Emigrants of the labouring classes': Capital, labour and learning in Wellington, 1840-45.

Year: 2008

Author: Middleton, Sue

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Questions of space and place are of increasing interest to educational researchers. A recent synopsis of “educational geography” identifies Henri Lefebvre as a particularly “overarching presence in the educational appropriation of spatial theories with many researchers referring to his work on perceived, conceived and lived space” (Gulson and Symes, 2007, p.101). Physical, or perceived, space is that of everyday embodied “spatial practices” in everyday life: “social practice, the body, the use of the hands, the practical basis of the perception of the outside world” (Lefebvre, 1974, p.38). Abstract, or conceived, space, a product of capitalism, “includes the ‘world’ of commodities, its ‘logical’ and its worldwide strategies; as well as the power of money and that of the political state” (Lefebvre, 1974, p.53). “Representations of space” are the charts, texts or maps of these rationally determined enclosures, including those of “cartographers, urban planners or property speculators” (Shields, 2004, p. 210). Enacting technologies of domination, these introduce “a new form into a pre-existing space – generally a rectilinear or rectangular form such as a meshwork or chequerwork” (Lefebvre, 1974, p.139). Lived, or social, space includes the realm of the imagination that “has been kept alive and acceptable by the arts and literature. This ‘third space’ not only transcends but also has the power to refigure the balance of popular ‘perceived space’ and official ‘conceived space’” (Shields, 2004, p. 210). The artistic and other expressions of “lived space” are referred to as “representational spaces.” In capitalist societies, Lefbvre argued, the abstract appropriations of “conceived space”, and textual representations of this space, gain ascendency.

I work with Lefebvre’s spatial trilogy in a reading of letters written in Wellington by a group of “emigrants of the labouring classes” in 1840-45, the first five years of colonisation. Their personal handwritten letters “Home” were published in the New Zealand Journal, a London-based newspaper allied with the commercial practices, socio-political theories, and utopian dreams of Edwin Gibbon Wakefield and the New Zealand Company he founded. The recruitment of these labourers as emigrants, the (re)production of their letters, and their internalisation and projection in writing of colonial identities “in tune” with the Company’s “representations of space”, are conceptualised as pedagogical. Here I draw on Lefebvre’s concept “pedagogy of appropriation” (1974, p.205).

Education’s multiple disciplinary vantage points are centred on the pedagogical, a concept increasingly attractive to spatial theorists. Basil Bernstein’s sociological model of pedagogy has proved particularly useful in geographical theory (Sibley, 1995; Mahtani, 2004), in particular his idea of a “totally pedagogised society with all relations almost becoming pedagogical ones” (Lingard & Gale, 2007, p11). Drawing on Lefebvre and Bernstein, this paper interleafs geographical with pedagogical concepts. It falls into four parts. The first sketches the background to the research, the letters, and their writers. The second identifies pedagogical dimensions of the labourers’ involvement with the New Zealand Company’s emigration scheme. The third explores the “pedagogical appropriation” of their personal letters by the New Zealand Journal. I conclude with a case study of the letters by one of these published authors, Jane Retter.