Massey enjoys continued success from Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden

Thursday 2 November 2023

Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden, the Marsden Fund, have announced funding for seven Massey research projects.

Clockwise from top left: Dr Hona Black, Associate Professor Natasha Tassell-Matamua, Dr Maria Borovnik, Associate Professor Taisia Huckle, Dr Collin Bjork, Dr Sharon McLennan.

The successful projects explore a variety of topics, including how true crime podcasts shape public opinion, the plight of seafarers after COVID-19, alcohol advertising on social media and the desexualisation of te reo Māori domains.

The seven projects comprise two Fast-Start grants for new and emerging researchers, and five Standard grants, with a total of $4,948,000 of funding. Marsden Fund grants are awarded annually to support research excellence and typically fund three-year research projects in humanities, sciences, social sciences, mathematics, and engineering.

The successful projects are of world-class standard, having made it through a highly rigorous selection process, including substantial international peer review.

Provost Professor Giselle Byrnes congratulated the research teams who have been successful in this year’s Marsden Fund round.

“These projects represent the depth, breadth and diversity of the research excellence we strive to achieve at Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University. This is evident in the impact of our research and the positive contributions this research makes for the many communities we serve.”

Marsden Fund Council Chair Professor Gill Dobbie FRSNZ says Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden provides support for leading and early-career researchers to carry out cutting-edge, curiosity-driven ‘blue sky’ research.

“Awardees will carry out fundamental research across a huge range of disciplines, including on topics with global significance. Some of these projects will make a transformational difference to how we think about the world and Aotearoa New Zealand's place within it, the hauora health and wellbeing of our people, and our economic growth.”

Especially notable this year at the national level is the proportion of successful projects led by researchers identifying as women.

“More than half of the lead investigators on funded projects for 2023 identify as women – this is the highest proportion of female-led projects in the Marsden Fund’s history. It is really heartening to see so many wāhine amongst our winners, given the obstacles that continue to discourage women from pursuing careers in research. Increasing inclusion and representation in our research communities will allow us collectively to better serve the country as a whole, as well as creating space for novel ways of thinking and doing research,” Professor Dobbie says.

Fast-Start Grants

Sound judgments? How true crime podcasts shape public opinion – Dr Collin Bjork, School of Humanities, Media and Creative Communication

Sound Judgments? Proposes that true crime podcasting can offer new insights into the complex process of making collective judgments in an age of online communication. In this project, Dr Bjork will survey approximately 1,200 hours of audio from high-profile true crime podcasts produced in ‘the golden age of podcasting’ between 2014 and 2022. This research will delve into famous and popular podcasts including Serial, S-Town, Caliphate, Ear Hustle, In the Dark, 74 Seconds, The Teacher’s Pet, Someone Knows Something and The Trojan Horse Affair. Dr Bjork will focus on how podcasters use the audio medium to create judgment, and how that judgment is further shaped by public discourse. His findings will be compiled and presented in the form of a book, but also as an innovative, peer-reviewed podcast miniseries.

This project will ultimately shed light on the perplexing, yet fundamental civic process of making collective judgments in a digital age.

Kua taku puku, ko te waha o raro kei te hiakai tonu: The de-sexualisation of te reo Māori domains – Dr Hona Black, Tūhoe, Te Whānau a Apanui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Pūtahi-a-Toi School of Māori Knowledge

Dr Black’s research explores and expands on mātauranga Māori regarding sexuality in te reo Māori. Using interdisciplinary methodologies, founded on tikanga Māori and kaupapa Māori, the research will identify how sexuality was traditionally expressed and defined by examining extant literature, compositions and corpora such as harihari kai, pao, haka, pūrākau, ngeri and idiomatic expressions.

It will also examine how sexuality is conveyed in more contemporary modes, performances and compositions such as those performed at Te Matatini. Lastly, it will interview te reo Māori experts to explore their perspectives on expressing Māori sexuality in both traditional and contemporary contexts. This research seeks to contribute to a body of mātauranga on te reo Māori and sexuality by investigating how sexuality, food, identity and socialisation are all part of a complex and interwoven Māori cultural worldview, and re-introduce these forms of te reo Māori, idiomatic expressions, and viewpoints back into everyday discourse.

