Current research in Social Sciences and Public Policy

This page outlines some the current research being undertaken by academic staff in the AUT School of Social Sciences and Public Policy.

Digital media in children's and adolescents' lives

Children and adolescents are increasingly exposed to various forms of digital media. Ironically, in this 'information age', we actually understand very little about how the emergence, and rapid growth, of digital media impacts on development and wellbeing.

Dr Erik Landhuis and Professor Charles Crothers together with Associate Professors Erica Hinckson and Dr Wendy Wrapson from the Centre for Child Health Research, NIPHMHR, Health and Environmental Sciences, are exploring digital media use by New Zealand children and adolescents, and investigating the health and social consequences of digital media use by this population.

The initial phase involves conducting secondary analyses of data from two large longitudinal surveys; and a field research project to examine the physiological effects of sedentary behaviour.

Antarctica, governance and cryopolitics

Jane Verbitsky's current research focuses on Antarctic governance. Because of the lack of a sovereign government in Antarctica, the continent is governed through a unique, multilateral condominium governance system known as the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS).

"I have a particular interest in the key ATS decision-making group, the twenty eight Consultative Parties, and the tourism policy framework they have created in the white continent."

"Tourism in Antarctica has increased significantly since the 1980s, but I have argued that ATS tourism initiatives have not kept pace with real-time changes."

She says that the Consultative Parties need to urgently address and rectify this situation (preferably through a dedicated Tourism Convention) in order to maintain their legitimacy as the self-designated stewards of Antarctica.

Another set of Antarctic research interests lies in cosmopolitan democracy and environmental justice, and how these ideas relate to the composition of the ATS decision-making group and to Antarctica's role and status in the international system.

"There are some compelling, unanswered questions around these cryopolitical issues — for instance, is Antarctica an international commons, a global commons, or is it a Common Heritage of Mankind? Is the ATS the most appropriate governance system for the continent, or should Antarctic governance be overseen by the United Nations as the most globally representative inter-governmental organization?"

Back to top

Science Diplomacy

Dr Jane Verbitsky is working on science diplomacy projects that consider the potential utility and efficacy of this specialist form of public diplomacy in the contexts of international relations (the NZ-ASEAN relationship) and conflict resolution (the NZ-Fiji relationship).

Science diplomacy has been practiced by states for decades (albeit often under differing nomenclature), but has recently received academic attention internationally as a diplomatic tool with particular relevance and application in the current era of global politics.

Scholars have suggested that the end of the Cold War and bipolarity has ushered in a new period in international relations (the New World Order) that is particularly suited to the projection of soft power, and cultivation of cooperative bilateral and multilateral relations between states. Scholars have also noted the critical place of science and technology in dealing with common global issues (such as climate change, alleviation of disease through 'poverty vaccines', oceans pollution, and decommissioning of nuclear weapons) and, thus, the salience of science and technology in contemporary statecraft.

Back to top

Fighting Saved My Life: Narratives of Female Fighters on Violence and Femininity

With this study Antje Deckert seeks to approach violence in a more holistic way than criminological research traditionally does. Instead of focusing on illegal violence only or women as the victims of violence, this study looks at why women engage in legal violent behaviour, i.e. combat sports like Muay Thai, and relates the commitment to the sport to past violence experiences in childhood and intimate partner relationships. The study is grounded in a narrative understanding of self-making, meaning that individuals form their identities through narrative.

Back to top

State and Society in Greece, Ireland and Portugal

Dr Kate Nicholls completed a book in 2015 titled "Mediating Policy: Greece, Ireland and Portugal Before the Eurozone Crisis".

This project looks at the extent to which these three countries adjusted their social and economic development strategies in order to meet the labour market policy challenges associated with the requirements of 'knowledge based' economic growth, during the 1990s and early 2000s.

"I argue that the ability of each country to meet these challenges relied, in part, on the construction of mediating institutions capable of balancing functions of genuine consultation with the effective incorporation of interest groups."

"It also looks at the implications of the existence of these institutions and processes for how Greece, Ireland, and Portugal have coped with the post-2008 global financial crisis, which led to an explosion of government debt and an associated political crisis in each of these three countries.

Back to top

'Sexing' Indonesia

Associate Professor Sharyn Graham Davies says sexualities of Indonesian societies are multifarious, complex and constantly changing. Dominant ideals of female and male sexuality, and heteronormativity, are propagated by state, cultural and religious institutions whilst they are also continuously contested by popular culture and the everyday sexualities of Indonesians.

