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Friday 5 November 2021 4:36pm

The Division of Humanities celebrates the news that Associate Professor Priscilla Wehi (Centre for Sustainability) and Associate Professor Zach Weber (Philosophy) have received Marsden Fund grants, and Dr Neil Vallelly a Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Division of Humanities Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Jessica Palmer says this year's Marsden Fund and Rutherford Fellowship success is a “celebration of the diverse range of research areas in the Division”.

“I am delighted Associate Professors Wehi and Weber and Dr Vallelly have received funding and I look forward to seeing where their projects lead. While quite different projects, they are all highly relevant and important areas of inquiry.”

Associate Dean Academic Professor Hugh Campbell says innovation has been a feature of many of the Division's projects that have received funding in recent years.

Hugh Campbell (160)
Professor Hugh Campbell

“These projects continue our research tradition of reframing the terms of debate on key issues. I'd like to thank all recent applicants for engaging with the grants process while balancing their other commitments, and Research Advisers Natalie Harfoot and Amarni Thomas for their invaluable assistance supporting the applications.”

Priscilla will receive $660,000 for Kaitiakitanga and Antarctic narratives, and Zach will receive the same amount for his project Paraconsistent Computability Theory.

In last year's Marsden round, Professor Claire Freeman (Geography) received $729,000 and Dr Erica Newman (Te Tumu) and Dr Karen Greig (Archaeology) each received $300,000 Fast-Start grants. This year 23 University of Otago projects received $17.2 million from the $82.345 million allocated by the Marsden Fund nationally.

Associate Professor Priscilla Wehi, Centre for Sustainability, $660,000

Priscilla's project Kaitiakitanga and Antarctic narratives is co-led by Associate Professor Krushil Watene (Massey University) and with collaborators Te Hemoata Henare and Te Warihi Hetaraka.

Priscilla Wehi image 2020
Associate Professor Wehi

“Māori philosophical concepts like kaitiakitanga highlight the responsibilities we have to past, present and future generations, as well as connections to place. We explore how kaitiakitanga operates at the edges of human experience, using Antarctica as a catalyst because of its physical remoteness, ephemeral human presence and lack of sovereign governance.”

By examining kaitiakitanga in the context of extreme remoteness, the researchers hope to move closer to understanding its conceptual underpinnings, normative force and potential for transformation. The team of philosophers, scientists and artists will explore conceptual shifts that can reveal and enable socio-environmental relationships that begin charting a way to planetary wellbeing.

“Together, we will create a visual repository of these knowledge shifts within a mātauranga tradition of both ancient and innovative work that will be shown in a curated exhibition. Additionally, climate change and its impacts on biodiversity have never been more important – examining concepts such as kaitiakitanga is a critical step to enacting positive future change”.

Navigating the finite boundaries and infinite reach of Māori philosophical ideas, the project will bring ancestral methodologies, from pūrakau (stories) to traditional and contemporary visual and sensory transformations of Māori knowledge, to bear on the urgent need for a reimagining of human and planetary futures.

Associate Professor Zach Weber, Philosophy, $660,000

Zach says his project Paraconsistent Computability Theory will use new formal tools to pioneer a new field, building paraconsistent algorithms with the potential to surpass previous limits.

Associate Professor Weber

With Associate Investigator Professor Jack Copeland (University of Canterbury), Zach will explore whether paraconsistent logics can surpass previous limits on what computers can do. Since the 1930s, experts have believed that there are fundamental limitations to how algorithms can cope with inconsistent information.

“Until now, the answer to 'Can an algorithm successfully compute beyond an inconsistency?' has been held to be negative—the best that can be achieved is some form of graceful failure. But recent advances in philosophical logic have reopened this question.”

Zach says receiving the grant is “wonderful and humbling”.

“I hope it leads to new insights about what problems can be solved algorithmically and carries on the tradition of excellence in logic and philosophy in New Zealand. I am grateful to my programme, school and division for ongoing support — and to the Marsden Fund for supporting this kind of work!”

Dr Neil Vallelly, Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship

Dr Neil Vallelly has been awarded a prestigious Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship. During the Fellowship Neil will examine the relationship between contemporary capitalism - often referred to as neoliberalism - and the rise of migrant detention, especially of asylum seekers, over the past four decades.

Neil Vallelly image
Dr Vallelly

“What I aim to show is that the detention of migrants at borders is deeply implicated in the history of neoliberalism and its implementation into policy in the late twentieth century. And thus, if we are to adequately attend to the needs and rights of refugees and asylum seekers, we must also counter the social and economic inequalities associated with neoliberalism.”

The project will examine a paradox Vallelly says is at “the heart of our age” – capitalism depends on a borderless world of free movement, globalised markets, and free trade, and yet at the same time, borders have become the sites of “unimaginable suffering, where millions of refugees and asylum seekers are trapped and detained”.

“Aotearoa New Zealand is not immune to this problem, and human rights non-governmental organisations and journalists have criticised the detention of asylum seekers in New Zealand, who are often placed in prisons alongside criminal offenders and held in detention for long periods of time. Read the full article here.

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