School of Psychology - Leading psychological science, scholarship and practice

Psychology and Social Issues Group

Kia Ora and welcome to the Psychology and Social Issues (PSI) group at the University of Auckland. Our aim is to encourage and support research in critical psychologies, indigenous psychology, feminist psychology and gender, critical race and cultural studies.

The PSI consists primarily of psychology staff and their graduate students, who meet once a week during semester to discuss research in process and relevant theoretical and methodological issues. Former members also often stay involved, and we also host visitors and occasional symposia, and organise wider school seminars by visiting academics.

A number undergraduate and postgraduate courses related to our field are available within the School of Psychology.

Undergraduate courses

·        PSYCH 204: Social Psychology – module on critical social and Indigenous psychologies

·        PSYCH 208: Producing Psychological Knowledge – good methodological background

·        PSYCH 306: Research Methods in Psychology – module on qualitative methods

·        PSYCH 311: Advanced Social Psychology – module on critical social psychology

·        PSYCH 319: Psychology and Gender

Postgraduate courses

·        PSYCH 715  Psychology and Sustainability

·        PSYCH 717: Community Psychology

·        PSYCH 726: Emotion and Identity

·        PSYCH 743: Critical Qualitative Research

·        PSYCH 755: Gender, Power, and Sexuality


For more information, or if you would like to visit and present your work please contact us via the details below.

Coordinator of PSI
Associate Professor Virginia Braun


Psychology and Social Issues group members in the School of Psychology

Staff members

Virginia Braun  

In my research, I am interested in examining the relationship between the social, the scientific and the individual, in relation to bodies, sexuality and health. My research examines the influence of culture and society on individual choices, thoughts, feelings and behaviours, as well as on broader issues like public health policy and practice. My research is specifically influenced by feminist, social constructionist, and discursive theory and practice, and tends to employ qualitative methodologies. I am currently engaged in projects related to (women's) health, sexuality, the body, and popular culture on, ‘body hair,’ ‘female genital cosmetic surgery’, neoliberal embodiment, and pornography. I’m about to start research into new so-called ‘healthy eating’ food movements. In addition, I have a branch of research and writing related to qualitative research. With Victoria Clarke (University of the West of England, UK), I have focused on the area of ‘thematic analysis’. We have recently written a qualitative textbook: Successful qualitative research: A practical guide for beginners, are currently editing a book (with Debra Gray) on Collecting Qualitative Data (Cambridge University Press), and are about to start a book on Doing Thematic Analysis (SAGE).

Sue Cowie

My research interests are around women's experiences of major life transitions and the struggles between careers, relationships and raising children in New Zealand today. In this context, I am also interested in women's experiences of depression, recovery and re-experience. I recently completed a PhD research in this area and interviewed 22 women who had previously experienced postnatal depression prior to and after the birth of their second child.

Nicola Gavey  

Nicola has wide-ranging interests within a critical psychology of gender. The central focus of her research has been understanding and challenging the ways that normative cultural values and practices support rape and sexual coercion. Her current work looks at the place of pornography within the ‘cultural scaffolding of rape’, and the ways in which critical engagement with the misogyny, sexism and racism within it is defused through the rhetoric of (neo)liberalism and postfeminism. She is working with several colleagues on a Marsden funded project that aims to revitalize wider critical engagement around these issues. Other key interests include violence against women, biomedicalization, and activism.

Kerry Gibson

My research involves applying critical psychology ideas to issues in the domain of clinical psychology.  I have done research in trauma and sexual abuse.  More recently I have been researching ‘service users’ experiences including the experiences of those using antidepressants.  I also have a particular interest in youth culture and young people’s experience of psychological difficulties and services.  I am interested in using a range of qualitative methods but particularly those informed by a narrative perspective.