It seeks to contribute to the language of sexuality in te reo Māori that is currently dormant in everyday language, by bringing together these dynamic modes of mātauranga as valuable tools of expression of sexuality for current and future speakers and learners of te reo Māori.

Standard Grants

Dark nudges and sludge: big alcohol and dark advertising on social media – Associate Professor Taisia Huckle, SHORE & Whariki Research Centre

Alcohol companies are using dark nudges and sludge on social media to exploit human cognitive biases and restrict individual autonomy to make informed choices. Dark nudging can change consumer behaviour against best interests, increase inequities for vulnerable groups, and may disproportionately affect young people. Sludge uses cognitive biases to make psychological resistance more difficult. This research will explore alcohol industry dark nudging and sludge on social media, investigate the experiences among rangatahi/young people and build theory around these practices to advance knowledge within a rapidly developing digital world.

Professor Huckle, along with Associate Investigators Dr Acushla Sciascia and Georgia Mclellan, will explore the experiences of dark nudging and sludge among rangatahi Māori and Tangata Tiriti aged 16-24 years using an approach grounded in young people’s online worlds and real-time experiences. The research will draw on Māori methodologies and approaches, produce ground-breaking knowledge, and establish Aotearoa New Zealand at the forefront of this new research area. It will also be the first to extend public health and social science theory into the “darkness” of current alcohol-industry exploitive tactics and transform global debate on unhealthy industry practices that restrict individual autonomy for informed choice in an unregulated digital environment.

Re-imagining health care in Fiji: Exploring health system resilience in the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond – Dr Sharon McLennan, School of People, Environment and Planning

In Fiji, solesolevaki constitutes a form of communal cohesiveness vital for collective wellbeing. This unity is crucial as the country addresses the near catastrophic impacts of COVID-19 and significant ongoing health challenges. Dr Sharon McLennan and Associate Investigator Dr Api Movono will explore local and indigenous responses to the pandemic and other crises in Fiji to explore how these could contribute to health system re-development, and to answer the question, ‘how can the Fijian health system be reimagined to ensure resilience?’

Building on a 2022 pilot study of the Fijian health sector, this research is grounded in Fijian Indigenous knowledge and values, and draws on resilience scholarship and complex adaptive systems theory to explore relationships, connections, and change processes in Fijian health care. Using the Fijian Vanua Research and Tali Magimagi frameworks alongside relational ethnographic methods, the research will contribute to scholarship on pathways towards the decolonisation of health care and health research and, importantly, provide evidence which could catalyse the radical innovation required for the Fijian health system to recover from recent crises, and provide a healthy environment and best quality care for Fijians both in ‘normal’ circumstances and in the face of future crises.

Navigating Labour Mobilities: Seafarers after COVID-19 – Dr Maria Borovnik, School of People, Environment and Planning

COVID-19 brought about a global ‘Crew Change Crisis’ which left more than 400,000 seafarers stranded on ships and in ports due to border closures. This research will explore the social and economic impacts of this humanitarian crisis, focusing on the often-overlooked dignity of seafarers as enablers of global trade.

Ninety percent of world trade is conducted by sea. When COVID-19 struck, the seafarers transporting these goods became stranded on ships or in unfamiliar ports, separated from their families, sometimes for years. 

Many seafarers originate from the Global South, including the Pacific, with backgrounds in societies that nurture strong and collaborative cultural values. Similarly, ship environments naturally emphasise team spirit, where each person has clearly defined tasks that the vessel and crew depend on. Dr Borovnik believes this has provided many seafarers with the tools for resilience and action in such challenging times. Their ‘ensembled agency’ recognises that they prioritise harmony within social relationships over individual freedoms.

