Associate Professor Susanna Helen Trnka

BA (University of California at Berkeley), PhD (Princeton University)

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Associate Professor

Research | Current

I am a social anthropologist whose primary research areas are the body, state-citizen relations, and subjectivity. My specific interests include the politics of the body; embodiment and affect; the politics of medicine; crises and states of emergency; Covid-19 responses; science and technology studies; new health technologies; history, memory, and the senses; and political violence. I currently conduct research in the Czech Republic and New Zealand, and have in the past worked in Fiji.

My examinations of Covid-19 responses in New Zealand have appeared in Anthropology Today, The Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Social Anthropology, and Sites. I have co-edited a special issue on the ethics of proximity in light of Covid-19, which will appear in Cultural Anthropology in August 2021.

My most recent book project is a phenomenologically-inspired, ethnographic examination of our ways of seeing, experiencing, and moving through the world and the kinds of persons we become through them, a process I refer to as traversing. Drawing from philosophical concepts developed by two continental philosophers, Martin Heidegger and Jan Patočka, and putting them in conversation with ethnographic analysis of the lives of contemporary Czechs, the book examines how embodiment is crucial for understanding our being-in-the-world. In particular, I examine three kinds of movements we make as embodied actors in the world: how we move through time and space, be it by walking along city streets, gliding across the dance floor, or clicking our way across digital landscapes; how we move towards and away from one another, as erotic partners, family members, or fearful, ethnic “others;” and how we move towards ourselves and the earth we live upon. Traversing: Embodied Lifeworlds in the Czech Republic was published by Cornell University Press in May 2020.

Currently I am leading a multi-disciplinary, research team in an examination of young New Zealanders’ uses of digital technology for promoting mental wellbeing and their effect on patient agency and patient-doctor communication. Funded by a Royal Society Marsden grant, "Ka Hao te Rangatahi: Fishing with a New Net? Rethinking Responsibility for Youth Mental Health in the Digital Age" is a collaborative endeavour involving specialists from medical anthropology, clinical psychology, Kaupapa Māori psychology, Pacific studies, and medical ethics. My publications from this project have appeared in Social Science & Medicine, and Engaging Science, Technology, and Society.

Prior to these projects, I conducted research on the politics of childhood asthma in New Zealand and the Czech Republic. Supported in part by a grant from the New Zealand Asthma Foundation, I engaged in a cross-cultural comparison of how neoliberal reforms are redefining patienthood – in particular, how we allocate personal and collective responsibility over health, care, and the environment – and the effects of these changes on children’s health and wellbeing. My book on this topic, One Blue Child: Asthma, Responsibility, and the Politics of Global Health, was published by Stanford University Press in 2017.

I have also been involved in a wider critical re-evaluation of notions of responsibility. In collaboration with Catherine Trundle, I have been exploring the notion of “competing responsibilities” as a way of framing the multiple forms of responsibility that shape contemporary social life. Our edited book, Competing Responsibilities: The Politics and Ethics of Social Life, was published by Duke University Press in 2017.

For more information on my research, see:;

Teaching | Current

ANTHRO 760 Anthropological Theory and the Contemporary World

(on Research & Study Leave Semester 2, 2021)

Postgraduate supervision

Current PhD students

  • Lloyd Johns. Primary supervisor. Topic: Alcohol Use and Sociality among West Aucklanders.
  • Adriano de Francesco. Primary supervisor. Topic: Affective in High School Encounters
  • Danjel Hall. Co-supervisor. Topic: Affect, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), and Innovation. (PhD in Education).
  • Shauney Thompson. Co-supervisor. Topic: Young People, Digital Tech, and Mental Health. (DClinicPsych).
  • Anja Uhlmann. Co-supervisor. Topic: Young Women, Agency, and Identity in the Cook Islands.

Past PhD students

  • Julie Spray. Primary supervisor. Thesis title: “The Practices of Childhood: Coproducing Child Health in Aotearoa New Zealand.”    >  Awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Best Thesis Prize (2018) and the Society for Medical Anthropology Dissertation Award (2019)
  • Faruk Shah. Co-supervisor. Thesis title: “An Ethnography of Biomedicine and Healing in Rural Bangladesh.”
  • Sarah Krose. Co-supervisor. Thesis title: “Same People, Different People: Recognition, Knowledge and the (Re)construction of Relationships in Bilua, Vella Lavella.”
  • Hadas Ore. Primary supervisor. Thesis title: "Can Home Come in a Tin Can? Senses and Emotions in Migrant Jewish-Israeli Mothers' Foodways in New Zealand.”
  • Anthony O’Connor. Primary supervisor. Thesis title: “Governing Bodies: A Māori Healing Tradition in a Bicultural State."

Current MA students

  • Miriama Aoake. Primary supervisor. Māori Responses to the State's Handling of Covid-19.
  • Imogen Spray. Primary supervisor. Parkinson's Online Support Groups.
  • Tayla Muir. Primary supervisor. Youth Mental Health Online.
  • Brodie Quinn. Co-supervisor. Memory and Religious Identity in Ireland.

