which is great, but it’s an area that we need work. Others are starting to also talk about how deliberation is often, although there are resonances with other ways of decision making, including here, with Tangata Whenua and Pacifika nations – you do have Western ways of doing that that get reinforced and presumed to just be the way deliberation runs. So there’s cultural, really, specifically cultural dimensions to deliberation that aren’t even necessarily acknowledged as culture, or felt as culture, and just to like, ‘well, that’s the way you make an argument, or that’s the way we we hear each other and give good reasons’, right? So becoming more aware of that will certainly help our ability to notice our own cultural edge. And hopefully, even the very partiality of that.

You know how. There are many ways of giving account of giving good reasons of hearing each other. Considering the differences between us, deliberation has some real particularities. Seoung Jae-Min here was identifying “deliberation as the child of the Enlightenment and modernization in the West, which valued problem-solving, reasoning, strong individualism. The rest of the world followed different modernization paths, and thus Western-specific history and its deliberation legacy cannot be easily applied to them.”

And so it does have cultural differences. Individualism is one – that’s partly why we turn to demographic representation too … and we can talk about that … but there’s a really strong bent of, almost like – we have to convince people to put aside their individual self-interest and come together, that we come into the room as avatars for broader society, but act as individuals in the room. The way we argue or give reasons – our codes for agreement or dissent are very particular, and we don’t always notice that. And so we can miss what’s happening in the room, actually. And other certain groups can be missed because of we’re missing them. Who counts as an expert is another one, Of course Nadine Anne Hura’s beautiful piece ‘Who gets to be an ordinary New Zealander’, identifies some of these trends as well, some of the ways that our ways of deliberating can itself reinforce one group’s ways, that in turn makes it easier for one group to predominate.

One group’s way of making sense or reasons to predominate in a deliberative forum. A neglect of pre-existing and ongoing non-Western forms of deliberation. We are not very good at studying this. There is not a good scholarship on this to date. There is sort of an epistemic humility that we need to be curious about many other ways of collective decision making through considering reasons, and how differently they achieve that with great rigor. I think that’s something we haven’t achieved very well to date. For me, one thing that’s been interesting and watching the Porirua Assembly unfold is watching even, I guess, through that experience has really highlighted my own cultural edges in a few key ways, and I’m really grateful for that. One of them is noticing that even the notion of who has the right to speak and why is actually really specifically cultural and historical. It’s a real tradition that gives us a sense of how we come into the room, why we can speak. It’s tied to individualism, my culture. So I go in and I think ‘well, I have a thought to add, I’m a voice, I’m an individual among many’. What it means to be representative, that you can actually be representative, not in demographic terms but maybe you can just be an individual. Maybe you always bring your relationships, your responsibilities – you know – all the ways you were brought up to be a leader. Maybe that comes into the room and cannot be disentangled.

Those are very particular habits we’ve got in Western deliberation to think as individuals in those particular fundamental ways that affects actually, who speaks in a space, who speaks more in a space. So if a bunch of Pakeha in a space come in with an individual sense of a right to speak like ‘yes, of course we’re all speaking’. We will tend to predominate our voices. We will speak more; as well as a sense of confidence as well as a sense of trust, entitlement. You know all these things that actually do affect who ends up even being the voices in a room, let alone us missing so many codes as to why others aren’t speaking, or what we’re missing in the subtleties of the codes through just using our own.

Last thing I wanna draw our attention to is one – a further dimension of settler colonialism, which is called – Mark Rifkin has the a phrase ‘settler common sense’. And when we’re talking about collective spaces where we come together when we bring our reasons, and reason should trump power, right? Reason should win the day, the best reasons win – and we will all find a language that we can hear each others’ reasons and find out what’s in the middle between us. That’s the beauty of deliberation. In a settler-colonial context, it’s not just numbers that predominate, but because of those numbers, and that settler dreaming that all embodying the beliefs that we carry with us and those become the reality we share.

