Te Wai Whau : a kaupapa Māori citizen science approach to plastics pollution : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Social Anthropology at Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa, Te Ika-a-Maui, Aotearoa (Massey University, New Zealand)

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This ethnographic methodology-focused thesis explores the potential value of Kaupapa Māori citizen science for community-based research on plastics pollution at Te Wai Whau, Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa (the Whau River, Auckland, NZ). Through the application and interpolation of both Kaupapa Māori (Māori ways of being/doing) and anthropological concepts and methodologies, this project aims to explore how citizen science may help Aotearoa address plastics pollution in a holistic, relational, integrated, and decolonial manner. Applying Kaupapa Māori to this anthropological project also serves to focus this study on collaborating with the Whau community on a culturally grounded and power-sharing basis to actively prevent further plastics pollution at the Whau. Methods used include semi-structured interviews, online engagement, and a Kaupapa Māori adaptation of Break Free From Plastic’s brand auditing methodology, each of which serve to build local knowledge and awareness of the global plastics crisis while exploring opportunities for systemic change. With many NZ brands identified as polluters at the Whau, this study emphasised how the normalisation and overproduction of plastics has resulted in plastics pollution in the Whau and Aotearoa more broadly. The study found that by actively collaborating with the Whau community to incorporate Te Ao Māori (the Māori world) into this research enhances the socio-cultural and political value of the research for our research community. This study’s local focus necessitates a critical analysis of the wider national and international contexts of plastics pollution, including how the legacies of European imperialism and capitalism have perpetuated today’s socio-ecological challenges such as plastics pollution, climate change, and biodiversity loss. This study also explores the potential value of further decolonising anthropology through the critique of dominant power structures and connecting research with socio-political action in response to the systemic causes of plastics pollution.
Māori Masters Thesis