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Tongan hip hop culture: Negotiating identity through performance

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posted on 2023-01-19, 11:11 authored by Elisabeth Betz
Submission note: A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the School of Social Sciences and Communications, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University, Bundoora.

This dissertation explores the way Tongan young people are using hip hop to negotiate their self and social identities. Based on multi-sited ethnographic field work conducted in Tonga, New Zealand and Australia, it analyses the way Tongan youth perceive and negotiate hybridity in everyday life. Many Tongan youth are experiencing multiple marginalisation due to social environments in which Tongan young people tend to be questioned for individual performances of difference. Despite clear self-identification, many Tongan youth tend to be existentially questioned by others. Some Tongans criticise them as being ‘plastic’ ‘fake’ or ‘wanna-be white’, while people in New Zealand and Australia classify young Tongans as ‘FOB’s’ or ‘Brownies’ – Polynesian migrants who do not belong to mainstream society. Numerous Tongan youth experiencing social exclusion participate in hip hop to engage in existential dialogues with their self and their surroundings. Using Martin Heidegger’s existential phenomenology of Dasein, it is argued that hip hop encourages performers to express their uniqueness to be autonomous while being with others. Hip hop’s principle of ‘keeping it real’ enables young Tongans to ‘self-sample’ aspects of their identities to be in ‘flow’ with their self and their surroundings. Consequently, it is argued that hip hop facilitates the Tongan ideal of fekau’aki (connecting) between different fragments of the self and with others.


Center or Department

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. School of Social Sciences and Communications.

Thesis type

  • Ph. D.

Awarding institution

La Trobe University

Year Awarded


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This thesis contains third party copyright material which has been reproduced here with permission. Any further use requires permission of the copyright owner. The thesis author retains all proprietary rights (such as copyright and patent rights) over all other content of this thesis, and has granted La Trobe University permission to reproduce and communicate this version of the thesis. The author has declared that any third party copyright material contained within the thesis made available here is reproduced and communicated with permission. If you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact us with the details.

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