Part of what we carry is often an amnesia about what’s come before us and how we got here, and so we naturalize our own position, and everything feels like it’s in its rightful place. It is just the way we’ve done things, right? That’s what national identity is – is our identity and our culture. My way of giving reasons, my culture, my language, my institutions, my protocols, my laws, all of it is just the way we do things here. Pakeha as a people – And this is a structural collective issue; This isn’t a personal failing, but structurally, historically, because of becoming a dominant group in a place and because of embedding that in the world around us, So it’s the very fabric of the society we’re in. We lose a sense of how we got here, and it leads to a sense of collective amnesia. And part of that is also we don’t learn our own history in schools. You know, we’re really limited. Here you can see Vincent O’Malley did a poll of who actually learned about New Zealand history in schools. A recent poll showed from the Human Rights Commission who’s actually read the Treaty, you know. Another poll found that half New Zealand New Zealanders don’t even understand the treaty principles like, if we need people to be informed to do deliberation well, then our forgetting, our not knowing our history, our not knowing our context, our living a-historically, as Stephen Turner says, living without history, that is a problem. Because we don’t feel the broader context. We’re uninformed citizens, which is key to making good decisions together, right?

So this is a problem that collective amnesia leads to an uninformed Demos, and that’s what Mark Rifkin calls ‘settler common sense’. One of the biggest aspects of this, where we, our ways and our stories, our knowledge, our language, our laws become THE ways. And then naturalized, where we forget how we got here, and it’s always been that way. One of the biggest dreamings or myths the settler dreaming as Steven Turner would say, one of the biggest myths of this or signs of our settler common sense, Eva Mackie says, is when we act like indigenous people have ceded sovereignty, even though we know they haven’t.

Moana Jackson and Margaret Muto, besides the text of Te Tiriti, besides the context, Margaret Muto and Moana Jackson say it’s like an intellectual and practical absurdity. It’s an absurdity for a super majority to have given over everything to a distant power when their nearest representatives were really disruptive and lawless up in Russell, and you know, like this, this wild imagining that this was even possible, right? But we’ve acted this way, and more and more people inherited this idea that it is this way. It has been this way. Forgetting, losing sight of all the things that lie outside that dreaming. And then we act as if it’s real. So that’s the settler common sense that’s quite dangerous if enough of us hold that myth to be true and then act accordingly.

Here’s some examples of settler common sense at work, you know. Refusing to allow karakia into the council which draws such beautiful attention. Same with the example of not being able to wear, you know, having to wear a tie in the Parliament, which was another fight a couple of years ago. Both of those are great examples of highlighting how deeply cultural those spaces are that sometimes we just pretend aren’t even cultural at all. You know, really particular protocols and traditions, really particular – one person, one group’s – ways have come to predominate, but they come to stand for common sense.

So that’s the last, that’s the last of the big challenges in terms of deliberation. Sorry I’d give you a sample of all the ways that settler common sense, this majority over time that has come to believe, held fast to certain myths about dominance. Coming from a sense of – I don’t know – inevitability or the stories of supremacy that there’s something about: ‘of course we would become, of course they would cede over all sovereignty’, and then telling our children that in schools. I mean, it’s just I come from Canada, it’s the same story there.

So we’ve inherited that idea – that’s the world we grew up in. And when that feels normal, it feels like a common sense. And in the name of that, this majority working in this way, we violated our Te Tiriti commitments. Here’s only a tiny sample; many of them really demonstrating a sense of supremacy, superiority. The presumption to civilize others, the presumption to take land at not even at market value, and force sales turning people into rebels who are just defending their own land, and then confiscating that land, and so on. Uneven distribution of land for soldiers coming back from war, you know. Refusing to give Maori the same rights as Pakeha in terms of old age pensions or low interest loans for land purchase or unemployment benefits, and so on. Suppressing the right of Maori to practice their medicinal knowledge that led to many deaths with the Suppression of Tohunga Act.

Many, many examples of this settler common sense working through the law, working through democratic processes that, in fact, is actually very undemocratic and very unjust. So settler common sense. All of this is adding up to a lot of challenges for us. If we care about democratic norms, and we absolutely do. And if we care about the Te Tiriti o Waitangi, not just because it gives us the legitimacy of our democracy, but because it gives us all a way to come together and be finally restore balance and restore honour for everyone, and allow flourishing for everyone. Finally.

There’s some questions that I wanted to give you. Maybe the things that I’m thinking about or things that have been watch-words for me. Probably one of the best things to say is what I, in this context working, is, it’s like, it’s always, it’s actually a bit like deliberation, isn’t it? Where you’re our democracy in general, where you’re looking for a better question. Like it’s never resolved, you never arrive, you never know the answer. You continually ask better, hopefully better, questions together as we go. So I wanted to give you a couple of my questions.

