Staff research projects

The New Zealand Election Study

Established in 1990, the New Zealand Election Study (NZES) has involved a number of staff from around the University of Auckland including Professor Raymond Miller (Politics and International Relations), Associate Professor Ann Sullivan (Mäori Studies), Associate Professor Jennifer Curtin (Politics and International Relations), and staff from the Centre of Methods and Policy Application in the Social Sciences (COMPASS), along with Professor Jack Vowles (Victoria University of Wellington) and Dr Hilde Coffe (Victoria University of Wellington). The NZES generates data from triennial surveys of the New Zealand electorate conducted after each general election. 

The survey asks fundamental questions about how New Zealanders perceive the political process. Through the analysis of political behaviour over successive New Zealand elections, it has monitored a transition between electoral systems, the outcomes of several referendum, and the ongoing decline in turnout.

Other aspects of the study have focused on: Mäori political behaviour; campaign effects; support for minor parties; youth engagement; and, the gender gap in voting behaviour.

Jennifer Curtin, Jack Vowles and Hilde Coffe are currently analysing the 2014 data with a book to be published in early 2016. For more information contact Jennifer Curtin on

Civilian Casualties, Counterinsurgency and the Deaths of Others

Dr Thomas Gregory is currently working on a research project examining the changing ways we understand and frame civilian casualties in war.

The publication of United States Army Field Manual 3-24 in 2006 and the subsequent troop surge in Iraq signalled an important shift in the way the US wages its wars. The counterinsurgency doctrine championed by General Petraeus and his colleagues shifted attention away from kinetic operations against insurgents (enemy-centric warfare) towards winning the hearts and minds of the local people (population-centric warfare). Anthropologists, linguistics and sociologists were called upon to map out the "human terrain", enabling soldiers to better understand local customs and traditions so that they could wage a "culturally-sensitive war". At the same time, there was an important shift in the way that civilian casualties were framed and understood. The deaths of noncombatants were no longer viewed as a legal or moral concern but were framed as "strategic setbacks" that might alienate the population and undermine military operations.

The aim of this project is to explore shifting attitudes towards civilian casualties within US and United Kingdom counterinsurgency doctrine, tracing the ways in which the "civilian" and the "combatant" are produced within this discursive landscape. Furthermore, this project will investigate the extent to which this rhetoric helps to mask the violence inflicted upon the bodies of those living and dying on the frontlines of the war on terror.

Shifting the gaze, shifting the agenda: Local NGOs and food and livelihood security in small-scale urban development contexts

Dr Anita Lacey is engaged in an ongoing research project on small-scale urbanization and development challenges, and womens' experiences of and responses to these challenges. With the world’s population shifting increasingly to cities, attention is focused on the impacts of these urban shifts on large-scale urban spaces. Livelihood, food, resource, security, access and sustainability challenges as a result of urbanization are also felt, however, in small-scale urban environments, which remain an under-researched aspect of contemporary urbanization.  UN-Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme whose mandate is urbanization and its associated issues, has argued that in Africa, for example, it is in small scale cities of populations below 1 million that the most rapid growth in urbanization will occur. 

The research aims to do three things: to explore urbanization trends in both southern Africa and the Pacific region, the two regions performing worst in the UN Millennium Development Goals’ measures of development; to address the ways in which the contemporary development gaze does not accommodate urban lives; and to investigate in-depth the role of local-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) resisting neoliberal ‘slum’ upgrading programmes, and working on food and livelihood securities in four sites – Honiara, Solomon Islands, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, Windhoek, Namibia, and Gaborone, Botswana. The project necessarily considers other sites and is now moving beyond these initial focuses for a book project. Research findings from this project will contribute to the fields of international relations, postcolonial studies and development studies and address a key gap in research and policy on urbanization.

Silent citizenship and hidden economies: causes and experiences of everyday gender inequality in the Pacific Universities and the New Politics of Regional Development

Dr Anita Lacey and Associate Professor Yvonne Underhill-Sem (Development Studies) are engaged in research that asks in what ways do women in the Pacific concurrently engage in political life and diverse economic practices? How do these engagements reproduce and challenge gender inequality? Development policy-makers worldwide still predominantly conceive of women as marginal economic actors and silent citizens. This research challenges these limited conceptions, and brings new scholarly attention to the question of gender inequality and from a Pacific perspective. The innovation of this project is that it focuses on everyday activities in and around marketplaces across four Pacific countries in four regional and outer island markets: Munda (Solomon Islands), Salelologa (Samoa), Aitutaki (Cook Islands) and Tufi (Papua New Guinea).

This comparative multi-sited analysis provides crucial insights into the relationships between economic practices, political participation and gender inequality. This research is critical in the Pacific and globally as the post-2015, post-UN Millennium Development Goals development agenda calls for new insights into addressing gender inequality. Missing from international scholarly debates about women as economic actors and citizens is a Pacific perspective. This research provides this perspective and challenges the limited conceptions of policy-makers, arguing that they mistakenly diminish the intertwined political and economic complexities of womens' lives. It asks why, after so much scholarship to the contrary, these ideas persist. The research brings scholarly attention to how women in the Pacific simultaneously and often invisibly engage in diverse economic and political practices that can combat or contribute to gender inequality.

The Ministry of Public Input

Associate Professor Jennifer Lees-Marshment has recently completed research on political leadership and public input in government. Her book, The Ministry of Public Input, is being published in 2015. The book shows that as political leaders acknowledge the limits of their power and knowledge, they seek a diverse range of public input into government, but this raises profound practical and democratic questions as to how we ensure that public input is collected and processed appropriately and what political leaders are supposed to do with that public input.

Through interviews with 50 government ministers and 40 practitioners this research shows how politicians are becoming deliberative political leaders; integrating constructive input from inside and outside government into their decision-making. It also argues that we need to develop a permanent government unit to collect, process and communicate ongoing public input such as a Ministry or Commission of Public Input. By improving public input systems; acknowledging the limits of their own power and knowledge; and devolving solution-finding to others, politicians achieve change that lasts beyond their time in power. Public input is not irreconcilable with political leadership; it is essential to it.

Community Energy in New Zealand and the United Kingdom

Dr Julie MacArthur is the principal investigator in a two year (2015-2017) University of Auckland FRDF-funded project which investigates the development of community energy policy networks in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. 

Community energy refers to a range of locally-based collective associations that generate, purchase or distribute energy or manage energy use. These initiatives are theorized by a range of scholars to address issues of climate change mitigation as well as citizen engagement and empowerment. Significant differences exist, however, in where and how local actors play a role in energy systems. This project examines why and how particular jurisdictions adopt community energy policy supports, with a focus on two countries that differ significantly on the nature and level of engagement in community energy.

Dr MacArthur’s research focuses on the following questions:

  • Where and how state policies support the development of community energy projects?
  • What specific types of community power are targeted and why?
  • How are these networks structured and how do they operate?

Direct citizen participation in energy systems may help to translate public needs for sustainable power systems into policy action.

Behavioural Economics and Health Interventions

Associate Professor Martin Wilkinson is working with Paul Brown and Linda Cameron (University of California, Merced) and Denise Taylor (AUT).

Among many ways to behave unhealthily, people smoke and/or overeat and/or take little exercise and/or fail to take recommended medicines. Policymakers, employers, insurance companies, researchers, and health care providers are becoming increasingly interested in using principles from behavioural economics and psychology to persuade people to change their health-related behaviour and habits.

This multi-disciplinary team is trying to find out whether and how far successful interventions could and should be based on these principles. Martin’s particular interest is in the ethics of the interventions, which draws on his long-standing interests in paternalism and problems of irrationality and self-control.