What critical theory is for us
The distinctive version of critical theory at the University of Auckland is framed by our place in Aotearoa/New Zealand. This land and this place is marked by colonisation and migration and has been a laboratory for capitalism old and new. We begin with a sense of both our debt to and our distance from the metropolitan centres of critical theory. We have a concern with a critical theory that would not be purely intellectual but would be practical and engaged. Here we have our own translation of southern theory and the different ways of knowing that come with that. We begin from our relationships with each other and with nature, and our own ways of thinking land, culture and sovereignty.
Critical theory involves asking challenging questions of ourselves and others. Before any particular theories or traditions, critical theory for us signals a disposition to question. Critical theory invites a reversal of perspectives, a demand to see things differently from ruling opinion, to see things from marginalised peoples and positions and to attend to the raw detail of lived realities in challenging contexts. This therefore brings critical theory face to face with what are opinion and also what are considered expert knowledges. Critical theory calls for dissensus rather than consensus. The reasoned invitation to move outside of the comfort zone is a fundamental promise of democracy. We speak directly against the injustices of the day embrace our role of the university as critic and conscience of society. Our questions are guided by emancipatory politics, social justice and a sense of the common good.
While we come from different disciplines, our joint work of critical theory is interdisciplinary. We also speak from diverse traditions of critical theory. There are three related and overlapping groupings of the traditions from which we speak. First, decolonisation, kaupapa Māori research, tino rangatiratanga, research for, by and about Pasifika people, indigenous ontologies, postcolonial theory. Second, feminist theory, queer theory, mana wahine theory and research, questions of gender and sexuality, intersectionality, queer and trans theory and rights. Third, the critique of political economy, Marxism, the Frankfurt School, alternative economies, critical management studies, political economy, anticapitalism, heterodox and radical economics.
We are creating the kind of intellectual community that we cherish, informed by manaakitanga to facilitate mana-enhancing interactions, to maintain an inviting and welcoming space for others. This community is inclusive and respectful of difference. We are making a space for conversation between and within these traditions of critical theory, without fixating on old antagonisms and turf wars. We recognise the need to constantly reflect on and revise our traditions and think otherwise. We want to learn from all kinds of critical traditions to strengthen our collective critical thought. This involves working constructively and respectfully together.