Picturing Difference: An investigation of Maori women's characters in New Zealand picturebooks

Master's Thesis, 2011

130 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1.1 Research purpose and research questions
1.2 Prior Research

2.1 Maori in New Zealand - a socio-historical context
2.2 Maori and the media

3.1 The nature of modern picturebooks
3.2 The interaction of image and word in picturebooks

4.1 Social Constructionism
4.1.1 George Herbert Mead
4.1.2 Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann
4.2 The Social Construction of Gender
4.3 The Social Construction of Maori Women: Maori Feminist Theory
4.3.1 Key themes of Mana Wahine Whakapapa (genealogy) Whanau (extended family) Wairua (spirit) Atua Wahine (female goddesses) Te Tiriti (The Treaty of Waitangi) Decolonisation
4.4 The Social Construction of picturebooks
4.4.1 Typifications
4.4.2 Objectivation and signification
4.4.3 Symbolic Universes
4.4.4 Socialization
4.4.5 The social self
4.4.6 Language in picturebooks
4.4.7 The Social Construction of gendered Ideology in picturebooks
4.5 Conclusion: A Model of picturebook Communication

5.1 Research Approach
5.2 Method
5.3 Data gathering
5.4 Sampling
5.5 Coding
5.5.1 The societal coding frame Whakapapa (genealogy) Wairua (spirit) Whanau (extended family) Atua Wahine (female ancestors)
5.5.2 The individual coding frame
5.6 Credibility and Dependability
5.7 Confirmability and Transferability
5.8 Limitations

6.1 Words around pictures
6.2 The findings
6.2.1 Societal coding Whanau (extended family) Atua Wahine (female goddesses/nature) Whakapapa (genealogy/traditions) Wairua (spirit) Societal coding - a conclusion
6.2.2 Individual coding frame
6.2.3 Maori women in New Zealand picturebooks - three typifications The Teacher The Entertainer The Spiritual Maori woman Maori women in New Zealand picturebooks - Making a difference!

7.1 The media’s social construction of reality
7.2 Final Words


Appendix A: Maori Glossary
Appendix B: Societal coding frame
Appendix C: Individual coding frame
Appendix D: Details about the authors


Figure 1: Picturebook Communication Circle

Figure 2: Illustration (Duncan 2007)

Figure 3: Illustration (Grace 2008)

Figure 4: Illustration (Drewery 2005)

Figure 5: Illustration (Belcher 2006)

Figure 6: Illustration (Drewery 2006)

Figure 7: Illustration (Drewery 2005)

Figure 8: Illustration (Tipene 2008)

Figure 9: Illustration (Darroch 2004)

List of Tables

Table 1: Societal coding frame and its categories

Table 2: Individual coding frame and its categories


This chapter provides an introduction to the study which investigates Maori women ’ s characters in New Zealand picturebooks. Subchapter 1.1 introduces the research purpose and research question and closes with an outline of the following chapters. Section 1.2 illustrates prior research in the field of media-, gender-, maori-, literature and diversity studies and illuminates the gaps in current literature.

1.1 Research purpose and research questions

Stories for children are like dreams that we share with our kids. And since dreams can be rehearsals for reality, it’s important what roles they find to play in those stories (Alda 1976).

Everybody knows them, and everybody likes them - the intriguing adventures of Pippi Longstocking, Momo, Oliver Twist, Robin Hood or Alice in Wonderland. Children’s literature attracts an audience of readers of all ages and has become part of our culture. In fact, children’s books have never been the product of only one culture but “develop independently from culture to culture around the world” (Keifer 1995:54). Every year there are more than 4,000 newly published books, many of those depicting different cultures, encouraging the young readers to travel, at least in their minds, to unknown places that go beyond their everyday reality. Numerous children in many countries receive a “secret education”, delivered by children’s books, teaching them to accept the world as it is illustrated in those “social blueprints” (Dorfman 1983:ix). These blueprints, however, often depict merely one world, where one race, one gender and one country are dominant over another, persuading the reader to accept the dominant group’s norms and ideas (Madsen 2011:28-29).

In the social reality of Aotearoa/New Zealand[1], the dominant group is Pakeha (New Zealander of European descent), constituting 67.6 per cent of the entire population (Statistics New Zealand 2006). As the “culture of power” (Delpit 1988:282), Pakeha far outnumber Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous Polynesian people, who represent with 14.6 per cent the largest minority group of the country (D’Arcy 2010). Maori and Pakeha exist as two ethnic categories in relation to each other, sharing a history, which is coined by nineteenth-century colonization and twentieth-century assimilation (ibid). Today’s New Zealand society is characterized by its bicultural and multicultural media- scape (Stuart 1996), aiming to accord voice to Maori and Pakeha equally, in order to strive against structural inequality and Maori social, political, and economic subordination (Adds et al. 2005). Nevertheless, current research suggests, that Maori voices are still disadvantaged significantly in mainstream media coverage (Barclay and Liu 2003). Instead of giving status to Maori as equal Treaty partners[2] there is widespread consensus that the portrayals of Maori “confirm negative stereotypes, portray Maori inaccurately, and fail in various ways to provide balanced, fair and accurate reporting” (Adds et al. 2005:47).

One of the most marginalized groups in contemporary New Zealand society, however, are Maori women (Palmer and Master 2010). It is through “the destruction of their [traditional] spheres and sites of power and the imposition of colonial and Western ideologies of gender and race” that Maori women have been made invisible and their voices and interests were silenced (Hoskins 1997:31). Maori feminists argue, that in order to fully comprehend the social reality of Maori women’s lives, it is crucial that their stories are told (McNicholas 2004:2). It is for this reason that Maori feminists reclaim visibility and space to the ‘herstories’ of Maori women, and emphasize the need to write Maori women back into the historical discourse (Johnston 1998).

As children’s books are the carriers of ‘secret education’ they are a vital medium for improving the social and economic position of Maori women in New Zealand. They serve as a socializing tool, communicating ideologies, values and believes to the next generation and thus impinge on children’s perception of Maori women’s roles (Gooden and Gooden 2001). The representations of Maori women in children’s literature hence contribute to the formation of the ‘social blueprints’ prevalent in today’s New Zealand society and constitute a crucial component in the process of reclaiming visibility for Maori women.

