School of Social and Cultural Studies

Cultural Anthropology Students

Shanna Bosley

Shanna Bosley

PhD Student in Cultural Anthropology

Supervisors: Dr Catherine Trundle and Dr Lorena Gibson

How Helper Organisations Conceptualise Commercial Sex Labor

With the proliferation of global campaigns against human trafficking, the New Zealand government has recently responded to international attention with a legal review of its own anti-trafficking legislation to ensure compliance with international norms, revealing some interesting issues that must be grappled with in defining what constitutes human trafficking. It is within this context that I am investigating the discourse around the commercial sex industry in order to more specifically understand assumed categorical distinctions between “coerced” victims of trafficking and "un-coerced' sex-laborers and the cultural constituents, as well as the social and political consequences, of these distinctions.

My research focuses on questions of agency and victimhood, and an understanding of how these constructs are maintained, by working with individuals within the social service organisations that deal with these issues directly. I am particularly interested in the question of how these advocates conceptualise the issue, what factors have informed their understandings of and their responses to trafficking and legal sex labor, and how they imagine themselves in relation to these marginalised groups.

New Zealand happens to be poised at an important historical moment where it is engaging with the challenge of addressing its local and particular labor issues within global currents and international response efforts - my research explores how it is adding to the conversation.

Contact: shanna.bosley@vuw.ac.nz

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Sara Hansen

Sara Hansen

PhD Student in Cultural Anthropology

Supervisors: Professor Brigitte Bönisch-Brednich and Dr Catherine Trundle

Multiculturalism and Identity

In my research I am investigating multiculturalism in New Zealand. I am interested in policies, guidelines and initiatives which have been developed and set in place to “deal with” and “manage” issues and challenges which have occurred in relation to becoming and being a multicultural nation. My aim is to gain an understanding of the discourses and principles that generally informs the New Zealand approach to multiculturalism. In doing so I want to critically explore the dilemmas and problems to such an approach, with particular focus on the ‘dilemma of group-based recognition’ or more general the ‘problems of recognition’, which several critiques of multiculturalism have pointed to.

Contact: sara.hansen@vuw.ac.nz

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Hollie Russell

Hollie Russell

MA Student in Cultural Anthropology

Supervisors: Associate Professor Jeff Sissons and Dr Maria Bargh

The Becoming of Rakaipaaka

Kia ora,

‘Ngā whare rau o Te Tahinga’
‘The many houses of Te Tahinga’

Ko Moumoukai te maunga
Ko Nuhaka te awa
Ko Tākitimu te waka
Ko Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa te iwi
Ko Ngāti Rakaipaaka te hapū
Ko Tāne-nui-a-Rangi te marae
Ko Hollie Russell ahau.

My research this year will look Rakaipaaka, a hapū (sub-tribe) of Ngāti Kahungungu which is based in Nuhaka. Using the toolkit of Deleuze and Guattari (1987) I will produce a present day examination of Rakaipaaka, looking at physical, material and spiritual aspects of the hapū and how these aspects are connected. Similar to how Deleuze and Guattari describe rhizomes, I believe it is apparent that in hapū, connections can be seen to occur between people, spaces, places, beliefs, and objects.

I will also discuss what the future looks like for hapū in Aotearoa, what innovative emergences we can see, the continued consequences of colonialism, and how the inherent creativeness and resilience of hapū allows them to regenerate, reassemble, and thrive.

Contact: hollie.russell@vuw.ac.nz

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Tayla Hancock

Taylor Hancock

MA Student in Cultural Anthropology

Supervisors: Professor Brigitte Bönisch-Brednich and Dr Catherine Trundle

Visualising Obesity: Understanding Lived Experiences of Obesity Through Photovoice in Aotearoa. 

My research this year will use the photovoice method in order to gather first-hand knowledge of the experiences of obese individuals living in New Zealand. My research will challenge biologically determinist analyses of obesity, and will emphasise how one’s agency and ability to act within their body depends on socially and culturally structured aspects of their lives. The resulting photographs from my participants will be used to create a critical discussion about obesity in New Zealand, exploring how the everyday lives, social relationships and the capacity to act, fit into the ‘local biologies’ of obese bodies. The concept of local biologies acknowledges the importance of the biological body as an active agent and the dynamic inter-relationship between culture and biology.

