Background/Context: Theorists of civil society often view civil society as a site for democratic education. Civil society is supposed to assist democratic practice by offering people contexts in which they practice promoting the common good. This article, following Nina Eliasoph’s intervention, takes this to be a claim requiring ethnographic exploration. The article provides an ethnographic answer to the question, What do people actually tell each other about the common good or national well-being in civil society moments? To explore this question, the authors turn to how a Samoan cultural group and a Mâori cultural group rehearse and perform in a citywide high school cultural festival in Auckland.
Purpose: This article compares how migrant high school students and indigenous high school students use performances of traditional songs and dances to explore their relationships to the New Zealand nation. The article examines how the rehearsals take place, particularly who disciplines whom and how different levels of expertise are displayed. The authors compare how tutors circulate knowledge and discipline in the rehearsals with how the students perform their relationships to the New Zealand nation on stage.
Setting: We conducted ethnographic research at two different high schools in West Auckland, New Zealand.
Population: We observed two cultural groups with approximately 20 high school students in each. We also interviewed approximately 10 teachers and tutors who had been involved in preparing Samoan and Mâori cultural groups for this festival.
Research Design: This was a qualitative case study. We observed rehearsals for 8 weeks and conducted semistructured interviews with students and teachers.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The authors argue that through the rehearsals and the performance, the Samoan migrant students and the indigenous Mâori students adopt different relationships to the nation. The Samoan migrant students see themselves as more aligned to Samoa as the homeland that few of them have visited. They are out of place in the New Zealand nation and use nostalgic performances to perform this sense of dislocation. The Mâori students, on the other hand, use the performances to express a political disenchantment with the New Zealand nation. They are constantly critiquing government policies in the context of these performances. In short, both Samoan and Mâori students are expressing the ways in which they do not belong to the nation through their engagements.