Clearly, children’s books provide valuable insights into the social reality of everyday life and have therefore been researched extensively. Although previous studies have discussed the representation of gender and race in children’s literature within various cultural contexts, they have yet failed to investigate the portrayal of New Zealand’s indigenous Polynesian people - specifically, the Maori woman. How does New Zealand literature represent their indigenous women to a juvenile audience? In what context are Maori women depicted? How do those books communicate the multiple roles of Maori women to the young readers?

The present paper aims to answer those questions by investigating the representation of Maori women in contemporary New Zealand picturebooks. Using the theories of Peter Berger, Thomas Luckmann and George Herbert Mead, I aim to analyse the visual and verbal aspects constituting the character of a Maori woman in those books and draw conclusions about the way picturebooks contribute to the social construction of a Maori woman’s identity in a modern New Zealand society. In order to pursue this investigation, I will conduct a content analysis, examining Maori women’s characters in twelve different picturebooks, each composed by both Maori and Pakeha authors.

This research paper is divided into seven chapters. Chapter one, the introduction, focuses on the purpose and the question of issue, discusses previous research and illustrates the current research gap. Chapter two provides an overview of the theoretical foundation of the study, comprising the approaches of Peter Berger, Thomas Luckmann and George Herbert Mead. Following, chapter three outlines vital socio-historical background information concerning Maori (women) and their representation in New Zealand media. The nature of the picturebook as an object of investigation is discussed in chapter four in more detail. Chapter five illustrates the methodology and research approach underlying the study, followed by a detailed analysis of the selected picturebooks in chapter six. Lastly, chapter seven summarizes and discusses the result of the picturebook analysis and proposes ideas for further research.

In order to support the cultural context in which this study is epistemologically centred, the following thesis incorporates Te Reo Maori (Maori language) and provides the English translation in brackets immediately after the first use of the word. For words that require additional explanation, a footnote is provided.

1.2 Prior Research

Today it is difficult to imagine the book industry without its huge output of children’s books. The mass production of children’s books is taken for granted as a prominent and indispensable part of publishing activity… Society views childhood as the most important period of life and tends to account for most of adult behaviour on the basis of childhood experience. Society is […] used to its understanding of what childhood is, as well as to the existence of books for children (Shavit 1986: 3).

Almost two centuries ago, however, children’s literature has inclined to be culturally marginalized and children were not regarded as having special needs or being very different from adults. It is only in the last twenty years that the picturebook has been taken seriously as an object of academic study. With the establishment of organisations such as the International Research Society for Children’s Literature (IRSCL) and the Children’s Literature Association (ChLA), the picturebook has gained increasing recognition and is now “becoming part of the institutional/cultural critical map” (Hunt 1992: 2). Conferences as well as particular publications have enabled scholars around the world to elevate the status of the picturebook as well as to focus on various issues that have previously been neglected. One such issue is the role of women in children’s literature.

Children’s picturebooks play an important role in early sex-role socialization (Weitzman, Eifler, Hokada, & Ross 1972, Turner-Bowker 1996). They function as a vehicle for the presentation of societal values and as an instrument for persuading children to internalize those values (Weitzman et al. 1972). By the age of three, children can already recognize their own gender and that of others. The young individuals are able to assume the "typical" personality characteristics for the member of each sex (Jacklin & Maccoby 1978; Wasserman & Stern 1978). Moreover, illustrated characters in picturebooks provide role models from which children form their ideas about themselves and their environment (Turner-Bowker, 1996). Hence, previous research commonly agrees that gender bias in picturebooks contributes negatively to children’s development (Hamilton et al. 2006, Weitzman et al. 1972, Turner-Bowker 1996, Gooden and Gooden 2001, McCabe et al. 2011).

Schau and Scott (1984) analysed the consequences of sexist versus non-sexist children’s instructional materials and concluded that a consistent tendency for sexist materials reinforces children’s biases (Hamilton et al. 2006: 757). According to a study conducted by Ashton (1978), children make more stereotypic toy choices after they have read biased books.

One of the “hallmark” studies in the field of gender bias in children’s literature was conducted by Weitzman, Eifler, Hokada, & Ross (1972). These scholars evaluated Caldecott Medal-winning books[3] and determined that women were highly under- represented in children’s picturebooks. Male characters far outnumbered female characters and were more often shown outdoors, being adventurous and playful, whereas women were mostly portrayed as passive, staying and acting inside the house. From 1967 till 1971, merely one Caldecott honouree featured a female in the title while eight picturebook highlighted males (McCabe et al. 2011). Similar to Weitzman et al. (1972), various studies have since concluded that women and girls are underrepresented in children’s picturebooks (e.g., McDonald 1989; Clark, Lennon, and Morris 1993; Kortenhaus and Demarest 1993; Tepper and Cassidy 1999; Hamilton et al. 2006, McCabe et al. 2011)

A recent study by McCabe et al. (2011) analysed the representation of males and females in the titles and central characters of children’s books published throughout the twentieth century. The result illustrates that males are represented nearly twice as often in titles and 1.6 times as often as central characters. According to the authors, these disparities are evidence of symbolic annihilation and have implications for children’s understandings of gender.

In a “Twenty-first Century Update” Hamilton et al. (2006) investigate sexism in contemporary award winning children’s books and conclude that modern “children’s picturebooks continue to provide nightly reinforcement of the idea that boys and men are more interesting and important than are girls and women” (Hamilton et. al 2006:764).

The focus on Caldecott or other award-winning books, however, obscures the general understanding of gender in children’s literature. Although award-winning books represent an essential segment for a variety of reasons (e.g., they serve as models for other books, they are “gatekeepers” (Weitzman et al. 1972)), they are not inevitably the most widely read books (Tepper and Cassidy 1999), nor are they likely to be representative of children’s books (McCabe et al. 2011).

Besides research on gender relations in picturebooks, there have been various studies on the treatment of different racial and ethnic groups in children’s literature (e.g. Carlson, 1969, Napier 1970, Bingham 1970, Fisher 1971, Sims 1985, Lechner 1991, Martin 2004). Pictures are a pervasive and powerful means of communicating, “whether diverse groups of people are integral and important to society; destructive and harmful; or invisible and unimportant” (Pardeck and Markward 1995). Fox (1993) suggests, that it is the responsibility of authors to provide affirming literature for all children in a society, not only those who belong to the dominant race, gender, sexual orientation, culture, class, mental or physical ability or religion. However, the number of multi- or bicultural characters, themes, stories and information in children’s literature is very limited.

