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Monday 19 December 2022 2:46pm

Anna High standing in an alley wearing a brightly coloured dress
Dr Anna High

Dr Anna High is taking a “law-in-action” approach to her areas of interest.

High is a co-director of the Centre for Law and Society at the University of Otago as well as a lecturer in the areas of Evidence Law, Jurisprudence and Chinese Law.

“Law in action means thinking about law as it's applied in society, rather than just as it exists in the books."

“For example, when I was looking at the laws around child welfare in China, the books were clear – the government is responsible for child welfare and private orphanages are illegal. In practice, those laws were mediated by exigencies such as local needs, funding, politics and state-society dynamics.”

High studied Law and Chinese at the University of Queensland (LLB and BA). On graduating, she was awarded the 2008 Queensland Rhodes Scholarship, and completed the BCL, MPhil and DPhil at Oxford (Magdalen College). She then moved to the United States, first as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, and then as Distinguished-Scholar-in-Residence at Loyola University Chicago. Her monograph on orphan relief in China was awarded the 2020 Asian Law and Society Association Distinguished Book Award.

“The MPhil/DPhil dissertation was an opportunity to combine my China and law interests. Then my university roles confirmed that I wanted to pursue academia. Otago has been a welcoming and supportive place for me as an early career academic,” she says.

High now applies socio-legal and jurisprudential methods to a range of interest areas: her PhD was in Chinese law, looking at how law works in society at a grassroots level. More recently, with travel to China becoming less practical for family and pandemic-related reasons, she has developed an interest in dignity, sexual violence and evidence law.

She recently published an article with the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism on sexual dignity as a concept in rape law, which is an interesting framework for thinking about whether our laws around sexual violence are fit-for-purpose, she says.

“Among other things, the article discusses how powerful and capacious dignity is as an expressive tool in the context of sexual violence. But it comes with pitfalls, and uncritical talk of sexual dignity can be harmful.

“Sexual dignity is also a site of contest, with our understanding of the concept expanding and democratising over time. For example, women who were previously seen as lesser, and viewed by the law as essentially 'unrapeable', have been vindicated by recognition of their equal dignity as our approach to sexual violence has become more evolved and expansive.”

This work is part of a bigger Marsden Fast-Start Grant looking at models of consent in New Zealand sexual violence law.

“I've always been interested in the potential for law to protect vulnerable or disempowered social groups, and also in how such groups themselves engage with and are empowered by legal institutions,” says High.

“And while I don't know for sure the directions my research might take me, I anticipate that they will continue to be a common theme and driver in years to come.”

Recent awards

  • Marsden Fund Fast Start (2020)
  • Otago Early Career Award for Distinction in Research (2017)
  • Asian Law and Society Association Distinguished Book Award (2020)
  • Rhodes Scholarship (2008)


  • Marsden Fund
  • New Zealand Law Foundation
  • Borrin Foundation

More stories about early career researchers

This story is part of the research publication 'He Kitenga 2022: Talented Futures', which presents the different pathways into research that early career researchers follow.

Read more 'He Kitenga 2022' research stories

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