Contact: tayla.hancock@vuw.ac.nz

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Callan Sait

Callan Sait

MA Student in Cultural Anthropology

Supervisor: Associate Professor Jeff Sissons and Dr Catherine Trundle

A New Lease on Life: The Role of Non-Essential Technologies in the Lives of People with (physical) Disabilities.

Much of the literature on the use of technology by people with disabilities focuses on restoring normalcy and often makes no distinction between assistive technologies (those which allow the users to perform day-to-day activities, such as wheelchairs) and ‘leisure’ technologies such as the internet, television and videogames. Furthermore there appears to be a lack of ethnographic data that focuses on the general life experiences of the ‘disabled individual’.


 In my research I intend to move away from the discourse of ‘fixing’ the disabled and the utilitarian view of technology and instead return to the experiences of individuals by exploring the often complex relationships between disability, technology, and identity. I wish to find answers for questions such as; how (and why) do people with disabilities interact with technologies? To what extent does technology influence their sense of identity or personhood? How do these affect the lived experience of their disability?


All too often people with disabilities are reduced to objects; medicalised patients who are treated, corrected, and restored to ‘normal’ by technology, or victims of their disabilities, trapped within and betrayed by their own bodies. This research seeks to gain a greater understanding of the subjectivities of disability and present the various ways in which people with disabilities actively engage with technology and construct their identities. It focuses on the experiences of individuals with disabilities as they are mediated by technology, body politics, and the disability itself. I hope to emphasise the agency that people with disabilities possess, and shatter the perception of the disabled as passive, dependent, and ‘incomplete’ people.

Contact: callan.sait@vuw.ac.nz

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Tarapuhi Bryers-Brown

Tarapuhi Bryer-brown

MA Student in Cultural Anthropology

Supervisors:  Dr Lorena Gibson and Dr Catherine Trundle

Examining the Role of Kaupapa Māori in Healing Inter-generational Trauma among Whanganui Māori

He mokopuna tēnei no ngā hau e whā; no te hauraki i Te Taitokerau rere iho ki Te Tairawhiti, kohikohi  ngā hau o Pikiao, whaia Te Pae Maunga o Ruahine ki Raukawa ki te Tonga; rere rauru mai ki ngā hau  kōruarua ma runga i ā Matua te Mana.
Mai te kāhui maunga ki Tangaroa, he mihi aroha ka rere atu ki a koutou.
Ko Tarapuhi Bryers Brown ahau.

My research focuses on structural violence and Māori health disparities. I am interested in the way in which colonisation effects indigenous health and have looked at the context of contemporary Canada and Aotearoa.  During my honours year, I created a film that examined an individual’s experience of racism as a Māori male living in Aotearoa, and the effect this had on their agency, their ability to access health and disability services, and their identity. This research emphasised the impact that Māori led health organisations have on individuals, and also highlighted that these organisations often struggle to ‘tick the boxes’ required by the mainstream health system.  Accordingly, this year I will be examining the ways Māori led health organisations identify and address the health inequalities experienced by Māori, and more specifically how they challenge, navigate and/or rework western definitions of health and illness. I am passionate about using visual methods such as film and photo-voice as ways of producing ethnographic data, and as a means of giving back to the generous people who participate in my research.

Contact: tarapuhi.bryers-brown@vuw.ac.nz

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Tanja Rother

Tanja Rother Student Profile

PhD Student in Cultural Anthropology

Supervisors: Professor Brigitte Bönisch-Brednich & Professor Richard Hill

Property Regimes and the Local Governance of Commons

My research project seeks to explore two seemingly contradictory trends: First, the increasingly contested ownership of things which occurs as a result of the global trend to a propertisation of the natural and cultural environment; and second, countertendencies that point to collaboration and ‘commoning’. In particular, I am investigating property relations as relations between people, and people and the environment, in the context of the negotiation of different legal and values-based systems in Aotearoa New Zealand.