One of them is most fundamentally and most things I would say I’m learning, or I feel like our people, my people, are called to learn more about, have to do with erk, can be put into the context of this question. Melinda Weber, who’s a professor in education at the University of Auckland. One of the best charges she put – I’ve heard anyone put to Pakeha researchers, she said, “Oh, you Pakeha researchers is the number one mistake you make is to mistake Maori for content instead of context.” And I think that’s true, for most Pakeha, especially practitioners, democratic scholars, democratic practitioners. Continually we mistake Maori for the content that we put inside our context, our question, our practice, instead of actually the context for all of it. All of deliberation in this country sits in the context of tino rangitiratanga and ongoing colonization. That’s the context for our questions, our practice. That’s the context I think we’re called to attend to become in rightful relationship in this work as democrats, as deliberative scholars. So there’s a few points I’ve got. I feel like I must be out of time, Simon, you’re being too gentle with me.

Simon Wright:

Long out of time. I don’t like to cut people off, especially –

Emily Beausoleil:

Oh, I’m sorry to put you in that spot. I should have pressed that button.

We can talk more about these as we go. But of course, learning that history and context in which we live. What is the story of the land that we all live on? What are the stories of our own family, our stories of migration? How can we recover that collective forgetting and also understand that context? So that it can come into the room. How can we honour tino rangatiratanga in a material, real way? How is power being distributed through what we’re doing? With Mana Whenua on whose rohe we live, wherever we are. How can we build capacity, especially with Pakeha, about non-Western ways of making collective decisions? Like, what are the codes and protocols that might be in the room that we’re completely unaware of, and therefore excluding others in the space. What are the other ways of doing deliberation that we might not yet know?

How can we design in ways – and this is a massive one, and no deliberative folks who’ve even looked at structural context have been able to figure this out yet, but there are things we can do when we think about external exclusion, internal exclusion. How can we design with that in mind? The idea that we’re never just individuals, we’re always within various complex structures that mean we’re coming in very unequally. you know, even whose reasons resonate in that space quickly, you know, in that, who needs to fight, tooth and nail, just to be at all make any sense, let alone persuade in a deliberative sense.

Who feels confident enough to speak, and what’s the language they’re using, they’re speaking in, the kinds that are coded for being a reasonable or an authoritative voice? You know, how can we be more aware of that, and design to mitigate that? One of the other things that comes up for me, though that, is it’s not about the content, like figuring out, oh, ‘how Maori work’ or something. It’s actually more about our relationships; it’s more about how we are oriented and guided. And that’s why I really love Melinda Weber’s provocation: context, not content. Feel the broader context, for for all of the questions.

So there’s a beautiful document that kind of talks about Pakeha culture. Some of these habits that get in the way. Perfectionism is one. Purism is another. There’s a whole bunch of them – needing to know like, that’s a real habit, culturally for my people, and definitely my tradition of being an academic. It’s exacerbated, so needing to be the one who knows. And that’s what allows me to speak, actually letting go of thinking I have the answers, or I even understand. Maybe we’re not necessarily gonna be the ones to lead, you know, like, what is it to cede control as a way to come into, find out what the relationship could be. So not needing to sort of almost future proof, or even have knowing as a way to control. I think sometimes we won’t act until we feel we are sure we’ll be safe, through knowing. And I think it’s really messy and opaque; this work, and I think the orientation is more important. I think the relationships are more important than knowing; and that has affected how I ask questions.

I just want to give that to you and how we pursue our projects, so that sense of how often these deliberative questions can look, think about settler colonialism as something or Maori ways of decision making, or whatever it might be, or challenges as something to put inside the context of deliberation, and that I had to unpick that in my tradition my way of thinking, like my questions even often set the context for my curiosity, my inquiry, and I was really called up on this early days of living in Aotearoa, of how my way of asking questions and working even out of honest curiosity, were actually getting in the way of learning of having rightful relationships. And I think that sense of context not content, I just really hope that feels like a bit of a thing to come back to. That that might affect how we ask our questions.

