Cultural Anthropology students

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.


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.


Sophia Edwards

PhD Student 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.


Jonathan Foster

MA Student in Cultural Anthropology

Supervisors: Dr Caroline Bennett and Dr Wolffram

Pathways Home: mobility and being in the lifeworlds of Wellington's homeless community

I intend to bring an anthropological perspective to bear on the phenomenon of homelessness in Wellington central, analysing the way in which members of the homeless community navigate their paths through complex and at times hostile living environments, in order to gain a more nuanced understanding of their lifeworlds. I am interested in questions of meaning making, and the place of wellbeing, within the lifeworlds of Wellington’s homeless community. As such, my research will examine whether homeless people are able to achieve a sense of home and wellbeing, as well as create meaning, in the face of adversity on their journeys through everyday life. Through this I hope to better understand, and highlight, the complex cultural and socio-political dimensions that shape homeless peoples’ experiences in their day-to-day movements, as well as the ways in which they might derive meaning from their everyday existences. I hope this will increase the visibility of ways in which structural and personal factors may intersect in the everyday lives of people living on the streets, as well as the nuanced issues surrounding cycles of homelessness in Wellington, shifting public attitudes towards a deeper understanding of the phenomenon and thereby opening up space for meaningful discussion on ways to engage with homelessness.


Hannah Gibson

PhD Student in Cultural Anthropology

Supervisors: Dr Catherine Trundle and Caroline Bennett

Exploring Surrogacy within New Zealand

A topic that is found at the intersection of parenthood, medical interventions, and politics, surrogacy engages with the social and ethical implications of medicine and biotechnology.  In New Zealand, whilst commissioning someone to carry a baby is prohibited, altruistic surrogacy is legal. This includes traditional or partial surrogacy (whereby the woman also donates genetic material as well as carrying the baby) and gestational (where the woman has no genetic connection to the baby).

The Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ECART) claim that the shortage of surrogates and eggs (where required) motivates New Zealanders to go overseas to locate Cross-Border Reproductive Services, or international surrogacy. The practice is not prohibited by New Zealand law, yet with no international guidelines in place, this global market carries the dangers of intended parents and surrogates being exploited. As a result, offspring can be left vulnerable, with possible parent-child, immigration and citizenship status in question. I aim to situate the global debate within a local purview to facilitate discussion on how New Zealand domestic surrogacy regulations influence people in their decision to pursue surrogacy overseas.

For my research, I will be exploring the everyday domain of reproductive practices and conducting experience-centred research that examines the reproductive hopes, motivations, and experiences of intended parents and surrogates. This includes how they navigate the biomedical, legal, and regulatory processes and challenges. I am particularly interested in personal narratives in response to contested citizenship rights when a parent has ‘biological status’ without the parental privileges that a surrogate mother receives, altruistic notions of ‘gift giving’ and monetary payment as two distinct payment types, and how peoples’ relationships are constructed via changing circumstances and to see when these intersect with or are distinct from bureaucratic and medical worlds. I seek to contribute to policy, ethical, and regulatory debates regarding surrogacy, as well as the broader topic of reproduction and parenthood in contemporary New Zealand.


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.


Tom Loffhagen

MA Student in Cultural Anthropology

Supervisor:Dr Catherine Trundle and Dr Caroline Bennett

Intersection care: Multiplicitiess of suicuide prevention in New Zealand

With one of the highest youth suicide rates, and high rates among both males and Maori, suicide prevention in New Zealand is undoubtedly a social necessity. My research focuses on just this, preventative care of suicidality in New Zealand. The tensions and contradictions that can often arise in caring for another become visible at the intersections between the professional and the intimate. There is often conflict between structure and agency, between temporality and intimacy. It often involves contradictions between altruism and control, coercion and kindness. These tensions that often lie at the intersections of care, between those that are giving care and those that are being cared for, are at the heart of what this research is focused on


Tanja Rother

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.


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!