Literature reviewed on the portrayal of Maori in the media is considerable (eg McGregor and Te Awa (1996), Rice (1990), Spoonley and Hirsch (1990), Shortland (1990), Dawson (1991), Stuart (1996), Russel (1995), Crombie et al. (2002), Norris (2002), Walker (2002), Barclay & Liu (2003), Adds et al. (2005), Groot (2006)). However, most research emphasizes the ‘symbolic annihilation[4]’ of Maori by the media (McGregor and Te Awa 1996, Adds et al. 2005, Groot 2006, McCabe 2011), as Maori are frequently stereotypically depicted, under represented or excluded in the news media coverage (Groot 2006).

The relative invisibility of Maori in the media is particularly noticeable in the representation of Maori women (Johnson 1998, Pihama 2001, Hutchings 2002, McNicholas 2004). For many years, the voices of Maori women have been “defined, painted, filmed, researched, imaged within dominant Pakeha frameworks and assumption” (Pihama 2001:244). Today, Maori women are one of the most marginalized groups in New Zealand society (Palmer and Masters 2010). Maori feminists such as Pere (1988, 1991), Irwin (1990, 1992a, 1992b), Te Awekotuku (1989, 1991b, 1992), Pihama (2001), Evans (1994) and Tuhiwai Smith (1992, 1999) discuss the concerning issues regarding the role and status of Maori women in contemporary New Zealand society and stress the need to make Maori women more visible.

Among the various fields of study including media[5]-, gender[6]-, maori-, literature- or diversity studies, there has yet been a major gap. Generally speaking, past research has neglected gender dynamics in the media, in particular, the way how Maori women are represented in the media of today’s New Zealand society.

Little is known about the visibility of Maori (women) in print media and even less about their representation in children’s picturebooks. It is for this reason that the present paper aims to investigate the visibility of Maori women in recent New Zealand picturebooks, and analyses how picturebooks contribute to “write Maori women back into the historical discourse” (Johnston 1998 as in McNicholas 2004:10).

The following chapter provides vital background information concerning the sociohistorical context of Maori, their representation in New Zealand media and the prevalent ideas of Maori feminism.


This chapter begins with a brief introduction into the socio-historical context of New Zealand ’ s indigenous Maori in section 2.1, followed by an overview of the current situation concerning Maori in New Zealand media in subchapter 2.2.

2.1 Maori in New Zealand - a socio-historical context

New Zealand is a multi-ethnic society, and home to about 4.3 million people of many different national origins. According to Statistics New Zealand (2006), 67.6 per cent identified ethnically as European, 14.6 per cent as Maori, 9.2 per cent as Asian and 6.9 per cent as Pacific peoples. Twenty-three per cent of New Zealand’s population were born overseas. Although most people immigrate from the United Kingdom and Ireland (29 per cent), the number of people from East Asia (mostly mainland China, but also Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan) has been increasing rapidly in recent years (ibid.). However, Maori people are not only New Zealand’s largest ethnic minority group, but also its oldest, since they were the first settlers cultivating the two islands (Glade 2003).

Although in 1893 New Zealand became the first nation in the world to grant all women the right to vote (Wilson 2009), it was not until the 1980s, that the term ‘biculturalism’ appeared, suggesting that New Zealanders could exist in one nation but as two peoples - Maori and Pakeha.

According to Houkamau (2010) it is essential, in order to ‘really understand’ Maori people, and the way they interpret their identities as they do, to comprehend how lives are shaped by socio-historical conditions. Those broader contextual factors are thus central to the identity of Maori women, as they shape the meanings these women were exposed to, regarding what it means to be Maori. The identity of Maori women is therefore deeply rooted in the soil of colonization, New Zealand nationalism, colonialism and assimilation. An understanding of those factors is crucial in order to understand the status of Maori woman in a contemporary post-colonial environment[7] (Prentice 1995; McLeod 2000).

Pre-colonial Maori society was communal and tribally based (Houkamau 2010). When the first British whalers and traders arrived during the 1700s, self-sufficient, tangata whenua (New Zealand’s indigenous population) lived in tribal communities (iwi).

Despite iwi had their own variants of tribal structures, language, values, beliefs and practices, there were also several shared commonalities (Walker 1990). By conducting the self in a manner that “honoured the collective mode of operation”, one could achieve social acceptance, “a sense of purpose and meaning and indeed an identity within their social world” (Barlow, 1991 as in Houkamau 2010). In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by some Maori chiefs and early British settlers in order to prevent further decimation, while retaining the rights to their fisheries, seabeds, lands and foreshores (Kelsey 1984). However, the Treaty of Waitangi was not upheld and by the early 1900s, Maori lost the majority of their lands. “Tangata whenua were nearly ‘extinct’ through exposure to diseases; colonialism, imperialism and monoculturalism ensured the economic political, and cultural dominance of Pakeha over Maori” (Moeke- Maxwell 2005:499). Due to the loss of their socio-economic base, the Maori capacity to self-support changed remarkably and Maori became increasingly dependent upon paid employment by Pakeha landowners and employers (Walker 1990).

