School of Social and Cultural Studies

Cultural Anthropology Students

Veronica Adams

Veronica Adams

MA Student in Cultural Anthropology

Supervisor: Catherine Trundle

The Pursuit of Pharmaceuticals: Understanding the Lived Experiences of Actors and Agengies Involved in the Quest for Access to Medical Treatments in New Zealand

My research project will use the method of qualitative interviewing to examine the experiences of individuals and health organisations involved in the pursuit of access to pharmaceuticals within New Zealand. Further, I seek to understand how historical, political and cultural factors that shape New Zealand’s current health terrain are influenced by, and influence, these individuals and health organisations. Understanding the experiences of these health-related actors are important as they uphold different and competing notions of health, illness and the role human rights play in the pursuit of pharmaceutical treatment.

Health is viewed as something that can be obtained through the consumption of pharmaceuticals, as treatment for disease becomes extensively tied to prescriptions for medication, allowing new cultural norms becoming inscribed to one’s biology. However, given the use of pharmaceuticals for treatment, the question needs to be asked how patients are able to obtain the medication they need. Is there equal access when it comes to obtaining and consuming pharmaceuticals within New Zealand?

Contact: veronica.adams@vuw.ac.nz

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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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Janepicha Cheva-Isarakul

Janepicha Cheva-Isarakul

PhD Student in Cultural Anthropology

Supervisors: Dr Catherine Trundle and Dr Lorena Gibson

How the Presence of Migrant Children in Thai Public Schools Shapes the Understanding of the Multiculturalism  

Chiang Mai, my hometown, is one of the main destinations for labour migrants from Myanmar. For more than a decade, I have had close interactions with the migrants and have closely observed the demographic changes and the tension between the Thai and "the other". Having been brought up by the second generation parents and having spent half of my life outside Thailand as "the other", I am familiar with the challenges facing the second generation immigrants. I believe that the growing number of second generation immigrants force the Thai state and Thai people to rethink the future of Thai identity and start a dialogue on multiculturalism in Thailand. I am interested in exploring how the presence of migrant children in Thai public schools shapes the understanding of the multiculturalism in other Thai children and how it affect the teachers’ attitudes and their pedagogic approach.

Contact:  Janepicha.Cheva-Isarakul@vuw.ac.nz

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Jared Commerer

Jared Commerer

MA Student in Cultural Anthropology

Supervisor: Catherine Trundle

Political Violence and the Emancipatory Potential of Anthropological Knowledge

As debates surrounding the status of anthropology as either an objective science or politically-engaged, moral enterprise continue to unfold, scholars examining the phenomenon of state terror and political violence remain adamant about their position as 'political advocates' for the oppressed (Scheper-Hughes 2004:3). Following Linda Green (1995), Jeffrey Sluka considers the construction of 'sites of resistance' and 'acts of solidarity' via ethnography as a central means for 'writing against terror' (2000:ix). Similarly, others argue for a shift towards a more emancipatory or liberation anthropology by maintaining the notion that 'neutrality is not an option' (Scheper-Hughes and Falla in Sluka 2000:20), and that the primary endeavour of anthropology should be to critique Western (capitalist) culture (Taussig 1980). For anthropologists, violence appears as a dichotomous, complex phenomena often constituted by a continuum or spectrum of experiences; hence, by considering the physical, symbolic, and structural configurations of violence, anthropological theories in this domain vary widely in their focus and scope. Thus, my current master's thesis aims to examine some of the ontological presuppositions that are attributes of a uniquely anthropological approach to understanding, explaining, and resisting state violence. Furthermore, I endeavour to address questions surrounding how this 'uniqueness' has the potential to constrain or contribute to the actualisation of the emancipatory aims held by anthropologists concerned with political violence and state terror.

Contact: jared.commerer@vuw.ac.nz

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Sophia Edwards

Sophia Edwards

PhD in Cultural Anthropology

Supervisors: Dr Catherine Trundle and Dr Lorena Gibson

Cross-cultural Relations, Cultural Belonging and Ethnic Identity in a Globalised World

My research will look at cross-cultural relations, cultural belonging and ethnic identity in a globalised world, focusing on interracial romance, marriage and family formation. Postcolonialism, continuing diasporas and ever-accelerating globalisation have contributed to an understanding of ethnicity as relational. Contemporary cultural theorists recognise the need for historical contextualisation when exploring identity politics and have addressed identity formation as a social process, sculpted by relationships of power and often by the politics of a dominant culture. I am interested in how this reading of cultural identity – as a product of hegemonic relations – is complicated by multiraciality, not necessarily of nations and communities, but of families and individuals.

Contact: sophia.edwards@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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Shani Luxford

Shani Luxford

MA Student in Cultural Anthropology

Supervisor: Professor Brigitte Bönisch-Brednich

Samili Women and Re-Imagined Idenity: The Roll of Narrative and Autobiography

Having recently returned from living in Somaliland ( where I spent the last 3 months) my experiences there helped influence the area I will now be researching. Part of that research will be to analyse how Somali women come to reimagine their identities through narrative and autobiographical processes. I am aiming to analyse three famous female Somali autobiographies to show how they highlight changes in identity through their experiences of transnational movement. The plan is to conduct focus groups and/or interviews with Somali women from the Wellington community.  I hope to see if the autobiographical processes and accounts fit with the narratives expressed by everyday Somali women and this can show the progression of identity.

Contact: shani.luxford@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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