Diary of a summer scholar: Kahn Tasker

02 March 2017
Kahn Tasker

Kahn completed a Summer Research Scholarship on legal highs, moral panics and vigilantism with Dr Claire Meehan.

Human behaviour is extremely complex. Our interactions and decisions are shaped by a wide array of individual and social factors that provide a fascinating avenue of study. My Bachelor of Arts majoring in Psychology and Sociology was the perfect choice to learn more about the driving forces behind our actions.

I came to university with the intention of pursuing a career in clinical psychology, so being chosen to do a Summer Research Scholarship in criminology was a pleasant surprise. This opportunity provided me with invaluable knowledge and experience relating to understanding people through a sociological lens.

My project revolved around the possible link between legal highs, moral panics and vigilantism.

During 2011-2014 there was a huge amount of controversy regarding synthetic cannabis in New Zealand. By analysing media articles and comments over the last five years and reviewing relevant literature I sought to determine the factors behind the popularity of synthetic cannabis, reasons surrounding the subsequent societal 'panic' and whether this lead to any form of vigilante action.

Jock Young, a prominent writer in criminology, comments that "drugs are a fertile source of social anxiety".

This was undoubtedly the case in New Zealand. The dominating question in the public eye was why were synthetics legal, if they caused so much damage to health and society?

Similar to alcohol, synthetic cannabis was easily accessible and readily available to most — usually at your local dairy. It was this 'normalisation', coupled with the health problems, that evoked the concern and fear that led to a societal panic.

The highlight of the project was a theoretical model that I proposed regarding the process by which the legal high saga in New Zealand played out. My model concentrates on the interaction between the perspectives of legal high users, the way media shapes and distorts public opinion, the general public reaction, and the impact this has had on government legislation.

In our first meeting Claire said that she didn't want to treat me solely as a research assistant. Her passion and enthusiasm for the subject is infectious and she let me take control of the project from day one. My insights from other disciplines such as psychology were always a welcome addition. Most days we would bounce new ideas off each other and come up with new avenues to explore.

My Summer Research Scholarship has been an amazing experience. It has enhanced my critical thinking skills and given me exposure to various qualitative research methods. I am well prepared for postgraduate study and have been afforded several unique opportunities, including being invited to speak about my work at a staff seminar and the possibility of publishing my findings in an academic journal article.

The defining aspect of the scholarship for me was the amount of passion and creativity I could bring to my research. Criminology concerns the study of not just crime, but its prevention, causes and consequences. By incorporating study from sociology and psychology I feel all the more richer in my knowledge and understanding of the underlying problems within society.

To other Arts students out there, it is really important to take pride in your degree, follow your passion and seize every opportunity you can. Undertaking research in criminology was unexpected for me, but has given me an invaluable sense of depth and meaning that will continue through the rest of my degree and career.

Find out more about Summer Research Scholarships