Between 1840 and 1940 Maori society had changed rapidly. The vast majority of Maori kept living in rural areas while Pakeha settled in larger New Zealand cities (Houkamau 2010). Thus generations of Maori families lived in the same communities and young Maori were socialised by their own familial role models (ibid.). After the 1950s, Maori society changed significantly, as New Zealand’s economy grew and Maori moved to the cities in order to find some work (Walker 1990). It was during the time of urbanisation that many New Zealanders held the opinion that Maori should assimilate to mainstream or ‘New Zealand’ culture and become ‘One People’ with Pakeha (Houkamau 2005:182). Based on this ideology, the education system did not support Maori language or culture, which fostered negative views around Maori and the development of stereotypes. A study by Beaglehole and Beaglehole (1946) identified numerous negative stereotypes attached to Maori by Pakeha, illustrating the indigenous people as ‘slackers’, dirty, lazy and dishonest. Consequently, Maori were mainly channelled into semi-skilled labouring and service jobs, which became scarce during the 1970s. The increasing unemployment of Maori further entrenched the economic and social divisions between coloniser and the colonised (Walker 1990). In order to survive, many Maori were forced to acculturate and emulate Pakeha people and culture, which caused the loss of Maori values and practices, and alienated Maori further from their tribal relatives and role models (Houkamau 2005:183). By the 1970s many Maori were disillusioned with monoculturalism (Moeke-Maxwell 2005:500). As a consequence, Maori activists such as Donna Awatere (1984) openly espoused Maori sovereignty and proposed Pakeha had tried to “eliminate Maori through ‘forced assimilation’, which denied Maori their ‘identity’ and promoted the view Maori would only progress if they were true to their own culture” (Houkamau 2005:183). Maori nationalists positioned themselves “with an essentialist identity via whakapapa (genealogy), whenua (land), Te Reo Maori (Maori language), and wairuatanga (spirituality)” protesting against their social and economic position and demanding distributive justice (Moeke-Maxwell 2005:500). By emphasizing their roots and traditions, Maori challenged the Government to reinvoke the Treaty of Waitangi as the nation’s founding document. It was only during the 1980s and 1990s that, based on statistical evidence of Maori poverty and “underachievement”, a bicultural model was inscribed into the National and the Labour Government policy (ibid.). As Maori culture became increasingly acknowledged by the Government as well as among non-Maori people, Maori began to revitalize their culture by acquiring Te Reo Maori (Maori language) skills and actively engaging with their history, culture and beliefs (Webster 1998). Since the late 1980s, various Government- funded initiatives emphasize the need to recognise the value of Maori cultural distinctiveness and aim to reduce Maori inequalities concerning education, health and criminal offending (Chapple 2000).

It is only since this ‘cultural renaissance’ of Maoridom, that mainstream schools began to provide Maori curriculums, education centres and childcare centres specialised in imparting Maori language, and Maori established their own political party in order to encourage their economic, political and social progress (Houkamau 2005:183).

In addition to that, in 2004 a Maori controlled television station was launched, aiming at revitalizing indigenous language and serve as a tool of decolonisation “that can help to heal the impact of European colonisation on the social and cultural structures of Maori society (Smith 2006:34).

Over the last 30 years most Maori have been exposed to new socio-political concepts, reconstructing Maori in binary opposition to Pakeha and hence acknowledging both groups as culturally distinct (Mohanram 1996). In today’s New Zealand society, Maori are now seen as equal, however different from Pakeha and other New Zealanders (Houkamau 2005:180). However, despite this cultural revitalisation, Maori continue to feature prominently in most negative social statistics (New Zealand Ministry of Social Development 2008). In the year to December 2011, the unemployment rate for Maori was with 13.4 per cent, substantially higher than the one of non-Maori, which was 6.5 per cent in the year to December 2011 (Department of Labour 2011). Furthermore, Maori are significantly overrepresented in criminal justice statistics in comparison with other ethnic groups. In 2009 Maori accounted for 41.9 per cent of the total police apprehensions in New Zealand (Statistics New Zealand 2010).

Since these statistics are frequently publicised in the national media, New Zealanders are „subject to a bombardment of unfavourable concepts and imagery around Maori“ (Houkamau 2005:184). The identity of Maori women is thus coined by colonialism, assimilation and New Zealand Nationalism. Nevertheless have Maori women always be seen as “Maoridom’s spiritual cornerstone”, responsible for “upholding the cultural reproduction and cultural authenticity of the Maori nation” (Moeke-Maxwell 2005:501). Identifying as a ‘Maori woman’ is therefore a matter of identification “with what it means to be ‘Maori’ and ‘woman’, each with their own history” (McKinley 2002:101). It is for this reason that Maori feminists claim: “in order to make sense of the reality of Maori women’s lives, their connections with the past, their contemporary situation and their dreams for tomorrow, their stories must be told (McNicholas 2004:2).

2.2 Maori and the media

Any theory of media is also a theory of society: the media must be understood within their particular social and historical context (Maharey 1990:25).

According to Maharey (1990) the media are “a window on the world.” They reflect a range of social and political interests, “help determine the way in which agendas are constructed and understood, the way in which dominant images and the language of public and private debates are formed or influenced, and provide a characterisation of the various players” (Spoonley and Trlin 2004:9).

There is a considerable body of research concerning minorities and the media, both indigenous and ethnic communities (e.g. Twitchin 1988, Spoonley and Hirsh 1990; Cottle 2000;). However, there is a much smaller literature, which emphasizes New Zealand’s largest minority group, the indigenous Maori and their representation in contemporary media.

However, in the last two decades a number of commentators have argued that Maori voices are significantly disadvantaged in mainstream media coverage, often marginalizing Maori and depending on the viewpoint of non-Maori, in order to frame issues concerning their own culture (Fox 1988, 1992; McGregor and Te Awa 1996; Maharey 1990; Spoonley and Hirsh 1990). According to Husband (2005) a major flaw in the media’s coverage of minorities is the insufficient supply of valuable background information. As certain realities portrayed in single stories about Maori accumulate, they might create a negative summary message, which undermines Maori and continuously distorts social reality (McGregor and TeAwa 1996). The misrepresentation and relative invisibility of Maori as sources in the media clearly indicates the lack of diversity in New Zealand’s news coverage (ibid.). In recent years, several social scientists and media workers, including Maori, have contested the importance of media for an equitable and democratic society (Maharey 1990; Spoonley 1990; Spoonley and Hirsh 1990) and emphasize the need for media “to recognise ignorance, acknowledge shortcomings and strive for professionalism” (McGregor 1991:11).

According to McGregor and TeAwa (1996) minorities experience a ‘symbolic annihilation’ in contemporary media coverage as their stories are trivialized, excluded or stereotypically represented in the daily news media coverage. McCabe et al. (2011) state that not showing a particular group or showing them less frequently than their proportion in the population conveys that the group is not socially valued. According to Spoonley and Hirsch (1990), media in New Zealand are “mono-cultural, prejudiced and unwilling to be scrutinised” (Adds et al. 2005:45). They depict incorrect images of minorities, use one-word definitions such as ‘radical’, ‘demonstrator’ and ‘activist’ and their news coverage focuses on conflict and disaster (ibid.). Besides, Maori opinion is not represented equally and monoculturalism is reflecting the ownership and control of the media. Hence, Maori seek for a voice in New Zealand media, free of bias, stereotypes, conflict and sensation, however representing their own ideas, desires, ambitions and accomplishments (McGregor and TeAwa 1996).

