Students skateboard sitting arts lawn landscape

The Social Science Research Centre at the University of Canterbury is a multi-disciplinary centre set up to facilitate a more collaborative approach to social science research within the University and the broader Canterbury region.

Current Projects

Video Task Query Report (PDF) - report by Blair Willems and Jack Grigg

e-Social Science is where the social sciences meet Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Grid computing technologies. Using these technologies social scientists are able to:

  • Link to existing data base resources situated in different geographical locations across the globe;
  • Conduct large-scale integrated comparative analyses;
  • Conduct large-scale surveys using electronic questionnaires disseminated, completed and returned through the Internet;
  • Work in virtual laboratories linking up various research teams on a worldview network, facilitating them to collaborate and create something that is different to the sum of their individual knowledge.

e-Social Science is joining other scientific disciplines using similar technologies and is seen as part of e-Research and e-science.

e-Social Science is a growing phenomenon, emanating from the need of today’s Knowledge Society/Economy and driven by its ability to create and transfer vast quantities of data across the globe.

Building Collaborative Research Capabilities in Virtual Research Environments

The research is designed to advance our understanding of the social interactions and collaboration capabilities entailed in the application of innovative technologies such as Access Grid (AG) and other Video Conferencing (VC) systems. It builds on work previously funded by BRCSS and REANNZ to further elaborate our understanding of how to support collaborative e-Research using AG and other VC and data sharing technologies. The findings of the current work has shown a growing awareness to the use of KAREN based technologies for collaborative e-Research, however, the findings also indicate that application of these strategies requires further development in terms of optimising the potentialities of the technologies.

Collaboration Capabilities in Access Grid Environments

This is a joint project between SSRC and HIT Lab NZ (Human Interface Technology Laboratory New Zealand), funded by REANNZ (Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand Ltd). It aims to develop high quality video conferencing with the international research community, using the KAREN (Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network) high speed internet infrastructure. This will promote the use of KAREN, establish awareness and enable effective use of the network.

The role of virtual technologies in creating new forms of knowledge

This BRCSS project explores new research methods and analytic tools designed for computer-based information distribution, like advanced video conferencing and high-speed internet connectivity.

Impacts of ICTs on Work and Communities

This research programme is funded by FRST for 2003-2008 and is a joint Waikato University and University of Canterbury project. It explores aspects of the relationship between work and community use of ICTs, including analysis of Government policies on connecting communities and digital divides. David Thorns is responsible for research on on-line workers and the relationship between ICT and community development, which has led to a number of publications.

Winners and Losers in the Knowledge Economy/Knowledge Society

This Marsden Fund project aims to create new, theory-driven definitions and measures of the size, composition and effects of New Zealand’s ‘Knowledge Society’. It intends to explore the linkages between innovation, new technologies and the levels and nature of human capital involved in knowledge societies. It is concerned with the ways in which inequalities are both created and sustained in knowledge societies. The project will run for three years from April 2005 and is being undertaken at the University of Canterbury by Professor David Thorns in Sociology and Anthropology, with Professor Les Oxley and Dr Ken Carlaw in Economics.

  • Department Of Economics, School Of Business And Economics, University Of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand. The Knowledge Economy/Society: The Latest. Example of “Measurement Without Theory”? (PDF, 419 KB) by Les Oxley, Paul Walker, David Thorns, and Hong Wang
  • Ashton, H. (2003) Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) as resources for community development: What is being done? What is their potential? Social Science Research Centre, University of Canterbury, Working Paper 2, ICT and Community Series.
  • Ashton, H. and Thorns, D.C. (2004) 'Information Communications Technologies (ICTs) - to make or break community?' Future Times v4 pp6-8.
  • Ashton, H. and Thorns, D.C. (2007) 'The role of information communications technology in retrieving local community' City & Community v6 i3 September 2007 pp211-229.
  • Carlaw, K, Oxley, L, Walker, P, Thorns, D, and Nuth, M. (2006) 'Beyond the Hype: Intellectual Property and the Knowledge Society/Knowledge Economy' Journal of Economic Surveys v20 i4 September 2006 pp633-690.
  • Ianko, K. 'e-Social Science Development' Social Science Research Centre, University of Canterbury.
  • Peacey, B. (2002) Socio-Economic Impact of ICT. Egovernment at the local level - a discussion paper. Social Science Research Centre, University of Canterbury, Working Paper 1, ICT and Community Series.

Conference Papers/Reports



  • Allan, M. and Thorns, D.C. Access Grid Environments as Spaces of Mixed Spatial Interaction.
  • Allan, M. and Thorns, D.C. Access grid and Video Conferencing as Real Life simulations.
  • Oxley, L. and Thorns, D.C. Exploring the Knowledge Economy/Society. Paper presented at the Social Policy and Evaluation Conference, Wellington, April 2007.
  • Thorns D.C. eResearch Australasia, conference report, Brisbane, June 2007.
  • Thorns D.C. Report from the Foundation Conference for the International Data Forum.


  • Thorns D.C Creating E-Research Communities: The Aotearoa/New Zealand National Project.
  • Leonard, L. and Thorns, D.C. On-line workers working from home. Paper presented at the Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (SAANZ) Conference, Hamilton, November 2006.


