It’s a partnership: yeah, right! An analysis of discourses of partnership between Government and Community Organisations in New Zealand (1999-2008)
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This study explored the discourses of partnership between government and community organisations during the term of the fifth Labour-led Government (1999-2008). This government came to power with a policy of building partnerships with community organisations and others, presenting partnership as a rejection of the contractual models of the previous administration. I drew on Foucauldian notions of discourse and governmentality and Gramsci’s theories of hegemony, together with poststructuralism and critical social theory for my theoretical and philosophical frameworks. Applying Fairclough’s (1992) critical discourse analytic approach as a research methodology, I examined the historical, social and political contexts that frame the discourse of partnership, and analysed three sets of texts from the period under review. Two dominant partnership discourses emerged. The first was a community development discourse that can be traced to the 1970s, and which re-emerged in the 1990s as a resistance to the then dominant contractualist discourses of relationship between government and community organisations. The second was a modification of contractualism that drew from third-way discourses out of the United Kingdom, and in which government projects and programmes that involve community organisations were reframed as partnerships while retaining contractual mechanisms and ways of thinking. Drawing on governmentality theory, I suggested that the language of partnership may mask a process in which community organisations were co-opted to take on roles and responsibilities that are ultimately determined by, and in the interests of the government agenda. The research also identified characteristics of genuine partnerships between government and community organisations. Such partnerships were generally framed within a community development discourse and were more resistant to co-optation than partnerships that followed a contractualist approach. This research provides tools and strategies to enable both community organisations and government officials develop and maintain effective working relationships.