Our Research

Our research in the School of Social Sciences is interdisciplinary and international. These interdisciplinary themes represent just some of the issues investigated by our passionate staff:

  • The retreat from the sea
  • Evangelical religions in the Pacific
  • Disability activism
  • The impact of climate change on indigenous peoples
  • The future of farming
  • Intersex and transgender rights
  • Oral history
  • The impacts of the pandemic
  • Whakapapa
  • Ethics
  • Calculating the surface melt rate of Antarctic glaciers
  • Ownership of the ocean
  • Intransigent beliefs
  • The housing crisis
  • Perspectives on gene-editing
  • The influence of Taniwha
  • International security

Research Success

Below are some of our recent research successes and larger grants awarded to School of Social Sciences staff.


NIWA/Environmental Planning Programme

Awarded $3 million by the MBIE Endeavour Fund

Reducing flood inundation hazard and risk across Aotearoa/New Zealand

Flooding is one of New Zealand’s most damaging hazards. It is also the hazard that will change the most rapidly in intensity and nature as climate change impacts become realised. For instance, flash flooding caused by very heavy rainfall over a short period of time is expected to increase the most dramatically. At the same time our country is undergoing intense urban development, that if not linked to climate futures will increase the risk to people’s homes and wellbeing. These dual challenges make reducing flood risk extremely difficult for our current planning and response systems. There is a knowledge vacuum about the scale of these problems, the integration of different policy domains, and the details of how different parts of the country will be affected. Our research programme will support the changes that are needed. We will produce New Zealand’s first consistent national flood map, showing where flooding is likely to occur, but also identify how vulnerable our assets and taonga are. In partnership with local and central government agencies, iwi, communities and key financial organisations we will work collaboratively to design, test and establish novel decision-making practices that integrate different climate and socio-economic projections and promote proactive adaptation to changing flood risks. Recent flooding events have demonstrated the ongoing impacts of flooding are not restricted to rescuing those inundated by water but are felt widely through society and the economy. We will work closely with communities to understand these cascading impacts and how we can be better prepared for them. This programme will generate information and guidance that is immediately relevant as local and central government form the regulations and policy that will drive our response to climate change.


Dr Charlotte Greenhalgh

Awarded $300,000 by the Royal Society Te Apārangi: Marsden Fund

Hapū: Women and Pregnancy in Twentieth-century New Zealand

Twentieth-century New Zealand women remade gender roles at work and in the home while medical advances transformed the management of their pregnancies. Yet there is no major study of women’s experiences of pregnancy during this period of significant change, either in New Zealand or internationally. While scholars have explored aspects of contraception, abortion, and childbirth, this is the first sustained examination of women’s responses to pregnancy itself. The project takes pregnant women’s decision-making about work and family as its starting point to consider the history of gender in the twentieth century and the evolving possibilities of women’s lives. Along the way, the project asks and answers questions about the personal impact of medical and technical advances, the experiences and political leadership of Māori and migrant women, and the shifting status of women’s testimony over time. Events of the twentieth century raise urgent questions about how and why gender inequality has persisted amid momentous social change. This project answers those questions by examining the opportunities and obligations of pregnant women across time. The research listens to previously ignored voices in order to connect the private lives of New Zealanders to large-scale changes in medicine, technology, society, and culture over 100 years.


Dr Fraser Macdonald

Awarded $300,000 by the Royal Society Te Apārangi: Marsden Fund

Melanesia Burning: The Explosion of Pentecostalism in the Western Pacific

The globalization of Pentecostal Christianity in the 20th century was a development of enormous historical and religious significance. Within this narrative, the explosion of Pentecostalism in Melanesia in the 1970s remains an untold story. During this time, the spiritual worlds of people throughout Melanesia were radically transformed as the result of an intense Pentecostal revival brought from New Zealand that swept through the region like wildfire.  In society after society, Christians experienced visions, speaking in tongues, violent shaking, crying, and the confession of sins, all seen as unequivocal signs of the Holy Spirit at work.  This profound upheaval made Christianity significant within Melanesia in a way it had never been before, at the same time as inspiring a far reaching critique of local religious traditions. Anthropologists and missionaries have documented the uptake of Pentecostalism throughout Melanesia during this time, yet almost exclusively from the perspective of particular village communities. Through a combination of ethnographic and historical research, this project will bring together understandings of local conversions to Pentecostalism in Melanesia to provide a definitive account of how they were, in fact, interconnected parts of a much wider, regional religious movement that had its origins in New Zealand.


