Nationhood by Design? The Discursive Construction of a "new" New Zealand in the Flag Consideration Project

Annabell, Taylor
Nairn, Angelique
Nelson, Frances
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Master of Communication Studies
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Auckland University of Technology

In 2015/2016, the Flag Consideration Project provided an opportunity for New Zealanders to change the national flag, and while the change of flag did not come into effect, the texts distributed by the Flag Consideration Panel are worthy of examination because they provide insight into the contemporary conceptualisation of New Zealand?s national identity. The purpose of the research was to examine the construction of national identity in Aotearoa - New Zealand in two texts distributed by the Flag Consideration Panel before the binding referenda. A national flag is a symbol of identity used by citizens to remind them of their origins (Billig, 1995; Schatz & Lavine, 2007) and reinforce boundaries of belonging (Cerulo, 1993; Weitman, 1973). Accordingly, because it functions as a construction of the nation, changing the national flag could enhance or limit citizens? ability to identify with the country (Anderson, 1991; Billig, 1995; Cerulo, 1995; Elgenius, 2011; Hobsbawm, 1992; A. D. Smith, 2007; W. Smith, 2001), as well as influence perceptions of the nation internationally, based on the embedded meaning and symbolism of the design (Elgenius, 2004, 2007; Firth, 1973). Following this the research unpacks how national identity is constructed in official texts guided by the question: how has the Flag Consideration Panel conceptualised New Zealand?s national identity?

Two texts were analysed following Fairclough?s (1992) three-dimensional model for critical discourse analysis to provide insight into how New Zealand?s national identity was discursively constructed. The first text titled 5 Alternatives, provided information about the five alternative designs that were part of the first referendum, with official and designer?s descriptions as well as illustrations of the designs in context. The second text, Our nation. Your choice., offered a comparison between the preferred alternative flag, the Silver Fern flag, and the current New Zealand flag. This method of analysis allowed for a consideration of the way power relations, hegemony and ideology are hidden and embedded within discourse (Fairclough, 1992), which was significant because national identity is considered ?a battle for hegemony? (Billig, 1995, p. 27).

Despite the Panel?s intention to inform (Burrows, 2015c), the analysis revealed instances of persuasion where the silver fern flag was constructed in a more favourable light and New Zealanders were encouraged to accept the Panel?s construction of national identity. There were asymmetrical power relationships between the Panel and New Zealanders through the Panel categorically asserting a particular version of national identity and providing a dominant reading of the flags, which privileged their voice over New Zealanders individual interpretation. This undermined the democratic potential of the texts to contribute to the discussion about the national flag and national identity in the public sphere. Although the flag did not change as a result of the referenda, the two texts examined reveal the Panel has constructed for New Zealand an identity that emphasises inclusiveness, independence and distinctiveness and therefore implies that the current New Zealand flag is inadequate in representing contemporary New Zealand.

National identity , National flag , National symbols , New Zealand Flag Consideration Project , Critical discourse analysis
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