However, only during the last 15 years have Maori used the mass media for their own ends (Stuart 2003:45). With the growth of the bilingual Maori newspapers, radio stations and television channels, Maori political leaders and thinkers were finally able to speak to Maori through their own channels. The utilisation of media has allowed Maori to take part in mediations concerning indigenous rights and “symbolises a communitybased practice of media production that has endured intermittently through to the present” (Groot 2005:4). Maori media aim to actively create positive images of Maori in present-day New Zealand, as mainstream media lacks to perform and represent these roles adequately (Stuart 2003:48). Thus an increase to Maori media production is vital in order to strengthen connections with Maori communities, facilitate a sense of community, support Maori education, and develop “mutual plans for maintaining advocacy for social justice” (Groot 2005:4).

Although Maori cultural concepts have evolved and were altered within a modern global context, they continue to maintain an equivalent and parallel reality within the Maori world (Nikora 2005). The media can actually use those ‘Maori world resources’ - “that is metaphors, images, concepts, ways of talking and so on - to communicate messages to an audience who have the capacity to understand, identify, interpret, and give meaning to such” (Nikora 2006 in Groot 2006:1).

The present study aims to investigate those ‘images, metaphors and ways of talking’, constituting a certain medium: the picturebook. By analysing the depiction of Maori women’s characters in contemporary children’s picturebooks, the present study aims to analyse how ‘Maori womanness’ is constructed through word and picture and represented to an juvenile audience who has the ‘capacity to understand, identify, interpret, and give meaning to such.’

The next chapter sheds light on the picturebook as a means of academic research and illustrates its importance in the socialization process of a juvenile audience.


This chapter begins with subchapter 3.1 where the nature of modern picturebooks is outlined, illuminating the unique character of the medium. This section is followed by a discussion of the complex interrelationship of word and image in those books in subchapter 3.2.

3.1 The nature of modern picturebooks

A picture book is text, illustrations, total design; an item of manufacture and commercial product; a social, cultural, historical document; and, foremost an experience for a child. As an art form it hinges on the interdependence of pictures and words, on the simultaneous display of two facing pages and on the drama of the tuning page. On its own terms its possibilities are limitless (Prefatory note to Bader 1976:1).[8]

The present paper will be concerned with most of the notions mentioned by Bader: sophisticated picturebooks, which require sophisticated readings (Arizpe and Styles 2002:19); picturebooks, which are art objects and simultaneously the primary literature of childhood; a medium, which hinges on the interdependence of image and word; a compelling narrative text, which, indeed, works on the basis of ‘the drama of the turning page’ (ibid.). However, it must be emphasized that a picturebook is not the same as a book with illustrations, but a book “in which the story depends on the interaction between written text and image and where both have been created with a conscious aesthetic intention (not just for pedagogic and commercial purposes)” (ibid.:22). Picturebooks are composed of words and images whose “intimate interaction creates layers of meaning, open to different interpretations and which have the potential to arouse their readers to reflect on the act of reading itself” (ibid.).

Children’s books have a long history around the world. Orbis Pictus, published in 1657 in Nürnberg, Germany, is considered to be the first picturebook intended for children (Nodelman 1988:2). However, although books have always been illustrated, the combination of text and picture, which is now known as picturebook, is a rather recent invention (Gooden and Gooden 2001). Other forms of printed matter such as nursery rhymes, chapbooks, toy books, comics or alphabet books pioneered the modern picturebook until the late twentieth century. Since the 1960s more and more picturebooks have been published every year, yet it was only in the 1980s that the medium began to be taken seriously as an object of academic study (Lewis 2001: xiv).

“Words About Pictures” by Perry Nodelman, and “Ways of the Illustrator” by Joseph Schwarcz (Schwarcz 1982; Nodelman 1988) were some of the first attempts to analyse form and nature of the workings of picturebooks. Since then there has been a continuous increase in the flow of book chapters, articles and conference papers, dedicated to the analysis, study and criticism of the picturebook.

However, although there has been a gathering sophistication in the attempts to understand children’s picturebooks, there is still some vagueness concerning some of the picturebook’s most significant features (Lewis 2001:31). This vagueness is mainly based on the particular format of the picturebook, its combining of two distinct modes of representation - pictures and words - into a composite text. Both, the texts and the pictures in these books are different from and communicate differently from texts and pictures in other circumstances. According to Nikolajeva and Scott (2000), picturebooks represent a clear shift of artistic representation from the mimetic toward the symbolic, which might be “correlated with the postmodern interrogation of the arts’ ability to reflect reality by means of language or visual means” (Nikolajeva and Scott 2000:260). Based on the unique blending of words and illustration, the picturebook is categorized not by its content but by format and is thus considered a genre apart from any other kind of literature (Goldstone 2001:362).

The picturebook’s unique conventions of structure and shape, distinctive rhythms and body of narrative techniques facilitate the development of the reader’s imaginative, critical and creative thinking, and make the picturebook a valuable means of academic investigation (Nodelman 1988: viii). Recent literature commonly agrees that the picturebook communicates and “appeals to children as young as six month of age through adolescence and the young adult ages of eighteen or nineteen.” Especially young children do not approach picturebooks with certain kinds of ‘fixed’ moral, religious beliefs, or any other conventional criteria about what constitutes art, culture or literature (Arizpe and Styles 2001:22). Picturebooks therefore expand, extend and enrich children’s background of experiences and “their literary and aesthetic interests, tastes, and preferences by providing a variety of sensory images and vicarious experiences, plots characters, and themes” (Cianciolo 1997:1).

Furthermore, those books serve as a socializing tool, transmitting values from one generation to the next (Weitzman, Eifler, Hokada, & Ross 1972). Picturebooks are thus a powerful means through which children learn their cultural heritage (Bettelheim 1977).

Children’s picturebooks provide messages about right and wrong, the beautiful and the hideous, what is attainable and what is out of bounds—in sum, a society’s ideals and directions. Simply put, children’s picturebooks are a celebration, reaffirmation, and dominant blueprint of shared cultural values, meanings, and expectations (Cianciolo 1997:2).

