The Project

“The days of the big dreams of the utopias are over. We have seen too much damage come from this. We need instead a down-to-earth pragmatism of empathy, justice, kindness and care. We have to think small in a big way.” – Ken Plummer, A Manifesto for a Critical Humanism in Sociology

In her address to the United Nations in 2018, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated:

“Perhaps then it is time to step back from the chaos and ask what we want. It is in that space that we’ll find simplicity. The simplicity of peace, of prosperity, of fairness. If I could distill it down into one concept that we are pursuing in New Zealand it is simple and it is this. Kindness.  In the face of isolationism, protectionism, racism – the simple concept of looking outwardly and beyond ourselves, of kindness and collectivism, might just be as good a starting point as any.”

This collaborative research project therefore responds to Ardern’s repeated invocation of the value of kindness, asking what a politics of kindness looks like and considering how such a ‘politics’, broadly conceived, might be taken up across a wide variety of areas.  We are particularly interested in how kindness might be understood as a ‘technology of social transformation,’ a ‘microtechnique for both resisting and shaping power relations,’ and in how individual acts of kindness help build networks of ‘flexible resilience.’ As feminist theorists Magnet, Mason and Trevenen point out, ‘Kindness in the contemporary moment continues to be an under-researched emotion even in the midst of a surge of work in emotion and affect theory.’
We, therefore, believe that a broad-based multi-disciplinary study of kindness can make a significant contribution to both public and scholarly discourse and practices.

The project propose a broad-based analysis of both kindness and related concepts.  Key questions include:

  • How is kindness generally understood?  What are its associations and connotations?
  • How is it deployed in public life – what role does it have to play in social cohesion?
  • How is kindness understood across a range of different points of view, e.g. cultural and linguistic, gendered, demographic?
  • What are the particular inflections of kindness in the Aotearoa context?
  • How does kindness function not just individually but also collectively or organizationally?

As a research based out of an academic institution, this project aims to analyze these questions through symposiums organized through the course of the year. Information for these will be available on this website.

Vision Mātauranga 

Agencies of Kindness as a research project wishes to situate the concept of kindness in an Aotearoa-specific context, and as such to broaden the scope in which it is understood.  Central to these efforts will be an engagement with Māori epistemologies – concepts such as atawhai (to show kindness to and to care for), ngāwari (kindness, tolerance, simplicity), tauwhirotanga (caring, kindness, compassion), ngākau aroha (shows compassion, empathy, kindheartedness), mākoha (encompasses kindly behaviour, whēkaro (to look kindly on another, manaakitangi (hospitality, kindness) – and research methodologies.  It may be that the word kindness itself is set to one side, or becomes part of a broader overarching concept.  Engaging with Māori and Pasifika colleagues and community members will be central to the first phase of the research in order to devise a critical focus and methodological framework best placed to make a powerful contribution to discourse and practice within Aotearoa.  We would hope that the research would broadly contribute to the Vision Mātauranga themes of “Hauora/Oranga: Improving Health and Social Wellbeing,” and in relation to ecology, “Mātauranga,” – ‘The quest for better relationships between human societies and the natural environments in which they exist.’


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