Introducing the Team

Dr Susan Wardell (Lead Researcher)
Susan (she/her) is an early-career researcher and lecturer in the Social Anthropology programme (part of the School of Social Sciences) at the University of Otago. She is Pākehā and was born in Dunedin. Susan has two children, and enjoys art, creative writing, and gardening alongside her academic work.

Susan’s academic interests focus on sociocultural aspects of health and illness, care, emotion and affect. Her research often explores these topics in relation to digital cultures and online practices, considering both critical and phenomenological aspects. She had additional research interests in religion and spirituality, death and grief, neoliberalism and work cultures. Susan is trained in Media and Communication Studies alongside Social Anthropology. You can read her full academic profile here, and follow her on Twitter here.

Laura Starling (Research Assistant)
Laura (she/her) has recently completed her Masters in Sociology, and currently works as a Research Assistant and Tutor in both the Social Anthropology and Sociology departments at the University of Otago. Originally from Christchurch, she currently lives in Dunedin with her husband and their three cats. She spends most her free time painting, crocheting and playing Dungeons and Dragons.

Laura’s research has focused mainly on digital health. Her thesis examined how social media influencers advertised contraceptive apps on Instagram, taking a critical lens to understand their online presentation as a performance of neoliberal citizenship. Her other research has focused on reproductive health apps and their use in New Zealand.

Cassie Withey-Rila (Assistant Research Fellow)
Cassie (they/them) has recently submitted their thesis for a Masters of Public Health in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at the University of Otago. Their research explored the positive experiences of transgender and gender diverse adults with their GPs in Aotearoa New Zealand. After they discovered their passion for public health teaching queer-inclusive sex education in Texas, Cassie immigrated to Aotearoa New Zealand in 2016. They are of European ancestry, and work to build community within transgender, queer, and disability justice spaces, striving to do so with an anti-racist, anti-colonial lens.

In addition to working as a researcher and tutor/demonstrator at Otago, Cassie has done volunteer work with trans and queer communities, from gender exploration workshops to transgender social groups. In addition to working to improve transgender health outcomes, they have a particular interest in exploring gender euphoria, strengths-based community work, and undermining the negative narratives around our communities.

Previous team members

The 2020 research team: Laura, Susan, Ella, and Penelope, finishing up Phase 1 of the Marsden-funded research (June 2020).

Dr Ella Robinson (Research Assistant)
Ella grew up (mostly) in Auckland and is of Pākehā (New Zealand/European) background. She recently received her doctorate in social anthropology from the University of Otago and feels at home in the beautiful little city of Dunedin. Her broad research interests include the anthropology of ageing and the life course, embodiment, and gender/sexuality. Outside of academia, she is often found dancing, reading fantasy books, writing, or drinking coffee (preferably in a patch of sunshine).

Dr Penelope Bilton (Assistant Research Fellow)
Penelope has a PhD in Statistics from Massey University, with a focused on tree-based modelling. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.

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