A brief investigation of children’s picturebooks published within the past decade will reveal that one may find a (English) picturebook on almost any topic. They are diverse and cosmopolitan, expansive and varied in direction and scope (ibid.). Nevertheless, the fundamental question remains: How can the complete entity of visual and literary elements, comprising a picturebook, generate meaning? The next section will explore some of the ways in which the illustrations in picturebooks engage with the words in order to communicate information and tell stories in a unique way.

3.2 The interaction of image and word in picturebooks

The big truth about picture books […] is that they are an interweaving of word and pictures. You don’t have to tell the story in the words. You can come out of the words and into the pictures and you get this nice kind of antiphonal fugue effect ( Ahlberg cited in Moss 1990:21).

Modern society has become increasingly dependent on the visual, particularly for its capacity to communicate universally and instantly (Bamford 2003:2). Pictures exist all around us. Everywhere, texts are routinely ‘pictured’. All around the world, Western culture has been pictorialized to an overwhelming degree and with stupendous rapidity, exploiting consumers’ increasing visual sophistication (Lewis 2001:63). Visual images are becoming the predominant form of communication across a variety of teaching and learning resources, delivered across various formats and media. According to Ausburn and Ausburn (1978:287), modern society is an era of visual culture, which influences values, beliefs, attitudes and life-style of each individual.

From the viewpoint of literary theory, however, the heritage of several centuries of great un-illustrated literature reveals, that stories can be told adequately by words on their own. Why, then, should pictures be added?

Since the intended audience for picturebooks is young and inexperienced, most adults tend to presume that the reason for their distinctive features is merely educational. This assumption is mainly derived from the definition of the term ‘illustration’ offered by The American Heritage Dictionary: “Visual matter used to clarify or to decorate a text.” Hence, pictures can provide information complementing the meaning of the words and thus clarify the message being conveyed. Alternately, the purpose of pictures is understood to be mainly decorative, since they attract the attention of the reader and serve as “a source of immediate sensual pleasure” (Nodelman 1988). According to Nodelman, illustrations are “concentrated versions of aspects of physical reality”, which inevitably attract and hold children’s interest and help them to learn about a subject (Nodelman 1988: 4). For Nodelman, however, the main purpose of illustrations lies beyond the ability to clarify and decorate a text. Pictures can “communicate automatically and be understood effortlessly by even very young children” (ibid.:5). Thus pictures put no particular stress on the mind but communicate more readily and universally than words do.

The sounds we use to speak to each other and the symbols we use to represent those sounds in writing rarely have any significant connection with the objects, ideas, or emotions they refer to […], like the red traffic lights that tell us to stop, their meaning is nothing more than a matter of agreement among those who use them (ibid.).

The connections between signs and their meanings are arbitrary; hence verbal narratives demand much specialized expertise in order to understand any utterance or peace of writing. These predispositions, laid down by the text itself trigger the discussion of an implied reader or “co-creator of the work,” supplying parts of the text which are not written but only implied (Sipe 1998:99).

There is however, also some question about whether visual representations equally project an implied viewer. Although the connections between visual images and what they represent appears to be much less arbitrary - children are able to interpret visual images without ever having been specifically taught to do so - there are thus, many aspects of pictorial representation and recognition that are merely conventional and therefore have to be learned (Nodelman 1988:7). The idea of an implied viewer does not only impinge on our understanding of the relationship between pictures and words but alters the consequent relationship “between picture books and their intended audience, young children new to the culture that adults take for granted” (ibid.).

Walter Ong, professor of English literature states, “A wise man once said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Yet, if this statement is true, why does it have to be a saying? Because a picture is worth a thousand words only under special conditions - which commonly include a context of words in which a picture is set” (Ong 1982:7). Nevertheless, this is also true for the same reason that pictures can show us more than words can say. As pictures reproduce the surface appearance of objects, they inevitably contain more visual information than required for the verbal message they accompany. (Nodelman 1988: 215). By showing us more than words can say pictures can easily cause confusion as to what is important about the various things they depict.

Pictures in picture books, like all pictures, are most significantly images to put words around - most interesting, and most communicative, when we have some words to accompany them (ibid.: 216).

Thus, a picturebook’s ‘story’ is never to be found in the pictures or the words alone, but develops out of their mutual interanimation[9]. “The words change the pictures and the pictures change the words and the product is something altoghether different” (Lewis 2001:36). It is in these mixed media forms that language and image are in a complementary relation. Although the words might clearly communicate a certain message, they come only fully to life and gain their complete meaning within the story when read alongside the accompanying picture. Hence, if a reader “wants the whole experience,” picture and words “have to be taken together” (ibid.). However, this word- picture relation in picturebooks is never entirely symmetrical. Hence, words and pictures do tell the same story, yet repeat the information in different forms of communication (Nikolajeva and Scott 2000:225). Words can draw attention to the parts of the image, that the reader should attend to, whereas the images provide the words with a specificity in form of shape, form and colour. Thus, “what the words do to the pictures is not the same as what the pictures do to the words” (Lewis 2001:35).

Pictures can communicate much to us, and particularly much of visual significance - but only if words focus them, tell us what it is about them that might be worth paying attention to. In a sense, trying to understand the situation a picture depicts is always an act of imposing language upon it - interpreting visual information in verbal terms; Reading pictures for narrative meaning is a matter of applying our understanding of words. (Nodelman 1988:211).

Therefore, pictures limit not only possible interpretations of the situation being illustrated, but also the range of plausible responses to it. By limiting each other, “words and pictures together take on a meaning that neither possesses without the other” (ibid.:221). Together they have a quite different and more specific meaning than each on its own. As a result, the relationship between text and pictures in picturebooks appears to be ironic: “each speaks about matters on which the other is silent” (ibid.).

There is a complex interrelationship between words and pictures, and both have to be interpreted in order to understand a picturebook. In fact, “a picture book contains at least three stories: the one told by the words, the one implied by the pictures, and the one that results from the combination of the first two” (Nodelman & Reimer 2003: 295).