The last thing I’ll say about how we ask our questions that I’ve been really tempered by, and I think a really important way I have a piece I can share with you. One of the ways that I can not sense where I am is by forgetting how far I am from the heartbreak that is alive and ongoing, and life and death for those who are tangata whenua, and who are especially under attack, ongoing for generations in this place, in their own land. In fact, made a minority in their own land. Emilani Case, I’ll share this with you as the last watchword of the evening. Emily Case, who’s a Pacific scholar, poet, activist. She came to our class of mine, and she got everyone to introduce themselves based on the relationship to the whenua and she goes ‘Oh, that’s really good to know.’ She’s from Hawaii. And she said, ‘That’s really good to know where you are in relation to the whenua, because when you’re when you’re when you’re indigenous, your heart breaks all the time, and when you tell us where you are in relation to the whenua, you tell us where you are in relation to the heartbreak.’ and I think something that I’ve noticed and I’m tempered by is, I am very far from the heartbreak. I’m very far, and I often forget, and I act in a way that shows I am oblivious to the heartbreak and how far I am from it. So I feel that’s a key for me, this has been a way to mitigate the harm that we can inadvertently produce in this kind of context – is remembering where we are in relation to the heartbreak.

And yeah, the last thing – Heather Came and Dominic O’sullivan and a number of others have been working on this beautiful Critical Tiriti Analysis that can be applied to any organization or any project. And I really invite you to look it up. It’s fabulous work. The last step on a how to analyze how an organization or project is doing with te Tiriti honouring is the indigenous last word. And I just wanna give that to you as a sense of – we know we have blank spots, we know there’s lots of things we’re missing by the nature of settler common sense, forgetting our history, right? There’s a lot we’re missing. Our dominance of our cultural codes that don’t even feel cultural. We’re really missing a lot. Our ways have become normalized; it means we’re excluding without even knowing. So how can we embed, how will we embed, ongoing reflection and accountability in how we’re working? A learning culture as a part of this, so that we can keep inviting more information that we might be missing about how we’re going. Thanks for having me, that’s all I have for tonight, Simon.

Notice of Fourth Annual General Meeting featuring Emily Beausoleil

Trust Democracy is pleased to announce that Dr Emily Beausoleil, one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s leading democratic scholars, will be presenting at our 2024 AGM, which will be held on Monday 6 May 2024, 7.30-9.00pm by Zoom.

We welcome non-members for Dr Beausoleil’s presentation, which is the first agenda item. Please register to attend the AGM and receive the Zoom details.

Democracy in settler-colonial societies – weapon or tool?

Democracy at core is committed to all those affected by a decision having a meaningful voice in making that decision. How can this be realised in contexts of ongoing settler-colonization like Aotearoa New Zealand? Majority rule mechanisms – voting or referenda – are blunt instruments in achieving this core democratic aim, and can replicate the dominance of settler voices who form a demographic majority. Deliberation, where decisions emerge from an exchange and consideration of a range of views, is meant to allow reason to check power and enable minority views to win the day. And yet, particularly when deliberation is a demographic avatar of broader society, it can also unwittingly replicate the dominance of settler voices and views. In this talk, Emily will outline some of these risks for deliberative practitioners and scholars working in settler-colonial contexts, and offer some initial reflections and recommendations so that, as practised here, deliberation might come closer to achieving its own ideals.

About Emily Beausoleil

Dr Beausoleil is a Senior Lecturer of Politics at Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University, where she explores the conditions, challenges, and creative possibilities for democratic engagement in diverse societies, with particular attention to the capacity for ‘voice’ and listening in conditions of inequality. She is Editor-in-Chief for Democratic Theory Journal, Distinguished Global Associate of the Sydney Democracy Network, Associate Investigator for the current Australian Research Council grant ‘Democratic Resilience: The Public Sphere and Extremist Attacks,’ and Research Associate of He Whenua Taurikura – Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism Centre for Research Excellence. Her Marsden research on listening in the context of structural injustice won the 2021 Royal Society Te Āparangi’s Early Career Research Excellence Award for Social Sciences, and alongside over 30 articles, her first book, Staging Democracy: The Political Work of Live Performance, inaugurated a book series with De Gruyter in 2023.

AGM Agenda

  • Dr Emily Beausoleil: Democracy in settler-colonial societies – weapon or tool?
  • Minutes of the previous AGM
  • Annual Report, Financial Statements and Committee disclosures
  • Election of Committee members
  • Setting of membership fees
  • General business
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