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Extension, subversion, containment: eco-nationalism and (post)colonial nature in Aotearoa New Zealand

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National identity in many post-colonial states is predicated on nature being outside and antecedent to culture and the colonial project. This paper questions the historical and essentialist assumptions underpinning this vision using New Zealand as a case study, and in particular the Christchurch Botanic Gardens in the nineteenth century. I argue that the Gardens were a site in the multi-species extension of colonial space, but that far from being docile entities, non-humans kicked back to change the very nature of the project. New Zealand's eco-nationalist project is described as not only an attempt to order the past, present and future lives of non-humans (invasive, native and migrant alike), but also to sanitise the colonial expropriation of the indigenous and to preclude any mode of relating to ‘nature’ that might subvert the essentialisms inherent in a preservationist ethic. Situated between three modes of critique: nature-as-ideology; nature as complex but real; and an ontological exposure of hidden hybridity, I make a modest move beyond (re)description of naturecultures to normative critique of their constitutive relations.

Keywords: New Zealand; botanic gardens; eco-nationalism; history; nature; preservation

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Geography Department, Kings College London, London WC2R 2LS, Email:

Publication date: July 1, 2008


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