More specifically I am examining both official and informal (community-level) co-governance and management arrangements for lakes, rivers or coastal areas. In terms of formal agreements, I am interested in how joint working groups of local authorities and iwi/hapū operate, and how their strategies are implemented in practice. At the community level I will study the property rights involved, the working arrangements that have emerged, and what the estuary, lake or river means to different user groups. The enquiry departs from an in-depth ethnographic study at the Ōhiwa Harbour in the Eastern Bay of Plenty where local authorities have formed a cooperative structure with four local iwi. In my analysis I will also refer to developments in this area at the national level.

Joint governance structures between local authorities and iwi/hapū are relatively new, and the processes and relationships under on-going development, and so they have been little studied. Likewise, not much is known about day-to-day community affairs in environmental management. The results of this study will therefore be useful in terms of documenting the experiences undergone, and in demonstrating the impact of, and on, the local community. At a wider level my research intends to contribute to inquiries on the practical implications of the notion “Treaty partnership” in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Contact: tanja.rother@vuw.ac.nz

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Former Students:

Hayley Bathard
Since completing my Masters in Cultural Anthropology this year, , I have been working at the University of Otago’s Wellington campus. I work in the Wellington Asthma Research Group, which is part of the School of Medicine. I have been and will be working on a number of projects in my position at the University of Otago, including one on disability for Maori and Pacific people in Aotearoa, and one on health literacy in relation to asthma. My roles on these projects include research of existing literature, analysis of interview and focus group data, and academic report and article writing. It’s great being able to use the skills from my study across a number of areas in relation to health and disability, and to be employing my knowledge from medical anthropology on a daily basis.

I am so grateful for my time studying in the School of Social and Cultural Studies at Victoria – I loved being a part of the school, and working alongside all of the staff and students. In particular, I was very lucky to be supervised through my Masters by Catherine Trundle and Rachel McKee (from Deaf Studies) and I am grateful for all of their knowledge and support. I have taken so much from my time studying in the Anthropology department, gaining knowledge and skills that are both fascinating and useful for my current field of work.

Ben Steele
After completing an Honours degree in Anthropology, Ben worked at the Office of Treaty Settlements where he helped negotiate settlements of historical Treaty grievances on behalf of the New Zealand Government. He then won a Fulbright Scholarship and moved to New York city to complete a Masters Degree in Anthropology at Columbia University. Now Ben is working at the New Zealand Permanent Mission to the United Nations where he covers the work of the UN Security council general peace and security issues such as the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iran, and provides policy advice to the New Zealand Government.

Ben says he greatly enjoyed studying Anthropology at Victoria. The degree gave him skills essential to his current work. Anthropology is a great subject as it is wide enough to encompass many others; political science, economics and international relations, among others, all have their place within anthropology. but rather than focusing on just one, anthropology offers a holistic lens, essential in this interconnected and interdependent world.

Angie Wilkinson
The things I enjoyed the most about studying Anthropology were learning about different cultures and ways of doing things, and learning ways to interpret and understand these differences. This thinking broadened my world view. It made me more respectful of different ways of life and approaches to doing things. Studying anthropology gave me valuable skills in critical thinking, analysis, report writing, and qualitative research.

After I completed my undergraduate degree in Anthropology I taught English in South Korea, and then returned to New Zealand  to complete my Honours degree in Anthropology. I have been working at Statistics New Zealand on the Census of Population and Dwellings ever since.

Statistics New Zealand is the country's national statistical office and produces a wealth of key social and economic information. While this might seem a far cry from my anthropology background the skills anthropology gave me have been very useful in my job here.

The five-yearly census is one of the largest community exercises undertaken in New Zealand, and involves counting every person and dwelling in the country. Anthropology has helped me to understand the diversity and complexity of the population we are measuring. This is important when we think about how we go about designing the questions that we ask, collecting the information from respondents, and interpreting the information that we get back.

Recently I have been fortunate to be able to use some of the qualitative research methods that I learnt in Anthropology. I conducted some questionnaire design research into an emerging ethnic identity in New Zealand.  I used cognitive interviews and focus groups to gather the information, and my critical analysis skills to interpret the information and write up the results. I really enjoyed my time studying Anthropology at Victoria University. I made a lot of great friends who are doing a diverse range of interesting things with their Anthropology degree. I would do it all again and am even considering taking some time out to do my Master's!

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