Crisis politics and the ‘disruptive’ leadership of Jacinda Ardern

Jennifer Curtin, University of Auckland

Thursday, March 30 3:30-5:00 p.m., Humanities Centre L-1


Crisis events heighten peoples’ anxiety and their expectations of political leaders.  Meanwhile, political leaders need to provide rapid and comprehensive responses that rhetorically and substantively straddle political divides. As such, crisis leadership differs from routine political leadership. The risks are much higher, the public is more attentive, and the decision making more urgent.

Research on “mastering” crisis leadership is plentiful but rarely interrogates the extent to which “mastery” is a gendered construct. With the advent of the COVID-19 and the resulting cross-national variations in policy responses, we have witnessed a heightened interest in gender and crisis leadership: from ‘hypermasculine’ responses on the one hand to the accomplishments of women political leaders on the other. Amongst the latter, the Prime Minister of Aotearoa New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, often features as a success story.

In this lecture I argue that Jacinda Ardern’s success is, in part, a result of gender “disruptive” practices which she has performed since becoming Labour leader six weeks out from the 2017 general election. I identify three disruptions in particular: her inclusive populist rhetoric; her becoming a mother while prime minister; and her capacity to demonstrate both empathy and competence in response to the Christchurch terror attack.

Ardern’s leadership is not the sole reason New Zealand was initially able to eliminate the virus. It is a geographically isolated country, surrounded by sea with a small population and a unitary, unicameral system that allowed for centralised control. However, in deviating from traditional masculine norms of “mastery”, Ardern’s leadership helped to create a culture of collective care and compliance, and limited significant human cost. In doing so she also generated sufficient political capital to win the 2020 election in a landslide.   

Jennifer Curtin is a Professor of Politics and Director of the Public Policy Institute at the University of Auckland, Waipapa Taumata Rau. Her research and publications focus on Australian and New Zealand politics and policy, gender, policy analysis and political leadership, and the politics of sport. She is the author of 8 books and over 70 articles and chapters on these topics. Jennifer teaches comparative public policy, cross-national lesson drawing and gender analysis for the University of Auckland’s Master of Public Policy. Her work connects her with a range of government agencies, community groups, and international organisations, and researchers from a variety of disciplines. Jennifer was a Fulbright Scholar to Georgetown University in 2012 and a Treasury Research Fellow in 2019. Her evidence-informed analyses often appear in the media, both in New Zealand and internationally. Jennifer is engaged in externally funded projects on the following topics: Gender Responsive Budgeting in New Zealand; the Gendered Policy Effects of COVID19; Gender and Political Leadership at the Subnational Level in Australia and Canada and she is a Principal Investigator on the New Zealand Election Study.

Title: Societies of immigration control: data doubles, status multiples, and transactional borders of Brexit Britain
Talk by Kuba Jablonowski

Monday April from 12:00-1:00 p.m.

Tory Building 10-4

Description: British borders got digitised after Brexit. This shifted the logic of immigration status from inscription to authorisation. While paper-based forms of documenting status slot individuals into fixed socio-legal categories, the online-only system analysed in the paper generates status in real time for each status checking transaction. This logic of authorisation is shown to displace discrete objects of governance with mutable relations of control.

Bio: Kuba Jablonowski is a postdoctoral fellow in geography at the University of Exeter, UK. He investigates digital bordering practices in Britain after Brexit to explore the impacts of datafication on migration governance. To generate research material and disseminate research findings, his work draws on engaged methodologies and strategic collaborations with the civil society, public bodies, and private firms..

This talk is sponsored by the UofA Immigration Working Group.