Indonesian sexualities are negotiated in a dynamic era paradoxically characterised by conservatism, liberalism and the accommodation of diversity. Public and private sexualities frequently diverge and the performance of multiple sexualities is increasingly evident.

Men have sex with men while maintaining relationships with their wives and other female lovers. Lesbian sex workers service predominantly male clients. Gay Christian groups meet to discuss their spirituality and their sexuality. School girls perform chastity while pursuing backstreet sexual liaisons.

The vast majority of Indonesians still marry in heterosexual unions, but little is known or enquired about their sexualities and how they conform with or contest state defined sexual roles and identities.

Calls for sexual modesty abound in public dialogue, and yet the consumption of sexual stories and scandal is a popular entertainment choice purveyed through mass media and a social fascination with celebrity sexualities and lifestyles. Indonesia’s reformation era (era reformasi) has expanded spaces for explicit debates of sexuality.

With generous funding from AUT, Associate Professor Sharyn Davies (AUT) and Dr Linda Bennett (University of Melbourne) are hosting a workshop entitled Sexing Indonesia: Sexual Subjectivities, Politics and Subcultures of the Reformasi era. The key outcome of this collaboration is a peer reviewed, edited book by the same name to be published by Routledge. The workshop will run from 5-7 November.

Back to top

Politics in Hard Times: The Impact of the Eurozone Crisis

Dr Kate Nicholls along with Debrin Foxcroft of the University of Waikato are assessing the impact of the post-2009 Eurozone Crisis on the "quality of democracy" in Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. It develops an analytical framework that outlines and operationalises several dimensions of democratic quality and presents some tentative conclusions not only about the political impact of the economic crisis in each country investigated, but also about why the quality of democracy in some countries has suffered more than others as a result of the crisis.

"Drawing on Tocqueville, we argue that the more things change, the more they stay the same," says Dr Nicholls.

"In short, countries that faced the crisis with a greater reserve of democratic quality built up over time weathered the storm better, whereas those with an already depleted stock suffered further erosions in terms of democratic quality."

Back to top

Attitude Strength, Persuasion, and the Prediction of Behaviour

Much of the current research Dr Jay Wood is conducting involves the attitudes that people hold. We have attitudes and opinions about a great many things in our environment; in fact, when it comes right down to it, we probably have some sort of evaluation about almost any product, person, or idea that we can think of.

Whereas some of these opinions are very strong and difficult to change, others are weaker and more susceptible to influence. What are the qualities and properties that make some attitudes more persistent over time, more resistant to change, and more impactful on our thoughts and behaviours?

One topic in social psychology that has been hotly debated over the years is whether people's attitudes and opinions can be used to predict their behaviour with any reasonable accuracy, or whether we are better off simply looking (for example) at what their friends are up to.

Thanks to science, we now have a firm answer to that question: "It depends." Nevertheless, I am interested in expanding that answer. When are people's attitudes good predictors of behaviour, and why? How can we better measure attitudes to make more accurate predictions?

I am also currently researching how the content of persuasive messages affects attitudinal processes.

Over the past several decades, researchers have made great strides in understanding when people are likely to be persuaded by the arguments contained in a persuasive message, and alternatively, when they are likely to be swayed by things that are less relevant to the topic at hand (e.g., the attractiveness of the source).

However, we know less about the features of the message itself that might make it more or less impactful in specific circumstances. When are fictional stories more persuasive than rational arguments? When does the logical structure of an argument matter?

Back to top

Neo-colonial criminology: decolonising research methods and academic discourse

This research, undertaken by Antje Deckert, seeks to determine quantitatively how prevalent the employment of 'silencing research methods' and the use of 'othering discourse' is in contemporary criminology. It is underpinned by a theoretical framework that connects discourse and power and views scholarly research as a distinctive means of exercising social control.

Fighting Saved My Life: Narratives of Female Fighters on Violence and Femininity

Antje Deckert looks at how women who engage in violent aggressive behaviour, like combat sports, are one of the most stigmatised groups in society because they contradict societal gender norms and expectations of feminine passivity and fragility. Therefore, women who train and compete in violent sports encounter negative attitudes and behaviours. This study seeks to explore why women engage in combat sports such as Muay Thai and seeks to relate the commitment to the sport to past violence experiences in childhood and intimate partner relationships. It is grounded in a narrative understanding of self-making, meaning that individuals form their identities through narrative.

Back to top

Public trust in the police and recent reforms to the Policing Act 2008

Dr John Buttle is focusing his research on a number of distinct areas in criminology via collaborations with colleagues that will result in future publications.

"I’m investigating the effect that controversial incidents have on public trust in the police," Says Dr Buttle.

