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Our identity and culture research cluster investigates Aotearoa's unique place in the world, and how our histories, beliefs, and constructs help us to reimagine our future.

Visit the listings of our research groups or featured projects:

Centre for Research on Colonial Culture

A University of Otago Research Centre

Rethinking colonialism and its legacies

Our Centre has a particularly productive network of researchers of international standing seeking to produce new historical understandings of colonialism, the development of colonial cultures, and the role of empires in shaping the modern world, with particular relevance to New Zealand and the Pacific region.


Centre for Research on Evolution, Belief, and Behaviour | Te Pokapū Mātai i te Kunenga, te Whakapono me ngā Whanonga Tangata

Studying how biological and cultural evolution shapes the way humans think and behave

Villagers preparing plant fibreThe Centre for Research on Evolution, Belief and Behaviour undertakes innovative research on the evolution of human cognition and behaviour. We believe evolutionary theory can help identify patterns and processes in all human traits.

Our research spans topics from the cultural evolution of mentalising abilities, to the formation of social groups, and the spread of atheism. We specialise in the evolution of religion, and the cultural and religious features of Pacific societies.


Centre for Global Migrations

A University of Otago Research Theme

Investigating and responding to the impacts of migrations

The Centre for Global Migrations co-ordinates research, teaching, and activities relating to historical and contemporary global migration.

Our aims are to:

  • Advance and communicate knowledge and understanding of the causes, consequences, and legacies of migration
  • Facilitate national and international interdisciplinary research collaborations to develop new methodologies and frameworks for migration and inform public debate and policy development
  • Develop a vibrant research community encompassing the academy, policy makers, heritage professionals, and the general public


Critical Disabilities Studies Research Network

Driving recognition, respect and rights

The Critical Disability Studies Research Network's core research focuses on disability issues / inequities experienced at individual, organisational, policy and macro levels across multiple disciplinary contexts.

We explore 'new and affirmative' research possibilities that may inform and facilitate changes in thinking, policies and practices in cultural, educational, legal and other societal systems.


Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga

A Centre of Research excellence (CoRE)

Māori leading New Zealand into the future

Taurepo native flower drawing credit: Ariki Creative Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga is New Zealand's Māori Centre of Research Excellence, hosted by the University of Auckland in partnership with the University of Otago and other leading New Zealand research organisations.

Established in 2002, we have a focus on producing transformative research that produces real outcomes and results for Māori communities and the nation. Much of the emphasis has been on nurturing and increasing Māori participation and success in tertiary education and research training.

Our three themes support a central strategy of Te Reo me Ngā Tikanga Māori, and articulate a vision of Māori leading New Zealand into the future.

  • Whai Rawa – Research for Māori Economies
  • Te Tai Ao – Research into the Natural Environment
  • Mauri Ora – Research into Human Flourishing

Recent collaborative publications:


Otago Centre for Law and Society | Te Pokapū Ture me te Papori ki Ōtākou

Examining law's complex relationship with societies and cultures

Buddha statue against the sky in Sri LankaThe 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.


Performance of the Real

A University of Otago Research Theme

How does performance represent, critique, enact and construct 'the real'?

Our research theme is an interdisciplinary project that investigates what it is about representations and performances of the real that make them particularly compelling and pervasive in our current age.

At its core is the study of how performance / performativity, in its many cultural, aesthetic, political and social forms and discourses represents, critiques, stages and constructs / reconstructs the real.


Poutama Ara Rau

A University of Otago Research Theme

How mātauranga Māori can transform tertiary teaching and learning

Poutama stepped graphicPoutama Ara Rau brings researchers together to stimulate new research collaborations and practices that lead to more mātauranga, tikanga and reo in tertiary teaching and learning.

We are a multidisciplinary research collaboration that is:

  • Developing and encouraging translational Māori research embedded in theory and methods for application across research, supervision and teaching
  • Offering unique opportunities for Otago's staff and students
  • Building on significant disciplinary-specific Māori successes in ako at Otago to create new knowledge in curricula, leadership and innovation strategically aligned with national strategies and positioned for external funding possibilities


Secondary to Tertiary Transitions Project | Te Ara ki te Whare Wānanga

Exploring tertiary education pathways with refugee-background students

Tree of life mosaicOur Secondary to Tertiary Transitions Project involves working with former refugees to explore pathways to and through tertiary education in Southern Aotearoa New Zealand.

We are interested in how:

  • Students think about and experience this transition
  • Schools and tertiary education providers can learn from students' ideas and experiences


Southern Pacific Archaeological Research

Exploring our past to guide our future

Rustic tripod for sifting soil samplesWe're using archaeology's emerging technologies to provide extraordinary insight into human interactions with fauna and environments in New Zealand and the Pacific. Our research is producing answers to questions that traditional methods have not solved.

We are a research unit and consultancy in the Archaeology Programme, School of Social Sciences, at the University of Otago. SPAR is one of the leading archaeological and heritage consultancies in New Zealand, and promotes best practice in archaeological, historic and cultural heritage management.


The March 15 Project

Impacts and recovery from the March 15 terrorist attacks in Christchurch

March 15 tributes of flowers and messagesThis project will help us understand the impact the March 15 terrorist attacks have had on the Christchurch Muslim community. We hope to examine the impacts of the mosque attacks on those people most directly affected, including those who feel they have coped well. We anticipate this will be the first stage of a long-term project exploring how people are coping over time.

Phase one interviews were conducted during 2021.

We anticipate that the knowledge gained by the research will help to build a resource for culturally-competent health practices.


Identity and culture featured projects | Rangahau mō te tuakiri me te ahurea

Bringing the heart online

Dr Susan WardellDr Susan Wardell (Social Anthropology) has been researching moral and social aspects of the digital world and suggests that the internet is a far more human space than we might realise.

Enhancing cultural understanding

Joseph Watts standing in front of an outdoor wall muralDr Joseph Watts is an Otago researcher looking at how people of different cultures perceive and communicate mental states hopes his work will create greater understanding between world views.

Focusing on LGBTIQ+ homelessness

Dr Brodie Fraser imageAs a young campaigner on social justice and LGBTIQ+ rights, Dr Brodie Fraser has found working as a researcher in the Department of Public Health a perfect mix of their academic and activist interests. A Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, Wellington, Fraser works in the He Kāinga Oranga Housing and Health Research Programme.

Foundational change

Jacinta Ruru thumbnailRecalibrating New Zealand's state legal system in order to challenge the Crown's assumption of sovereignty over lands and waters treasured by Māori is no easy task. However, Professor Jacinta Ruru says it's essential for future Māori health and prosperity.

Time for action

Anna High standing in an alley wearing a brightly coloured dressAssociate Professor Anna High is taking a “law-in-action” approach to her areas of interest. She 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.

Working in the margins

Pooneh Torabian sitting on a sofa with colourful pillows Dr Pooneh Torabian: “I see myself as a scholar-activist,” she says. “My research platform has been shaped by my lived experience as a non-Western racialised Iranian-Canadian woman and my research aims to expose injustices and inequalities and expand qualitative traditions.”

Research in our four academic divisions | Te rangahau ki ō mātou whare mātauranga e whā

View more research activity in our academic divisions:

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