Toward a Māori Indigenous Network Theory

Professor Ella Henry & Dr Jason Mika - IIRC20
Friday, November 20, 2020

This paper has evolved out of research exploring Indigenous networking, and their contribution to enterprise, self-determination and development. The project was funded by Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga. It initially focused on Māori business networks in Aotearoa New Zealand. These case studies led to interest in other kinds of networks, and other Indigenous peoples. Between 2019 and 2020 further case studies and in-depth interviews were conducted in Australia, Canada and the US, with organisations and communities as diverse as large national business networks, an Indigenous film festival, a Pow Wow, a global community of activists, and gatherings of Indigenous scholars at two international management conferences.

Early findings suggest networks align with Indigenous culture and traditions, which forge and cement ties of connection and reciprocity between participants and their wider communities and organisations. Further, these networks enhance a range of ‘capitals’ beyond the generally accepted notion of social capital. Our findings highlight these other assets, amongst them cultural, and financial capital. Even more evident was the importance of spiritual capital (for Māori, glossed as wairua), and natural capital (the relationship with, and responsibility for the physical environment, kaitiakitanga).

This study has led to further exploration of the networking literature, and a recognition that there is little theorising around Indigenous peoples, our networks and networking. Therefore, this paper aims to articulate an Indigenous network theory, from a distinctly Indigenous perspective, underpinned by the ontological principle of research and theorising for, with and by Indigenous peoples.

Borgatti & Halgin (2011) distinguish between network theory and the theory of networks. They acknowledge that the most common approaches focused on either ‘flow’ or ‘bond’ models. In alignment with their analysis, an Indigenous network theory might best align with a bond-model, given the deep connections between and amongst Indigenous peoples.

This paper will also draw together earlier work around actor network, social network, and social capital theory, most of which lacks a focus on
Indigenous peoples and experiences. Foley, an Aboriginal scholar, has studied Indigenous networks. He cautions they are impeded because, “attainment of social and human capital is directly related to the ongoing impact of colonial practice” (2010, p. 65). In further work Klyver & Foley (2012) call for studies on the role that culture plays on networking. Henry, Mika & Wolfgramm (2020) found that Indigenous enterprises may integrate norms and attitudes relating to social, cultural, economic, environmental and spiritual imperatives, and that networking has the potential to build these capabilities.

These studies are empirical, but provide a foundation for further analysis and integration of concepts, and the development of substantive propositions to inform a theory of Indigenous networking, which might be tested in further research, with other Indigenous peoples. This work is critical to the further evolution of Māori Indigenous scholarship that contributes to self-determination, and sustainable development through enterprise.

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