Dr Borovnik and her team, including Dr Charlotte Bedford from the Australian National University, will investigate this theory by visiting seafarers and their support networks and recording their stories about the COVID-19 pandemic, their current situations and their futures. This multi-sited research will approach seafarers of diverse backgrounds in Kiribati, Tuvalu, Fiji, Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. A particular focus is on seafarers from Kiribati – who were separated from their families for two to three years because of border closures. Recognising the importance of a strong understanding of the nuances of Kiribati culture, Dr Borovnik has assembled an I-Kiribati Advisory Team. Working closely with local research associates, she will engage in the 'te maroro' research method of relaxed, informal discussions.

Kua whetūrangihia koe. Linking the celestial spheres to end-of-life experiences – Associate Professor Natasha Tassell-Matamua, Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Makea kei Rarotonga, School of Psychology

Humanity’s intricate relationship to the night sky is age-old. Observed across time and cultures, the celestial sphere has guided activities of everyday living, while also being linked to death. The recent elevation of Matariki as a national holiday serves as a reminder of the connection Māori made between death and the stars. Yet, the nature of this link remains a mystery. What compelled Māori to link the celestial sphere with death, and what continues to inspire narratives, rituals and practices that reinforce this link?

This first of its kind to explore this question, Dr Tassell-Matamua and Associate Investigators Dr Nicole Lindsay and Professor Rangi Mātāmua, will gather accounts of death-related phenomena via an online tool and use interviews to further explore how Māori make meaning from these experiences and link them to the celestial sphere. Innovatively mapping death-related experiences onto the annual movement of Matariki over time, the research will examine whether linkages exist between the timing and features of such experiences and Kōkōrangi Māori (Māori astronomy), and share findings via a short documentary. In doing so, opportunities to rekindle the ancient connection to the stars and re-imagine the meaning of death will be created, while also advancing understandings about the practical application of Māori astronomy in contemporary times.

Misogyny, rhetorical violence and the invisibilised entwining of digital and embodied social worlds – Associate Professor Tracey Nicholls, School of People, Environment and Planning

Bringing feminist theories of misogyny, affect and intersectionality into dialogue, this research seeks to conceptualise online misogyny as patriarchally motivated policing, strategically targeting women exercising leadership who take up public space, enacted through a networked public, and felt in the body.

Arguing that it is through these embodied, felt experiences that online misogyny enacts power, this research will centre the collective experience of these feelings in a transdisciplinary project employing creative research methods. It will involve four integrated work packages that will advance theory; create new understandings of the embodied experience of online misogyny, including Indigenous experiences; and identify forms of resistance to its impacts.

The team, including co-Principal Investigator Dr Suze Wilson and Associate Investigators Dr Ruth Gibbons, Professor Sarah Riley and Associate Professor Rochelle Stewart-Withers, will employ novel collaborative inquiry methods, including paired interviews with women leaders (politicians, journalists and academics); all-women arts-based explorations of how misogyny feels; and gender diverse group discussions that will use biofeedback and film to explore the affective power of misogyny. Combined, the project will significantly advance knowledge of online misogyny, shape public and academic discourse, and envision possibilities for future gender equity in public participation.

A number of Massey academics are also involved in research projects led by other institutions. These include:

  • Increased efficiency or cheater inhibition: using synthetic biology, experimental evolution and modelling to test why reproductive division of labour evolve repeatedly (University of Auckland) – Professor Tim Cooper.
  • Merging ancient Roman knowledge and Te Ao Māori to create self-healing and sustainable concrete using natural materials (University of Auckland) – Dr Anke Zernack.
  • Modelling the domino effect in complex systems (University of Otago) – Professor Mark Bebbington.
  • Picturebooks in Aotearoa: the design and content of picturebooks reflecting indigenous language, culture and evolving national identities (University of Waikato) – Associate Professor Darryn Joseph.
  • What are the key predictors of invasion success? (University of Waikato) – Professor Emeritus Murray Cox.

Read more about the successful projects here.

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