Shiloh Groot

My research adopts an Indigenous, community, and critical approach to social psychology and employs qualitative methodologies. These methods may involve extensive field work, innovative visual methods for collecting data, case conferences with staff and clients, and photo-production projects and photo-elicitation interviews.  Specifically, my research interests include Indigenous worldviews and communities, resilience and agency, sex work, poverty and homelessness, and social justice and human rights. Previous strands of research have included an exploration of the complexities of intergroup relations between housed and homeless people, and tensions between empathy and pity and repulsion and vilification. Such intergroup relations can be viewed through the conceptual lenses of abjection, home-making, resilience, and whakama. My research places emphasis on action-oriented social science, where not only does theory and research inform practice, but practice also shapes the refinement of theory and research.

Jade Le Grice

My research in Psychology draws upon Kaupapa Maori research, Mana Wāhine research, critical psychology, and intersectional theory to understand the cultural nexus of indigenous and western knowledge, colonising influence, response, and intervention. My recently completed PhD (November, 2014) investigated what reproduction means for Maori, casting a net around the wider phenomenon to understand reproductive decisions, parenting, sexuality education, maternities and abortion, as spheres of mutual influence. I am currently involved in research collaborations on the topics of Maori youth suicide; Maori sexuality and sexualisation; wairua, affect and national days. Interwoven within these broad research interests are opportunities to explore, craft and create meaningful engagement, and supportive ways of relating to ourselves and others in a social context that does not make this easy.

Margaret Wetherell

My research has been focused on identity studies and developing discourse theory and method for critical psychological investigations. Recently I have been working on affect and emotion and the affective positions, feeling narratives and affective practices characteristic of different sites of everyday social and institutional life. This new work was published in Affect and Emotion (London: Sage) in 2012. My empirical research has focused on identity and ideological practices examining, for instance, middle-class Pakeha discourses of race and culture, men and masculinities and institutions of deliberative democracy. I am currently working with colleagues at Massey University on a Marsden grant examining affect, wairua and national commemoration linked to Waitangi Day and Anzac Day.


Doctoral Students

Paulette Benton-Greig (Women’s Studies Programme)

My abiding interest is in freedom and justice in gender and sexual relations and my various research and work activities bring that interest to life. My doctoral research, supervised by Nicola Gavey (Psychology) and Maureen Molloy (Anthropology), investigates the socio-cultural context and lived experiences of women’s online sex-seeking. As the internet opens up greater opportunity for women to participate in non-normative sexual activity, what are the experiences, practices and meanings associated with partaking in such? And what might they tell us about the discursive and material possibilities and limitations for women’s sexual freedom in contemporary Aotearoa? I am also the project manager for the ‘Pornography in the Public Eye’ programme of research (for Nicola Gavey and Virginia Braun) and work for Project Restore – an internationally unique restorative justice service for sexual violence. Inherent in all these projects is a parallel interest in the processes of personal and social change; mixing up research, advocacy, policy and subjectivity to achieve and sustain social equity and justice.

Octavia Calder-Dawe

My research is guided by an interest in how social knowledge makes claims on us and shapes desires and practices. My particular interests include theorising and doing social change and examining prevailing ideas about sexuality, gender and bodies through a critical feminist lens. My doctoral research is part of the ‘Pornography in the Public Eye’ research project. My thesis is structured around the design and praxis of social change-oriented workshops with young people addressing (hetero)sexism, gender inequality and socially constructed injustice. I am committed to critical, participatory research and I aim to put my work ‘to work’: disrupting oppressive knowledge and opening up alternative ways of thinking and being.

Nicola Chadwick

I am interested in dynamics of power and language that operate in often subtle ways in our everyday life. My interest in critical psychology has developed alongside my clinical psychology training. Critical psychology perspectives have heightened my awareness of the ways in which clinical psychology can be seen to implicitly and inadvertently work to individualise and depoliticise clients and their problems, in ways that may reproduce societal power differentials and inequalities. In my doctoral thesis I aim to explore ways of working in clinical psychology practice that are sensitive to these concerns, by running focus groups and individual interviews with clinical psychologists who take an interest in social justice and critical psychology perspectives in relation to their practice.