Dr Nēpia Mahuika

Awarded $817,000 by the Royal Society Te Apārangi: Marsden Fund

Ngā Hanganga Mātua o te Whakaako Hitori: Critical Pedagogies for History Educators in Aotearoa New Zealand

The Aotearoa New Zealand history curriculum reset (2022) has been called a “‘watershed moment’ for all New Zealanders.” It will include “key aspects” of our “shared” pasts with greater attention given to colonialism, the NZ Wars, and local iwi histories. While this “shift” is necessary, history educators across NZ will still struggle to teach Māori or critical colonial histories without the appropriate pedagogies and iwi historical literacies needed to address what some consider “difficult” or “treacherous” pasts. Our project surveys what pedagogical approaches are appropriate for teaching Indigenous and colonial histories here. In Aotearoa, there is scant work on Māori history concepts and pedagogies, with booklets like Te Takanga o te Wa (2015) merely scratching the surface.

Led by experts in NZ and Māori history, place-based, citizenship, and Treaty education, this project surveys the literature in critical and Indigenous pedagogies and synthesizes it with local knowledge. Working alongside three Māori cohorts - Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Porou, and the national Māori historians’ collective, Te Pouhere Kōrero – we will facilitate wānanga and conduct interviews to discuss multi-sensory Māori pedagogies and concepts. Our aim is to deepen the field and provide crucial concepts and pedagogies for history educators across all sectors.


Dr Justin Phillips

Awarded $360,000 by the Royal Society Te Apārangi: Marsden Fund

Answering the Christchurch Call: Investigating New Zealand-based white supremacist discourse on social media

The proliferation of white supremacist discourse on social media may represent the enduring challenge of our time. Despite our country leading the Call to better understand online extremism, debate continues regarding the size, scope, and nature of the online white supremacist presence here within New Zealand. This knowledge gap is all the more problematic, given social media operates as a premier space where white supremacists can seek to expand their ranks and incite further violence. Such online activity also presents important opportunities for researchers to more deeply understand these NZ-based individuals and groups. Our project is designed to address these critical knowledge gaps.  In order to do so, we complement a big data methodological perspective with detailed qualitative analyses to examine the domestic issue from both a macro and micro level. In turn, this research will help develop more comprehensive domestic data on the problem, and will serve as a foundation for us to strengthen understanding of NZ-based extremist online activities and beliefs. This research therefore seeks to offer a much needed, New Zealand specific answer to the Call.


Professor Katrina Roen

Awarded $838,000 by the Royal Society Te Apārangi: Marsden Fund

Beyond the cycle of shame and silence: A relational study of intersex experience

Children and young people with variations of sex characteristics (anatomical, hormonal and/or genetic traits sometimes called intersex variations) often find that the topic of their physical development is silenced and surrounded in shame. This cycle of silence and shame can have long term effects on emotional wellbeing and relationships, impacting on whānau / family and friends. The present study focuses on emotions and relationships, examining challenges that people face talking about variations of sex characteristics with significant others. This study asks: (i) what role do digital media play in shaping understandings and providing a forum for talking about variations of sex characteristics and, (ii) what opportunities are there for normalising and de-medicalising variations of sex characteristics in Aotearoa New Zealand, including opportunities that draw on indigenous models of wellbeing? Research participants will be invited to complete an online survey, participate in an interview and / or complete a digital diary. A creative approach to methods has been developed to suit a wide range of people, who may wish to remain anonymous, or may struggle to find words to describe their experience. This study takes a depathologising approach to addressing shame and silence around variations of sex characteristics.


Dr Kate Stevens

Awarded $300,000 by the Royal Society Te Apārangi: Marsden Fund

Urban island: Histories of dispossession and belonging in Suva

Land, village and family lie at the heart of identity and belonging throughout the Pacific, yet urban life has long evolved in parallel. This project examines Suva, Fiji’s capital, as a key space of cultural, economic, and environmental encounters: a central trade and tourism port at the heart of both British colonial rule and postcolonial regionalism. I will explore the contested process of Suva’s urbanisation from 1868—when a major Suva land purchase occurred—to the political coup of 2000, by examining the transformation of key spaces of integration and of separation in the urban environment. These spaces include the changing coastline and creeks, rara (village green) and parks, fences and boundaries, markets, cemeteries, and buildings. Largely absent in wider urban histories, this research considers what is distinctive about Pacific urbanisation, and situates Suva as an indigenous Pacific environment, as well as a colonial one, from its foundation. Using diverse sources, including archives, interviews, and literature, I will investigate the historical dimensions of urbanisation and the displacements and opportunities it produced for indigenous Fijians and diverse newcomers. This research will contribute new historical knowledge on identity formation, economic inequality, and environmental transformation in an increasingly urban, multicultural Pacific.

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