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Dr Susan Wardell (Lecturer)

ContactSusan Wardell

Room 5C25
Tel +64 3 479 8790

Research interests

Medical Anthropology; Psychology, Mental Health and Wellbeing; Emotion and Subjectivity; Neoliberalism, Psychometrics, and Work; Spirituality and Religion (especially Christianity); Death and Grief; Disability and Moral Reasoning; Care, Emotional Labour, and Burnout; Social/Youth Work, and Non-Profit Organisations; Metaphor and Embodiment; Narrative, Selfhood and Identity; Media Technologies and Digital Worlds; East Africa (Uganda), New Zealand, Canterbury Post-Quake.


ANTH105: Global and Local Cultures
ANTH312: Cultural Politics
ANTH325: Rites of Passage: Death, Grief, and Ritual
ANTH328: The Anthropology of Religion and the Supernatural
ANTH424: The Anthropology of Evil

Background and interests

Susan’s PhD (2015) was completed dually across the fields of Social Anthropology and Communication Studies. Her doctoral research comprised of a comparative study of faith-based youth workers in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Kampala, Uganda. It included two periods of ethnographic fieldwork in East Africa to undertake this component of the research. The genesis of the study was an interest in the prevalence of ‘burnout’ among non-profit care workers. This expanded into a multi-methodological examination of the embodied meaning and management of spirituality and wellbeing in the local life-worlds of Christian youth workers, with attention to their particular cultural and political contexts.

Susan was also 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 contribution to this project included ethnographic interviewing and (qualitative and quantitative) media content analysis, around the topics of Down Syndrome, disability and prenatal genetic testing, and the representation of these within New Zealand media. She is engaged in ongoing research in this area.

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

In addition to her teaching in the department she has developed two courses for the 'Early Learning in Medicine' Humanities Selective Programme at the Otago School of Medicine. These include ‘The Anthropology of Emotion’ (2015, 2017) and 'Humour, Media, and Culture' (2018/ongoing). She is also the co-ordinator of the Social Anthropology project for the ‘Hands-On at Otago’ programme.


Journal – Research Article

Wardell, S. (2018). A Stranger in the Name of Jesus: Exploring cosmopolitan ethics in a Ugandan Christian Care Community. Sites, 15(2).

Wardell, S. & Fitzgerald, R.P. (2018). Psychometrics as moral labour: subject formation at the intersection of neoliberal and spiritual discourse. BioSocieties: 1-23.

Fitzgerald, R.P., Wardell, S., & Legge, M. (2017) Foetal Genetic Difference and a Cosmopolitan Vernacular of the Right to Choose.Women’s Studies International Forum. Advance online publication: doi: 10.1016/j.wsif.2017.04.001

Wardell, S., Fitzgerald, R. P., Legge, M., & Clift, K. (2014). A qualitative and quantitative analysis of the New Zealand media portrayal of Down syndrome. Disability and Health Journal, 7(2), 242–250.

Wardell, S. E. (2013). Doctors and All Blacks: How depression and its treatment is framed in New Zealand GP-targeted advertising. Sites: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies, 10(2), 52–81.

Conference Contribution – Verbal presentation

Wardell, S. (2018). ‘Learning by Heart: The Risk and Potential of Emotion in the Classroom’, ‘Rebuilding your Ship at Sea’ Humanities Teaching Symposium, University of Otago.

Wardell, S. (2017). ‘Know Thyself: psychometrics, burnout, and the responsible Christian carer.’ Paper presented at SOMAA Symposium, Wellington, New Zealand.

Wardell, S. (2014). ‘Conversations at Butabika: A snapshot of the tensions between biomedical and spiritual knowledge systems in Ugandan psychiatric care.’ Paper presented at the AFSAAP Conference, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Wardell, S. (2014). ‘Comparing global consciousness in Christianity across two communities – Kampala and Christchurch: a study in vernacular cosmopolitanism.’ Paper presented at the international AAS/ASAANZ Conference, Queenstown, New Zealand.

Fitzgerald, R.P. & Wardell, S. (2013). ‘Endangered Kiwis? The biopolitics of first trimester blood screening for fetal abnormalities in Aotearoa/New Zealand.’ Paper presented at the international Biopolitics of Science and Medicine Symposium, Melbourne, Australia.

Wardell, S (2013). ‘Vessels and Burdens; Metaphors of the self, spirituality, and mental wellbeing from two communities of care workers.’ Paper presented at the CCCS (Cross-Cultural and Comparative Studies) Research Theme Symposium, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Doctoral Thesis:

Wardell, S. (2015). Living in the Tension: A cross-cultural comparative study of the meaning and management of care, self-care, and wellbeing across two communities of faith-based youth workers. University of Otago.


Wardell, S. (2018). Living in the Tension: Care, selfhood, and wellbeing among faith-based youth workers. Carolina Academic Press; North Carolina. ​