When the State Tries to See Like a Family: Cultural Pluralism and the Family Group Conference in New Zealand

Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 2013

Ohio State Public Law Working Paper 207

31 Pages Posted: 2 May 2013 Last revised: 1 Jun 2013

See all articles by Amy J. Cohen

Amy J. Cohen

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law

Ilana Gershon

Indiana University

Date Written: May 1, 2013

Abstract

In 1989, New Zealand legislators revised their child welfare legislation partially in response to Māori and Pacific Island critiques that the previous state-centered regime had failed to take into account their culturally distinctive techniques for being a family and culturally specific practices of decision-making and conflict resolution. Legislators instituted a new and increasingly popular form of alternative dispute resolution — the family group conference — in a self-conscious attempt to create a bureaucratic response to family dysfunction that was capacious enough to allow for any and every family’s involvement. Yet in the process, they continued to understand what counts as a family along particular nuclear family lines. Against the New Zealand lawmakers’ assumptions, we illustrate how, in the context of transnational migration, Samoan families experience tensions between the nuclear family unit that lawmakers envision and the extended kinship group. As extended families, Samoan migrant families’ goal is not to produce socially productive citizens for the nation state, but rather to produce a transnational family reputation. Thus, despite the legislators’ efforts to create culturally sensitive forms for family conflict resolution, Samoan social workers and community counselors had to translate the Act for Samoan families, negotiating and managing the conflicting presuppositions of what it means to be a nuclear family embedded in the Act and what it means to be an extended family for Samoans.

Keywords: Family Group Conference, Samoan migrants, New Zealand, legislation, family conflict resolution, alternative dispute resolution (ADR)

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Amy J. and Gershon, Ilana, When the State Tries to See Like a Family: Cultural Pluralism and the Family Group Conference in New Zealand (May 1, 2013). Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 2013 ; Ohio State Public Law Working Paper 207. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2259131

Amy J. Cohen (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

Ilana Gershon

Indiana University ( email )

Dept. of Communication and Culture
800 East Third St
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

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