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Otago Centre for Law and Society

Te Pokapū Ture me te Papori ki Ōtākou

BuddhaBuddha statue with 'turning-the-wheel-of-law' gesture, Dambulla, Sri Lanka

About us | He kōrero mō mātou

The Otago Centre for Law and Society (OCLaS) is dedicated to supporting the social scientific and humanistic study of law across the University, with the specific goal of encouraging empirical, analytical and critical accounts of law’s complex intermeshing with human societies and cultures across time and space.

The Centre serves as a hub for events, research and scholarly collaborations across numerous academic disciplines including Law, History, Religion, Politics, Bioethics, Philosophy, Economics, Psychology, Anthropology, and Indigenous Studies. Although supporting a wide variety of socio-legal research, OCLaS-affiliated researchers have particular areas of strength in the study of legal pluralism, law and religion, law and gender, legal institutions, environmental studies and legal cultures in the Asia-Pacific.

Centre goals

  • To create a forum for cross-disciplinary collaboration and conversation among scholars engaged in socio-legal research at the University of Otago and beyond.
  • To host public speakers, symposia and scholarly roundtables that will generate and disseminate new insights into the interactions of law, society, religion, culture, history, race, human rights, gender and other factors.
  • To establish relationships and collaborations with national and international research bodies, policymakers, iwi, social organisations and other stakeholders around issues relating to law and society.
  • To support postgraduate students and Early Career Researchers in the field of socio-legal studies.

The Centre is based at the University of Otago within the Faculty of Law in the Division of Humanities.

Our people | Ō mātou tāngata

Our directors come from a range of disciplines across the University and all share a common interest in fostering law and society scholarship.


Anna High17_10_HeadshotAnna High (Law) research interests include law and culture in the Asia-Pacific, law and gender, and law and dignity. She teaches Evidence law and Chinese law. Her recent monograph on orphan relief in China was the recipient of the 2020 Asian Law and Society Association Distinguished Book Award.

Miranda Johnson imageMiranda Johnson (History) researches and teaches histories of the Pacific world, including the settler states of Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia, with a particular focus on indigeneity, rights and citizenship in colonial and decolonizing contexts. Her book on Indigenous rights campaigns in Commonwealth settler states in the 1970s won the W. K. Hancock award from the Australian Historical Association in 2018.

Ben Schonthal image 2021Ben Schonthal (Religion) researches and teaches about the intersections of religion, law and politics in colonial and contemporary South and Southeast Asia, looking especially at topics such as Buddhist law, legal pluralism and comparative constitutional law.

Bridgette Toy-Cronin image 2021 croppedBridgette Toy-Cronin (Law) researches access to the civil justice system, including the delivery of legal services (lawyer and non-lawyer services) and the design of dispute resolution systems (ADR, tribunals, courts and online methods).

Otago Steering Committee

Professor Nathan Berg (Department of Economics, Division of Commerce)
Professor Lisa Ellis (Philosophy, Division of Humanities)
Professor Janine Hayward (Politics, Division of Humanities)
Professor Jing-Bao Nie (Centre for Bioethics, Division of Health Sciences)
Dr Michael Fusi Ligaliga (Te Tumu, Division of Humanities)
Dr Greg Rawlings (Anthropology, Division of Humanities)
Professor Jacinta Ruru (Faculty of Law, Division of Humanities)
Mr Leo Watson (Faculty of Law, Division of Humanities)
Associate Professor Angela Wanhalla (History, Division of Humanities)
Professor Ceri Warnock (Faculty of Law, Division of Humanities)
Professor Rachel Zajac (Department of Psychology, Division of Science)

International Advisory Board

Associate Professor Noelani Arista (University of Hawai’i)
Professor Benjamin Berger (Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Canada)
Professor John Borrows (University of Victoria, Canada)
Professor Shaunnagh Dorsett (University of Technology Sydney)
Professor Terry Halliday (American Bar Foundation and Australian National University)
Professor Samuel Moyn (Yale University)
Associate Professor Jaclyn Neo (Centre for Asian Legal Studies, National University of Singapore)
Professor Fernanda Pirie (Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Oxford University)
Professor Mitra Sharafi (University of Wisconsin at Madison)

News and events | Karere me ngā mahi

Anna High, “Caring for ‘Lonely Children’: A Socio-Legal Analysis of Orphan Welfare in China”
Thursday 15 April at 4:00pm with OCLaS launch reception following
Seminar Room 5, Faculty of Law, Richardson Building (10th Floor)

Launch and discussion of the Routledge Handbook of Law and Society, edited Mariana Valverde, Kamari M. Clarke, Eve Darian Smith, Prahba Kotiswaran
Thursday 17 June, 1:00–2:30pm
Free; register via Eventbrite for this hybrid event, co-hosted with UNSW Faculty of Law

Lunchtime Conversation with Natalie Coate
The Otago Centre for Law and Society welcomes students and staff to a brown bag lunch with Natalie Coates (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Tūhourangi, Tūhoe, Te Whānau a Apanui). Natalie is a graduate of Otago University (LLB(Hons), BA(Hons)) as well as Harvard Law School (LLM). She is now a Partner at Kāhui Legal and has litigated in many courts including the Māori Land Court and Supreme Court. In this informal lunchtime event, Natalie will talk about her career journey and answer your questions about her experience. Drinks and dessert will be provided; bring your own lunch.

12pm-1pm Wednesday 18 August 2021
Law Staff Library, 8th Floor, Richardson Building

Stephen Young, “Troubling Subjects: Legal Performativity and Indigenous Peoples
Friday 20 August at 3:00pm
Room R6N4, Richardson Building

Benjamin Schonthal, “Buddhist law under Colonialism”
Wednesday 13 October at 3:00pm
Venue TBA

Law and Society Research at Otago | Rangahau

Our directors and members are engaged in a variety of research projects on law and society. A few of these are listed below, with more profiles to come. Check back here regularly for updates.

Ben Schonthal is currently leading two projects investigating how law and religion intermesh and affect each other in Asia: a Marsden-funded project on the history, politics and contemporary practice of Buddhist monastic law in Southern Asia; and a NSF-funded project (with Tom Ginsburg) examining Buddhism and constitutional law across the Asian region. More information about both projects can be found on Schonthal’s webpage.

Bridgette Toy-Cronin is undertaking a Marsden-funded project on eviction and its consequences in New Zealand, with a focus on the operation of the Tenancy Tribunal. She is also leading work on the delivery of online legal information and the development of online courts funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation.

Anna High is currently leading a New Zealand Law Foundation-funded project investigating the interplay of the concepts of dignity and mana in the New Zealand legal system. She is also undertaking a Marsden-funded project on sexual violence law, with a current focus on feminist theory as it impacts legal understandings of sexual dignity.

Miranda Johnson is working on a new project that investigates the political and legal dimensions of New Zealand’s “overseas” Pacific empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She continues to work on settler state responses to Indigenous rights claims, particularly in the Anglophone settler world, in a range of collaborative research and teaching forums.

Networks and links | He taura whiri, he hononga

The Otago Centre for Law and Society works collaboratively with a range of researchers, academics, professionals and practitioners within the University of Otago, New Zealand, and internationally.

University of Otago links

New Zealand and international links

Contact us | Whakapā mai

For all enquiries please email

Postal address

Otago Centre for Law and Society
Faculty of Law
University of Otago
PO Box 56
Dunedin 9054
New Zealand

Legal advice

The Otago Centre for Law and Society at the University of Otago does not give legal advice. If you require legal advice, please contact the Dunedin Community Law Centre.

Visit the Dunedin Community Law Centre website.