Maree Martinussen

My overarching motivations lie in exposing the complexity, subtlety and fluidity of everyday lived experience relating to gender and sexuality. I'm particularly interested in studying the meaning making process of doing intimacies in the space of friendship, including the identity work that constitutes it, and the ideologies that underpin it. I use discourse analytic methods that focus attention on the interface between the individual and the social. My PhD research explores the friendship experiences of women in their early mid-life, particularly the strategies employed in managing friendships alongside competing demands that come with romantic partners and family life. Working with transdisciplinarity in mind is important to me and I draw from critical psychology, discursive psychology, sociology, and a range of feminist perspectives relating to intimacy and personal life in my research.

Michelle G. Ong

My current research project is on Filipina migrant’s embodiment of ageing. For this project I am using a critical feminist framework together with indigenous Filipino psychology (Sikolohiyang Pilipino) to interrogate ageing Filipinas’ meaning-making around ageing within their context as migrants to New Zealand. I hope that the study contributes to the continued development and relevance of these two frameworks for investigating Filipina experiences, and to our understanding of the ways in which individuals creatively negotiate with and navigate through the multiple discourses that are available. My other research interests include a range of issues related to children’s rights and children’s participation, Sikolohiyang Pilipino, and the body. [HM1]

George Parker

George Parker is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology as well as Senior Policy Analyst at Women’s Health Action Trust. George’s doctoral research is drawing on feminist, intersectional, and governmentality theories to examine the construction of “maternal obesity” and fetal programming as significant new public health problems and the implications for the reproductive health care experiences and maternal subjectivities of fat women, and for social justice in health more generally.

Alex McConville

My research examines meanings and practices around commemoration and celebration days such as Waitangi Day and ANZAC Day. I explore how contemporary patterns of affect and emotion are distributed across these sites and relate to wider forms of national belonging, identity struggles, and cultural relations in Aotearoa.

Helen van der Merwe

I am interested in investigating the affective practices of clinical psychologists. I want to look critically at the subject position of the clinical psychologist and reflect on how the expression of emotion and reactions to the emotional expression of clients could contribute to the reproduction of the power relations implicit in the therapeutic relationship. This area of research has the potential to produce an awareness of how psychologists’ taken-for-granted reactions to clients’ expressions of emotion reproduces certain ideologies. Becoming a psychologist involves emotional restructuring and this research will provide a framework for reflecting on this process.

Morgyn Hartdegen

My research will involve exploring the views and experiences of clinicians in managing the suicide risk of their clients. There will be a particular focus on the emotional experiences of clinicians and how their views, expectations, and understandings of managing suicide risk impact their ongoing engagements with their clients. This data will be collected through a combination of focus groups and individual interviews with clinicians. This research will aim to highlight how suicide is viewed in New Zealand by clinicians and to increase clinicians' awareness of how their perceptions and experiences of managing suicide risk impacts their ongoing work and therapeutic relationship with clients. This research could lead to a training package in order to assist clinicians in understanding and managing their own emotional process and responses related to the management of clients' suicide risk.

Anna Walters

My research explores young Māori adults’ retrospective perspectives on what was helpful for them in surviving whānau violence as children. My current research project seeks to explore and understand what helps build resilience in Māori tamariki (children) who have been exposed to or experienced whānau violence.


Current Masters and Honours students

Karishma Beach (Masters)

Sophie Sills-Younger (Masters)

Chelsea Pickens (Masters)

Anoosh Frankin (Hours)

Caitlyn Drinkwater (Honours)

Tess Venderberg (Honours)

Simon Zhu (Honours)


Former members of the School of Psychology who are still actively involved in group meetings

Panteá Farvid (now at Auckland University of Technology)

Alex Li (now in the Faculty of Education, University of Auckland)