"I’m involved with a comparative project that examines how independent New Zealand’s police complaints process is after recent reforms, and future research will investigate recent reforms that resulted from the Policing Act 2008.

"With colleagues, I'm seeking funding for future research on policing in Indonesia. I’m writing groundbreaking articles about policing in rural New Zealand."

Back to top

Child witnesses in the NZ criminal courts: A comparison of lawyers' and intermediaries' assessments of a child's cross-examination

Dr Kirsten Hanna and Dr Emily Henderson (independent researcher) have conducted successive analyses of court transcripts, which show that the way children are cross-examined in the New Zealand criminal courts is likely to reduce the quality and quantity of children's evidence. Recurring criticisms centre on the language used and the tactics of traditional cross-examination. The purpose of this study is twofold.

The first aim is to explore the differences and similarities between UK-based registered intermediaries' and New Zealand defence counsels' judgements about the appropriateness of the language used in the anonymised transcript of a child's cross-examination.

The second is to probe the legal participants' perceptions of the rationale underlying the tactics employed. The ultimate aim is to contribute to the slowly evolving debate over what might constitute a best-practice cross-examination (namely, one which is fair to both the defendant and the child witness).

Back to top

World Internet Programme (WIPNZ)

Charles continues as methodological advisor and team member with a concentration on methodological issues and focus group exploration. See the World Internet Project section.

Illusory experiences

Dr Erik Landhuis: Each of us has a subjective experience of the objective world 'out there'. The subjectivity of that experience leads to inter-individual variations of how that world is perceived. Those perceptions result in representations and interpretations, which in turn lead to decisions, intentions, and behaviours.

The more the subjective experience deviates from the objective reality, the more it can be said to be illusory. It is likely that the magnitude of those illusory experiences is somewhat adaptive and serves us well. However, too little or too much of the illusory experience is likely to result in poor decision-making and maladaptive behaviours.

I am currently designing a series of studies investigating the magnitude of illusory experiences (including auditory and visual illusions, apophenic phenomena, and illusory or perceived control) and how variability of illusory experiences between individuals predicts coping, self-regulation, and health behaviours. I think creativity may also be implicated.

Back to top

Faculty-funded Research projects: Charles Crothers

  • Pacific gatherings (funded by Pacific studies centre): The aim is to better understand the nature of collective gatherings participated in by Pacific groups in public places in Auckland. Fieldwork over summer has been completed.
  • Services for the Elderly — a secondary analysis of responses for older people across a set of appropriate NZ surveys has been carried out together with a literature review of NZ studies of the elderly has been carried out and materials for the policy review in relation to older people in NZ have been assembled. Appropriate community services data-bases of Auckland organisations have been scoured for the names of organisations/services which are particularly orientated towards older people; a draft questionnaire has been drawn up and an AUTEC application is in the process of development.
  • Food Consumption Patterns in NZ 1997-2009 (funded by Centre for Food Studies). A draft has been completed indicating profiles of food consumption in relation to life-styles.
  • Characteristics and Concerns of New Zealand's Pacific Populations (funded by Pacific Studies Centre) — assembly of appropriate data-sets to obtain a sufficient sample has been completed and socio-demographic profiles of each Pacific island grouping developed.
Back to top

International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioural Sciences

Professor Crothers has been commissioned to write several chapters for the second edition of the Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioural Sciences — these were published in 2015 by Elsevier. In particular areas of his expertise and in a couple of cases to more urgently fill gaps in the line-up of authors:

  • Collective Memory and Biography
  • Sociological Traditions.Social Structure: history of the concept.Biography: Robert Dahl
  • Biography: Jon Elster

The second edition of the International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, first published in 2001, will take full advantage of advances in electronic publishing.

As in the 1st edition, articles in the 2nd will be written by top international researchers, professors, and scholars. The articles will reveal the dynamics of current thinking about a given topic and discuss how it relates to other subjects.

The 2nd edition will include new pedagogical features (abstracts, suggested readings, cross-references). The 2nd edition will include articles on rapidly evolving subjects (psychology, neuroscience, evolution, artificial intelligence, human/computer interaction etc.).

Back to top

New Zealand Social Research Methodologies

Charles Crothers says this program of research is being done to describe and evaluate the methodological practice of social science research in New Zealand. Particular reference is made to New Zealand specificities (since methodological practice is broadly comparable across the world).

Work on this programme has included:

Back to top

Last updated: 19-Jan-2017 3.22pm

The information on this page was correct at time of publication. For a comprehensive overview of AUT qualifications, please refer to the Academic Calendar.