Fatu Lālānga ’I Falehanga: Subjectivity in Tongan Thinking and in New Zealand ECE Policy
Teisina, Jeanne Pau'uvale
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In Tongan epistemology, the interplay of mind, body and soul, self and collective, spatiality and temporality, subjectivity and objectivity, provide complex notions of how Tongans understand being. This research investigates the notion of subjectivity in Tongan thinking and in New Zealand (NZ) Early Childhood Education (ECE), by theorising, critiquing and linking notions of ‘self’ in official documents on the one hand, and the understandings of Tongans on the other. In the NZ ECE context, Tongan philosophy concerning the subject has to exist against a background of European theory and practice. The problem, as experienced by practitioners, is that the official (European-based) documents do not acknowledge the expression of Tongan ideas concerning subjectivity. The tensions that arise as a consequence between Tongan and European give rise to confusion and misunderstanding. In this research, my aim has been to clarify the Tongan theories of the subject that come into conflict with ECE documentation (including Te Whāriki and Tapasā) and to clarify Tongan ideas on subjectivity which influence the behaviour of Tongan teachers and children. My research will add to the emancipatory work of Tongan and Pacific researchers from a post-structuralist indigenous position, presented for a broader audience. Therefore, this work has taken the dangerous step of bringing Pacific cultural knowledge and material into the discourse of the Anglophone academy of Aotearoa. I have used philosophical talanoa (encountering discourse with an openness to emergent possibilities) and critical discourse analysis (CDA) and drawn upon the works of philosophers, including: Foucault, on concepts of subjectivity that incorporate discourse, power and technologies of the self (on genealogy); Levinas (on totality and infinity); and Lyotard (on “differend”). This research will allow Tongan philosophy and practice to disentangle its own ideas from universal notions of subjectivity, and to adopt a philosophical examination of the ‘self’ within the context of official ECE documents in Aotearoa. The collective place of the Tongan subject embedded within tangata kakato, deeply rooted intersubjectivities within the ‘api demonstrates the inseparability of Tongan ontology, epistemology and axiology. The reconciliation of the two would be a futile aim: rather, awareness of the differences will enable policy makers and practitioners to approach the ‘self’ with more humility, tolerance and understanding.