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The role of universities in nation-building in 1950s Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand

Catherine Manathunga (Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 6 June 2016




The purpose of this paper is to investigate the diverse rendering of the idea of nation and the role of universities in nation-building in the 1950s Murray and Hughes Parry Reports in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand. This paper provides trans-Tasman comparisons that reflect the different national and international interests, positioning of science and the humanities and desired academic and student subject positions and power relations.


This paper adopts a Foucauldian genealogical approach that is informed by Wodak’s (2011) historical discourse analysis in order to analyse the reports’ discursive constructions of the national role of universities, the positioning of science and humanities and the development of desired academics and student subjectivities and power relations.


The analysis reveals the different positioning of Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand in relation to the Empire and the Cold War. It also demonstrates how Australian national interests were represented in these reports as largely economic and defence related, while Aotearoa/New Zealand national interests were about economic, social and cultural nation-building. These differences were also matched by diverse weightings attached to university science and the humanities education. There is also a hailing of traditional, enlightenment-inspired discourses about desired academic and student subjectivities and power relations in Australia that contrasts with the emergence of early traces of more contemporary discourses about equity and diversity in universities in Aotearoa/New Zealand.


The paper demonstrates the value of transnational analysis in contributing to historiography about university education. The Foucauldian discourse analysis approach extends existing Australian historiography about universities during this period and represents a key contribution to Aotearoa/New Zealand historiography that has explored academic and student subjectivities to a lesser extent.



Manathunga, C. (2016), "The role of universities in nation-building in 1950s Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand", History of Education Review, Vol. 45 No. 1, pp. 2-15.



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