Dr Julie Sera Spray

PhD in Anthropology; MA (First Class) in Anthropology; BA (Hons) (First Class) in Anthropology; BFA (Hons) (Second class first division); BA


Born in New Zealand, Julie appreciates the unique challenges and rewards of doing anthropology at home as her research explores the experiences of children and young people in Auckland. Her MA, also from the University of Auckland, used a biocultural approach to investigating children’s experiences of stress in relation to their peer ecologies. Julie has tutored undergraduates at the University of Auckland for a number of years in diverse subjects ranging from evolutionary theory to women’s studies, and worked as a teaching assistant for Auckland University of Technology’s School of Interdisciplinary Studies. In addition Julie has conducted research for Auckland University, the Auckland District Health Board, and various NGOs, with a special interest in health and young people. Julie is also actively involved in her local community as a phone counsellor, mentor, and group facilitator at Youthline, where she is also an NZQA accredited assessor for the National Certificate in Youth Work.

Research | Current

Thesis title: The Practices of Childhood: Coproducing Health in Aotearoa New Zealand

This research aims to understand how children experience, understand, and participate in their health. In Aotearoa New Zealand, Māori and Pasifika children are inequitably impacted by acute and chronic illness, particularly those living in low socio-economic areas. A large, interdisciplinary body of research has considered questions of child health inequities, identifying the role of structural determinants of health: for example, links between housing and distribution of morbidity. Yet children are not passive recipients of health care, but actively negotiate social relations and collectively produce cultural meanings and practices. What, then, are the impacts of such activities on child health; what are the processes through which children help to shape their own wellbeing?

I approach these questions through ethnographic fieldwork in a school with children aged between 8-12, located in an area of South Auckland characterised by social marginalisation and material deprivation.Using the concept of health as a coproduction, I document how children’s practices are produced from their bodily experiences within contexts that are shaped by wider political-economic and social forces. These practices, such as monitoring the body, eating, using pharmaceuticals, negotiating health care, risk management, and constructing relationships can, in turn, help to pattern children’s bodies and health in significant ways. Findings from this thesis suggest ways to make children’s understandings and activities more visible in child policy without implying responsibility for their own health status.

Supervisors: Assoc. Prof. Susanna Trnka, Assoc. Prof. Judith Littleton.

Areas of expertise

Medical Anthropology

Anthropology of Childhood

Stress and Coping

Biocultural Approaches to Anthropology

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Spray, J. (2020). The Children in Child Health Negotiating Young Lives and Health in New Zealand. Rutgers University Press. Pages: 244.
  • Ameratunga, S., Spray, J., Anderson, A., Wiles, J., Witten, K., Ofanoa, M., ... Willing, E. (2019). Inclusive Streetscapes: Disabled people and older citizens charting a roadmap to equity. Journal of Transport and Health, 14.10.1016/j.jth.2019.100729
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Malakai 'Ofanoa, Shanthi Ameratunga, Anneka Anderson, Janine Wiles, Roshini Peiris-John
  • Spray, J., Floyd, B., Littleton, J., Trnka, S., & Mattison, S. (2018). Social group dynamics predict stress variability among children in a New Zealand classroom. Homo : internationale Zeitschrift fur die vergleichende Forschung am Menschen, 69 (1-2), 50-61. 10.1016/j.jchb.2018.03.005
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Judith Littleton, Susanna Trnka
  • Spray, J. S. (2018). The Practices of Childhood: Coproducing Child Health in Aotearoa New Zealand The University of Auckland. ResearchSpace@Auckland.
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/37490
  • Spray, J. (2018). The Value of Anthropology in Child Health Policy. Anthropology in Action, 25 (1).10.3167/aia.2018.250104

Contact details

Primary office location

BAYREUTH - Bldg 220
Level G, Room G01
New Zealand