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ContactSusan Wardell

Room 5C25
Tel +64 3 479 8790

Research interests

  • Sociocultural perspectives on health, mental health, and disability; metaphors of wellbeing; narratives of illness and healing
  • Mediated and online representations of (and responses to) suffering and trauma; care, empathy, compassion, memorialisation
  • Social media, digital sociality, embodiment and the digital, phenomenological approaches to the digital
  • Emotion and emotionality, moral emotion, the politics of emotion, collective emotion, affect theory, affect among digital publics
  • Neoliberalism and moral relations; care work and identity, nonprofits, responsibility and responsibilisation
  • Mental health in the anthropocene, climate anxiety/eco-grief, epistemologies of climate change, temporality, hope
  • Everyday religion (esp. Christianity), secular spirituality


  • ANTH 105 Global and Local Cultures
  • ANTH 312 Cultural Politics
  • ANTH 325 Rites of Passage: Death, Grief, and Ritual
  • ANTH 328 The Anthropology of Religion and the Supernatural
  • ANTH 423 Bodies, Technologies and Medicines
  • ANTH 424 The Anthropology of Evil

Background and interests

Susan's PhD (2015) was completed across the fields of Social Anthropology and Communication Studies, at the University of Otago, with major interests in medical and psychological anthropology, moral anthropology, and the anthropology of religion. Her research comprised of a comparative ethnographic study of burnout, in two Christian youth work organisations; in Christchurch, New Zealand (post-quake), and Kampala, Uganda. She published her book - 'Living in the Tension: Care, selfhood, and wellbeing among faith-based youth workers' - in 2018.

Susan was involved as a Research Assistant and co-author on the (2010-2014) Marsden Grant Project: 'Troubling Choice. Exploring and explaining techniques of moral reasoning for people living at the intersection of reproductive technologies, genetics, and disability' (PIs Dr Ruth Fitzgerald, Assoc. Prof. Julie Park, University of Auckland, and Assoc. Prof. Mike Legge, University of Otago). Her main contributions focused on Down Syndrome, disability and prenatal genetic testing, and the representation of these within New Zealand media. This led to an offshoot project examining a viral media campaign for a baby with Down Syndrome, in 2015, spurring ongoing interests in care and moral reasoning in digital spaces.

Susan is the Otago representative for SOMAA (Society of Medical Anthropologists in Aotearoa).

Susan is passionate about teaching and completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education from 2018-2019, focusing her research on 'emotional pedagogies' for dark or troubling topics. She secured an Otago Teaching & Learning Grant in 2019 , to research a kit of resources to 'bridge' students from other disciplines, into the field of Social Anthropology. This was developed into the publicly-available AnthNav website.

Susan is interested in public anthropology, and is the editor for the programme's blog ( as well as regularly contributing pieces to The Spinoff and other public outlets (

She also enjoys creative writing - publishing and winning awards across several literary genres - and brings an interest in poetry in particular across to her ethnographic work. She currently expanding her interest in visual art and material practice.

Current projects

In 2019 Susan began a research project around 'online care' after the Christchurch mosque shootings. In 2020 she gained a UORG grant, titled “Remembering together: an ethnographic study of the one-year anniversary of the Christchurch mosque attack”, to lead on from this with a focus on both material and digital practices of memorialization around this event.

Susan has recently been awarded a Marsden Fast-Start grant (2020-2023) for a project entitled 'Medical Crowdfunding in New Zealand: Illness, Giving, and Moral Emotion.' The project analyses campaign pages, as well as conducting case studies and interviews, with both campaigners and audiences/donors. Leading into this project she organised and chaired a panel at the AAA (Vancouver) conference in 2019, entitled 'Performing crisis, practicing care: Navigating the moral life of health and illness in digital environments', which included a number of leading health crowdfunding scholars, and drew on interests intersecting both of her current major projects.

Current supervision (primary supervisor)

Yi Li. Exploring Geographic Happiness Through an Ethnography of Migrants Engaged with Eco-Creative Practices in Iceland and New Zealand

Shannon Blanch. Doing death differently? A digital ethnography of Aotearoa New Zealand death talking communities

Jayden Glen. The Funny Side of Embodying a Comedic Identity: Exploring the significance of cultural identity in the experiences of Māori Stand Up Comedians in New Zealand

Completed supervision (primary supervisor)

Jordan Green (2020). Māori Instagram: The Social Media Lifeworlds and Decolonising Practices of Rangatahi Māori

Samuel McComb (2020). Transformation in Outdoor Education: An anthropological exploration of instructors facilitating client change at TSB TOPEC

Ellan Baker (2020). Creating Success, Finding a Busy Balance: Understandings and Experiences of Student Burnout Among Undergraduate University of Otago Students

Miriam Buhler (2020). “We're all watching each other”: Bodies, risk, and sociality in a Dunedin supermarket during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown

Athena Macmillan (2019). "Our Bodies Hold Our Stories": How do University of Otago Science students negotiate notions of personhood in relation to cadaveric material, as part of their learning practice?

Etienne Devilliers (2019). A Paradox of Purpose: Embodying identity, and resisting or supplementing western epistemologies, through the teaching of Māori stories in a Dunedin primary school

Yi Li (2019). Improvising Life: An ethnographic study of theatrical improvisation as part of the pursuit of happiness and wellbeing, among three New Zealand troupes [Winner of the Richard Kamman Wellbeing Prize, 2020]

Jayden Glen (2019). Examining Identity Politics Through the Career of New Zealander Taika Waititi

Asia Brownlie (2018). Embodied ink: tattooing and the negotiation of fluid feminine identities in New Zealand


Wardell, S., & Withey-Rila, C. (2024). A critical analysis of trans-visibility through online medical crowdfunding. Social Science & Medicine. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2024.116682 Journal - Research Article

Wardell, S., Starling, L., & Withey-Rila, C. (2024). Fat and deserving: Navigating the visibility and visuality of non-normative bodies in online medical crowdfunding. Fat Studies, 13(1), 79-98. doi: 10.1080/21604851.2023.2283955 Journal - Research Article

Neuwelt-Kearns, C., Baker, T., Calder-Dawe, O., Bartos, A. E., & Wardell, S. (2024). Getting the crowd to care: Marketing illness through health-related crowdfunding in Aotearoa New Zealand. Environment & Planning A, 56(1), 311-329. doi: 10.1177/0308518X211009535 Journal - Research Article

Edmeades, L., Chua, S-L., Keeble, M., & Wardell, S. (2023, October). Strong words: Infinite glimpses of human truth. Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival, Dunedin, New Zealand. [Public Discussion]. Other Research Output

Wardell, S., Hall, R., Wheeler, B., de Bock, M., & Mann, J. (2023). We can't let the ball drop on diabetes. Newsroom: Ideasroom, (13 March). Retrieved from Journal - Professional & Other Non-Research Articles

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