Concluding, contemporary picturebooks are extremely rich, sophisticated and challenging concerning their subject matter as well as their literary and artistic styles. However, they need to be seen as a complete product, as ‘iconotext’[10] - “an inseparable entity of word and image, which cooperates to convey a message” (Nikolajeva & Scott 2001: 6). It is through the synthesis of text and pictures along with the layout of the book and the turning of pages, that the picturebook gains its total narrative and “communicates its message in a way which is untranslatable into any other form of aesthetic expression” (Schwarcz:1982:195).


This chapter provides a brief summary of the theoretical components that will be taken into consideration throughout the study. Subchapter 4.1 illustrates the main ideas underlying the social constructionist viewpoint. Subsequently, section 4.1.1 outlines the theories of George Herbert Mead, followed by a brief overview of Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann ’ s concept of the “ social construction of reality ” in subchapter 4.1.3. The subsequent chapter 4.2 discusses the social construction of gender, followed by subchapter 4.5 which emphasizes the social construction of Maori women and Maori feminist theory. 4.3.1 illustrates the key themes of mana wahine including whakapapa (, whanau (, wairua (, atua wahine (, Te Tiriti ( and decolonisation ( This chapter continues with an overview of the social construction of picturebooks in subchapter 4.4, discussing typifications (4.4.1), objectivation and signification (4.4.2), symbolic universes (4.4.3), socialization (4.4.4), the social self (4.4.5), language in picturebooks (4.4.6) and the social construction of gendered ideology in picturebooks (4.4.7). Finally this chapter concludes (4.5.) with the presentation of the picturebook communication circle, a model illustrating how picturebooks serve as a socializing tool creating and maintaining the image of certain individuals or groups in a society.

4.1 Social Constructionism

The research question of the present paper is based on a social constructionist viewpoint expressed by the theories of Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann as well as George Herbert Mead.

Social constructionists represent the idea that the world is socially manufactured through human thought and language. In fact, society is unlike Durkheimian ideas, not viewed as a pre-existent domain, but rather as the product of individuals engaging with one another. According to Berger and Luckmann (1966), the relationship between human beings and the social world is dialectical. “That is, man (not, of course, in isolation but in his collectivities) and his social world interact with each other. The product acts back upon the producer” (Berger and Luckmann 1966:61). Externalization, objectification and internalization are the three dialectical moments in which the individual participates in the social reality.[11]

Moreover, constructionists suggest, that our understanding of the social world is culturally and historically determined. Thus, the meaning of events is dependent upon the concrete context in which they appear (Garfinkel 1984). Furthermore, constructionism argues against the notion of essential structures within society and thus the individual. Instead, the observer is summoned to emphasize the relativistic and subjective nature of the social world, where all knowledge is perspectival and contingent (Lyotard 1984).

These underpinning facets can be subdivided into two main perspectives: on the one hand, emphasis is put on the role of human agency in the construction of the social world (Giddens 1991, Mead 1964, Berger & Luckmann 1966); on the other hand, the concept of discourse takes centre stage in the process of shaping experience (Foucault 1972). For the purpose of this paper, the former perspective, represented by Berger, Luckmann and Mead, is of main importance.

4.1.1 George Herbert Mead

Mead published rather little during his lifetime, however, after his death his lectures were published in book form, Mind, Self and Society (1934), Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century (1936), The Philosophy of the Act (1938), and thereby his work reached a broader audience. Mead aimed to investigate the genesis of the self both in terms of its practical social experience (its external aspects), as well as its experience as consciousness (its inner aspects) (Swingewood 2000:167).

Human society, as we know it could not exist without minds and selves, since all of its most characteristic features presuppose the possession of minds and selves by its individual members (Mead 1964:227).

According to Mead, it is through the mind and the self that humanity has the capacity to reason and to reflect. The self, however, exists only in relation to social groups, since “the individual himself belongs to a social structure, a social order” (ibid.:1f). Mind and self, consciousness and action, were therefore cooperative not individual phenomena involving social relations, roles and social institutions (Swingewood 2000:168).

Mead was concerned with developing a concept of symbolically mediated interaction, beginning with “an objective social process” and working inward “through the importation of the social process of communication into the individual by the medium of the vocal gesture” (Mead 1934: xxii).

For Mead, it is through language and interaction, that the individual acquires a social self. Instead of approaching human experience in terms of individual psychology, Mead investigates experience from the “standpoint of communication as essential to the social order” (Martin and Barresi 2006:250).

The communicational process consists of two phases. Firstly there is the conversation of gestures and secondly the conversation of significant gestures (or significant symbols). Language, for Mead, is communication through significant symbols. Both communicational processes presuppose a social context within which two or more individuals interact with one another. A significant symbol is a (vocal) gesture that calls out in the individual making it, the same response that is called out in other person to whom the gesture is directed (Mead 1934:24).[12]

Based on vocal gestures the individual indicates meaning to others and the self. Thus, there is no “mind or thought without language;” and language “is only a development and product of social interaction” (ibid:191f.). Hence language surfaces as a result of human interaction and collaboration.

Language is often utilized as a media tool to maintain the gender status of individuals in our society (Turner-Bowker 1996:462). As children learn how to read, they are exposed to the cultural symbols contained in books. These “significant symbols” (Mead 1934) play a strong role in the “determination of a society's future, by providing the basic models from which children form their ideas about themselves and others” (Rachlin and Vogt 1974:549).

As this paper aims to analyse the representation of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori women in contemporary picturebooks, Mead’s approach will be vital for the analysis of the cultural symbols constituting those characters in the narrative.

4.1.2 Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann

For Berger and Luckmann, society consists of an objective and subjective reality. In order to become a member of society the human being needs to be socialized, which is to say the induction of an individual into the objective world of a society and is described as “primary socialization” by the authors. This first step of the socialization process takes place in the childhood of an individual. It is the process of internalizing the objective social world around one’s self “as a manifestation of another’s subjective processes which thereby becomes subjectively meaningful“ (Berger and Luckmann 1966:61) to an individual.

By means of language, the child identifies with his significant others[13] in various emotional ways, takes on their roles and attitudes and thus learns how to become a member of society. Primary socialization is completed after the individual established a firm comprehension of the generalized other[14] and developed a symmetrical relationship between objective and subjective reality thereupon (ibid.).

