Quandaries of Belonging

Quandaries of Belonging

Notes on Home, from Abroad

By Michael Jackson

Quandaries of Belonging is both a personal meditation on the author’s relationship with Aotearoa New Zealand and a critical exploration of coexistence in a postcolonial society.

PDF, 198 Pages


December 2020

£25.00, $32.95

EPUB, 198 Pages


December 2020

£25.00, $32.95

  • About This Book
  • Reviews
  • Author Information
  • Series
  • Table of Contents
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About This Book

A lot of contemporary discourse, both in the academy and beyond, is predicated on essentialized notions of gender, class, and ethnic identity. In critiquing the either-or polarizations that characterize identity thinking, Jackson emphasizes human plurality as entailing both difference and identity. The assumption here is that, as a species, human beings share the same evolutionary history and confront similar existential dilemmas, yet no two individuals are alike, and very different adaptive strategies and worldviews have emerged in the course of human history. To speak of the human condition, therefore, is to imply not only that existence is replete with contradiction and conflict but characterized by ongoing struggles to resolve, accept, or overcome them.

The chapters of this book touch on a variety of issues, including the ambiguity of belonging, the struggle for indigenous rights, expatriate experience, the ethics of genetic engineering, experiments in communal living, and intercultural dialogue. These issues have both local and global relevance, and Jackson addresses them as an expatriate and an ethnographer who has discovered that the anxiety that springs from being an outsider is often compensated for by an ability to see the world from a novel point of view. Moreover, as an outsider, one is sometimes consoled to find that one’s dilemmas are not unique. While one may be struggling to adapt to new customs, learn a new language, or cope with bizarre customs and inhospitable surroundings, one’s new neighbors may be suffering social exclusion, embroiled in family feuds, fighting prejudice, or coming to terms with the effects of a Pandemic, climate-change or economic collapse. Indeed, it is often through such critical experiences that people from diverse backgrounds come to realize that they share a common world.


It is said that inside each person is the universe. Jackson’s book is a stunning illustration of this. Narrating the self and the places integral to his own making, he reaches out and grasps a shared humanity that strives to comprehend a poetics of fit in the world'. — Amanda Kearney, Professor of Anthropology and Indigenous Studies at Flinders University and author of Violence in Place, Environmental and Cultural Wounding

The catchment of Michael Jackson’s meditation upon home, identity and ‘the mysterious elsewhere’ is wide—in terms of both place and time—yet his attention is always precise and finely tuned to patterns of thinking and living. Quandaries of Belonging is a paean to evolving consciousness and a rejection of the notion of ‘firstness or the idea that foundations are necessarily more real than anything we built on them’. He is a student of conversation, interaction and growth, of the life-as-lived, rendered with an often novelistic or poetic elan. — Gregory O’Brien, author of 'Always song in the water' (Auckland University Press, 2019)

In Quandaries of Belonging Michael Jackson brings an astute blend of anecdote, characterisation, history, philosophy and reminiscence to bear upon two great questions of our time: where is our home and how shall we know it? Jackson’s thought is elegant and persuasive; but never prescriptive. This is a book all New Zealanders, and everyone else too, should read. — Martin Edmond author of 'Luca Antara' and 'The Expatriates'

“Michael Jackson's experience of living abroad yet longing for home invites New Zealanders, not just expatriates, to consider the ways we are all at home in the world. Current tensions and bi-cultural issues within Aotearoa New Zealand are discussed with urgency, yet Jackson thinks globally and writes with poignant empathy.” — Jennifer Shennan, Author of 'The Māori Action Song - waiata-ā-ringa, waiata kõri - nõ whea tēnei āhua hou?

Author Information

Michael Jackson is the author of forty books of ethnography, memoir, fiction and poetry. 


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Table of Contents

Preface; 1. Taranaki; 2. Neither Here nor There; 3. Being Out of Place; 4. The Pare Revisited; 5. Talking with Te Pakaka; 6. The Road to Karuna Falls; 7. The Social Life of Stories; 8. A Landscape with Too Few Lovers; 9. Distance Looks Our Way; 10. At Home in the World; 11. Fires of No Return; 12. Critique of Colonial Reason; Coda; Acknowledgments, Epigraphs, and Sources; Index.


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