Whānau is whānau

Whānau is whānau (pdf)
01 Jul 2006

This report considers the use of the māori word 'whānau' in social policy-making, details the personal reactions of participants to various forms and derivations of whānau, and highlights problems when using the term in legislation and policy.

This small qualitative study into whānau was funded by the Families Commission through its Blue Skies Research Fund. The aim of this study was to explore with Māori within the policy environment their understandings of the concept of whānau and its use in social policy settings. The literature covers a period of 60 years, and has been reported on by conceptually diverse disciplines. The result has been a range of constructs and new ways of viewing whānau. Māori interviewed for this project asserted the primacy of the whānau tūturu based on whakapapa as forming the ‘intrinsic whānau’, with the metaphorical use of whānau forming an outer layer. Differences between the ‘intrinsic whānau’, the ‘whānau ā kaupapa’ and family were also described. While the notion of whānau – both biological and ā kaupapa – has been used in policy settings since the 1980s, participants felt it was not the role of academics and policy-makers to define whānau, assume its meaning and embed the notion in legislation. Both the assumed understandings of the concept of whānau and its application within Western legal approaches pose risks for Māori. Given the breadth and depth of the notion of whānau, it would be difficult for policy and legislation to capture its whole meaning and to apply it appropriately.


The objectives of this study were:

  • to explore notions of Whānau identified by the literature, ie whakapapa whānau, kaupapa whānau, statistical whānau, virtual whānau, new whanau, family, whāmere, whānau reo māori and whānau ora
  • to consider the policy implications of the use of the term whānau.
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