Based on the primary socialization the already formed self enters the process of secondary socialization. In the secondary socialization, the individual internalizes institutional sub-worlds and learns role-specific vocabularies in order to manage his way through those “partial realities” (ibid.:158). Hence, according to Berger and Luckmann, an individual is not born as a member of society, but becomes one. However, it is through the interrelationship with its environment, the particular social context in which the individual is positioned, that the human self is formed (ibid.:68). This reality of everyday life is shared with other individuals who are apprehended and ‘dealt with’ by means of typificatory schemes. Those typifications guide the social interaction and constitute social structure, which is “the sum total of these typifications and of the recurrent patterns of interaction established by means of them” (ibid.:48). Typifications of habitualized actions constitute institutions, which “by the very fact of their existence, control human conduct” by channelling and filtering that conduct “as against the many other directions that would theoretically be possible” (ibid.:72.). Finally the created institutional structure is legitimized by means of symbolic universes, providing “bodies of theoretical tradition” which integrate different “provinces of meaning and encompass the institutional order in a symbolic totality” (ibid.:113).

For Berger and Luckmann (1966), everyday reality is a social reality. Through picturebooks, children experience early encounters with this social world, including prevailing values, ideologies and beliefs. Picturebook communication is hence a part of the socialization process and an important mechanism through which culture is conveyed from one generation to the next. Based on Berger and Luckmann’s understanding of “the social construction of reality” and Mead’s definition of significant symbols as prerequisite to a social self, the present study aims to analyse the representation of Maori women in New Zealand picturebooks.

4.2 The Social Construction of Gender

One of the issues of greatest interest to social constructionists has been gender and its social construction (e.g. Unger 1989; Lorber & Farrell, 1991; Bohan 1993). Gender is not seen as an inherent trait of the individual but as an external process, which is defined by interactions between people, language and by the discourse of a culture (DeLamater and Hyde 1998).

According to the viewpoint of social constructionism, the reality of everyday life is socially manufactured through human thought and language (Berger and Luckmann 1966). Among the most forceful factors shaping the constructions of everyday reality are “the modes of discourse by which we exchange our perceptions and descriptions of reality” (Bohan 1993:13). Hence, “what we call knowledge is simply what we agree to call truth” (ibid). It is during the process of agreeing to a certain reality of a phenomenon, that precisely that reality is being constructed. Gender, is thus, not a freestanding phenomenon that exists inside individuals, but it is an “agreement that resides in social interchange; it is precisely what we agree it to be” (ibid). As West and Zimmermann (1987) would put it: one does not have gender; one does gender.

Throughout their lives, individuals do not only see and learn what is expected but also react in ways, which are expected and hence construct as well as maintain the gender order:

The very injunction to be a given gender takes place through discursive routes: to be a good mother, to be a heterosexually desirable object, to be a fit worker, in sum, to signify a multiplicity of guarantees in response to a variety of different demands all at once” (Butler 1990: 145).

This categorization of people, things and ideas is also referred to as the construction of dichotomous oppositional difference by various feminist scholars (e.g. Spivak, 1990, 1993, 1999; Hooks 1984; Collins 1986). The associations in dichotomies between women/the home/emotion on the one hand, and men/work/reason on the other hand are ideological constructs rather than empirical descriptions (Bondi 1992). Those pervasive either/or dualities gain their meaning only in relation to their dissimilarity from their oppositional counterparts. Hence they suppress other alternatives and delimit the multiple positions real women occupy (Poovey 1988:62).


[1] Aotearoa is the Maori name for New Zealand and means “land of the long white cloud”

[2] The Treaty of Waitangi is the founding document of New Zealand as a nation and was signed by representatives of the British Crown and several Maori chiefs from the North Island of New Zealand in the year 1840. The Treaty is an agreement in Maori and English, that recognised Maori ownership of their lands and properties, and gave the Maori the rights of British subjects. Different understandings of the Treaty (caused by difficulties in the Maori translation) have long been the subject of debate. From the 1970s especially, many Maori have called for the terms of the Treaty to be honoured. Some have protested - by marching on Parliament and by occupying land. There have been studies of the Treaty and a growing awareness of its meaning in modern New Zealand. For more information see: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/category/tid/133

[3] The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. For further information see: http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/ caldecottmedal/caldecottmedal.cfm

[4] Symbolic annihilation refers to the exclusion and underrepresentation of Maori in the media. For more details see McGregor and Te Awa 1996, Adds et al. 2005, Groot 2006, and McCabe 2011.

[5] For more detail on “Maori in the media” see chapter 2.3

[6] For more detail on Maori feminism see chapter 2.2

[7] It is argued that ‘postcolonialism’ can be expressed in numerous ways (McLeod 2000). Prentice (1995 ) suggests that in the New Zealand context ‘post-coloniality’ could be defined as a set of socio-cultural conditions that have been produced out of the legacy of colonialism.

[8] Current research uses various ways of spelling ‘picturebook’, such as picture-book ( hyphenated word), picture book (two distinct words) or picturebook. In order to reflect the compound nature of the medium I have chosen to spell it as a compound word ‘picturebook’.

[9] Lewis (2001:169) defines ‘interanimation’ as “the process by which, in composite texts such as picturebooks, comics and graphic novels, the words and images mutually influence one another so that the meaning of the words is understood in the light of what the pictures show, and vice versa”.

[10] The notion ‘iconotext’ was coined by Swedish scholar, Kristin Hallberg (1982).

[11] Those concepts will be discussed in more detail in subchapter 4.5.

[12] The concept of language as significant symbols and its relation to picturebooks is discussed in more detail in chapter 4.4.

[13] Significant others are people immediately around the individual who raise them and serve to mediate the world to them (Berger and Luckmann 1966).

[14] Generalized others are an abstraction from the roles and attitudes of significant others. It is the roles in general (Berger and Luckmann 1966).

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Picturing Difference: An investigation of Maori women's characters in New Zealand picturebooks
Uppsala University
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picturebooks, New Zealand, Sociology, Social constructionism, children's literature, Maori, racism, feminism, gender, George Herbert Mead, content analysis, Peter Berger, Thomas Luckmann, Social Interactionism, Social Self, decolonisation, socialization, idiology
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Kathrin Rochow (Author), 2011, Picturing Difference: An investigation of Maori women's characters in New Zealand picturebooks, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/205579


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