Past MA students

  • Claire Black. Primary Supervisor. Digital Technology and LGBTQ Identity.
  • Lauren Ghoram-Henderson. Primary Supervisor. Older Aucklanders’ Perspectives on Value.
  • Lloyd Johns. Primary Supervisor. Anthropological Perspectives on Biology.
  • Lakna Jayasinghe. Co-supervisor. Cortisol and Stress among Migrants to Auckland.
  • Courtney Addison. Primary supervisor. Responses to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
  • Anastasia Bader. Co-supervisor. Jewish youth and memory in Auckland.
  • Guy Collier. Primary supervisor. Ayurvedic practitioners in Auckland.
  • Heidi Käkelä. Primary supervisor. Trauma and the Christchurch earthquakes.
  • Mythily Meher. Primary supervisor. Old age care in India.
  • Julie Spray. Advisor.  Immigrant children, stress, and cortisol levels.
  • Stephanie Symington. Co-supervisor, MA portfolio. Embodiment and pregnancy.
  • Charlene Ramlu. Co-supervisor, MA portfolio. Gender, violence, and indenture in Fiji.
  • Jessica MacCormick. Primary supervisor. Migration, childhood and memory among Cambodian New Zealanders.
  • Markus Balkenhol. Co-supervisor. Sensibility and Diabetes Prevention: Body, Food, Authority and Identity in the Context of a Samoan Community in Auckland.
  • Nichola Davies. Co-supervisor. Conceptions of Health for Young Adolescent Boys.
  • Deon York. Primary supervisor. Mad scientists and the ignorant public: genetics, trust and fear.

Areas of expertise

  • Social anthropology
  • Medical anthropology
  • The body / Embodiment
  • Citizenship / State-citizen relations
  • Subjectivity
  • Crises, States of emergency, and Political violence
  • Health/patient experience
  • State and citizen responses to Covid-19
  • Theories of responsibility
  • Digital healthcare
  • Youth mental wellbeing
  • The Czech Republic
  • Post-socialist societies
  • New Zealand

Committees/Professional groups/Services

Invited Lectures/ Workshop Participation (selected):

2021. “Blowing Bubbles: COVID-19, New Zealand’s Bubble Metaphor, and the Limits of Households as Sites of Responsibility and Care.” The COVID-19 Pandemic Conference Webinar. Invited talk. With Sharyn Graham Davies. Sponsored by Routledge publishers, the International Sociological Association, and Nazarbayev University. April 21.

2020. “Indoor Bubbles or Garden Gatherings? Envisioning Care, Social Contact, and ‘New Zealand-Style’ Solutions in the UK’s Coronavirus Response.” Europe Institute Webinar, University of Auckland. July 23. Podcast available at:

2018. “Neoliberalism or Havel? Rethinking Responsibility through the Lens of Social Contracts, CSR, and Childhood Asthma in the Czech Republic.” Invited Lecture. The Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, Australia. October 24.

2017. “Issues of Environmental Health or (Ir)responsible Citizenry? Struggles over Asthma in the Steel Heart of the Czech Republic.” Invited Lecture. Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. March 2.

2017. “Domestic Experiments and the Recasting of Responsibility for Asthma.” Invited talk, Woolcock Institute of Medical Research. Sydney, Australia. March 3.

2017. “Competing Responsibilities: Exploring a New Framework for Understanding Responsibility in Contemporary Life.” With Catherine Trundle. Invited talk. Victoria University, Wellington. July 21.

2016. “Rethinking Responsibility in Light of Childhood Asthma.” Invited Lecture. Yale-Nus College, Singapore. December 1.

2016. “Youth, Mental Wellbeing, and Health Apps.” Kidz First Centre for Youth Health. Manukau, Auckland. Invited Lecture. December 8.

2016. “Reclaiming the Ambiguity of Time: Illness and Healing, as Cases in Point.” Keynote at the 4th Biennial Conference of the Czech Association for Social Anthropology. Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic. October 1.

2016. “Competing Responsibilities: Reckoning Personal Responsibility, Care for the Other, and the Social Contract in Contemporary Life.” Gellner Seminar. Institute for Ethnography. Prague, Czech Republic. October 18.

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.
  • Trnka, S. H. (2020). From Lockdown to Rāhui and teddy bears in windows: Initial responses to Covid-19 in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Anthropology Today, 36 (5), 11-13. 10.1111/1467-8322.12603
  • Trnka, S. (2020). Rethinking states of emergency. SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY, 28 (2), 367-368. 10.1111/1469-8676.12812
  • Trnka, S. (2020). Traversing Embodied Lifeworlds in the Czech Republic. Cornell University Press. Pages: 222.
  • Gibson, K., & Trnka, S. (2020). Young people's priorities for support on social media: "It takes trust to talk about these issues". COMPUTERS IN HUMAN BEHAVIOR, 102, 238-247. 10.1016/j.chb.2019.08.030
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Kerry Gibson
  • Trnka, S., & Stöckelová T (2019). Equality, efficiency and effectiveness: going beyond RCTs in A. L. Cochrane's vision of health care. Sociology of health & illness, 41 (2), 234-248. 10.1111/1467-9566.12817
  • Trnka, S. (2018). Not all fun and games: The force of humor in political life. In J. K. Rehak, S. Trnka (Eds.) The politics of joking: Anthropological engagements (pp. 179-186). Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge. Related URL.
  • Trnka, S. (2018). Diagnostic refusals, temporality, and subjectivity among “non-compliant” sufferers of asthma. Subjectivity, 11 (1), 1-20. 10.1057/s41286-017-0039-5
  • Trnka, S. (2017). Efficacious holidays: The therapeutic dimensions of pleasure and discipline in Czech respiratory spas. Medical Anthropology Quarterly10.1111/maq.12403

Contact details

Alternative contact

Primary office location

Level 8, Room 825
New Zealand