  • Spoonley P. and Thorns D. Innovative Networking: A National Social Science Network in New Zealand.
  • AVCC (Advanced Video Conferencing and Collaboration NZ)
  • BRCSS (Building Research Capability in the Social Sciences network)
  • eResearch Australasia (2007 conference)
  • KAREN (Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network)
  • NCeSS (National Centre for e-Social Science UK)
  • NZSSN (New Zealand Social Statistics Network) - Data archive project based at the University of Auckland
  • Third International Conference on e-Social Science (2007)

New forms of Computer Mediated Communications (CMCs) have the potential to change how we, create knowledge, research and collaborate. However, technological infrastructure in itself will not generate a knowledge economy and society, it is how we use it that is crucial (Binde, 2005). Furthermore, global communication enabled by the technology poses challenges to existing social scientific methods of inquiry (Zsuzsa & Sean, 2002).

The project will explore new research methods and contribute to the development of computer based analytic tools enabling the investigation of procesess of knowledge creation mediated by new and enhanced forms of computer mediated distribution systems such Access Grid and the new high speed internet connectivity (KAREN) recently introduced in the New Zealand research arena.

Professor David Thorns

Dr Mary Allan

Social science Research Centre 
University of Canterbury

Postdoctoral Projects


The project is funded by the BRCSS (Building Research Capability in the Social Sciences) network, and supported by the Social Science Research Centre. In this project Mary aims to investigate the reasons underpinning uptake of advanced video conferencing technologies tools for supporting collaborative research.

Individuals, companies, universities, and governments acknowledge the benefits of teleconferencing for saving time, money, and reducing the carbon footprint. Scientists, designers and engineers are constantly working to improve teleconferencing tools and facilitate geographically dispersed people to ‘meet' alluding to the potential of the technology to change meeting practices and facilitate virtual participation in conferences, seminars, and workshops. Changing meeting practices is particularly relevant in today's Knowledge Economy, which on one hand is reliant on collaborative research and development on a global scale, but at the same time is required to apply ‘green' working practices. Teleconferencing technologies hold the potential to reduce travel and decrease related carbon emission levels, however, Fuchs(2006; 2006)Mokhtarian,(2000), and Denstadli (2004), found that this potential has not yet been adequately realised, and uptake is still low(Ho, 2007).

Studies in the field have mostly been driven by the hypothesis that enhanced design of technological tools will cause an increase in uptake and facilitate change in practices. However, literature shows that using the linear model of ‘cause and effect' to describe the relationship between uptake and design fails to elicit the complexity entailed in this relationship and further aspects should be explored (Allan & Thorns, Forthcoming)

The project will investigate the interdependent relationships between the increasing need to collaborate, while at the same time lower the carbon footprint created by travel, and the uptake of teleconferencing technology. The project will focus on the discovery of the ways in which users, rather than designers, construct the functionality of the technology. The focus is on the centrality of human action in realising tasks to which the technology is designed. Furthermore, the study will illustrate the ways in which users' actions are constructed through systems of social, political and economic relationships stretching beyond the user/ technology relations.

The project will focus on members of the research community as its population of study. The choice was guided by two main reasons:

  • The research community is often required to engage and collaborate with colleagues spread across the globe, hence are currently regarded as relatively frequent flyers. Studies show that air travel to international conferences can generate the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide generated by 550 US citizens in one year (Roberts & Godlee, 2007).
  • The research community often plays an active role in finding solutions to the growing environmental crisis. The project will specifically approach those researchers working at the cutting edge use of new technologies, and research centres specialising in the study of new ICT and teleconferencing technologies.

Aims of Study

  • Map systems affecting the shift from traditional to teleconferencing practices and consequently help reduce travel
  • Provide organisations with a mapping tool that will assist in systematic identification of factors supporting or hindering the uptake of new technology and shift in practices
  • Provide recommendations for successful implementation of teleconferencing practices

The hypothesis – The information provided through the mapping of systems affecting uptake and recommendations for successful implementation of teleconferencing practices will lead to improved practices and therefore enhance the use of teleconferencing and result in the reduction of travel


Allan, M., & Thorns, D. (Forthcoming). Being Face to Face - A State of Mind or Technological Design? In Whitworth B. & A. (de) Moor (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Socio-Technical Design and Social Networking Systems .

Denstadli, J. M. (2004). Impacts of Videoconferencing on Business Travel: the Norwegian Experience. Journal of Air Transport Management, 10 (6), 371-376.

Fuchs, C. (2006). Information Society - Sustainable or not? Paper presented at the CORP 2006 & Geomultimedia 06, Vienna .

Fuchs, C. (2006). Sustainability and the Information Society. In Berleur, T.,, M. I. Numinen & Impagliazzo, T (Eds.), IFIP International Federation for Information Processing, Volume 223, Social Informatics: An Information Society for All? In Remembrance of Rob Kling, (Vol. 223, pp. 219-230): Springer.

Ho, V. (2007). Cost and Awareness hinder telepresence in Asia . ZDNet Asia

Mokhtarian, P. L. (2000). Telecommunications and Travel . (Millennium white paper prepared for the Transportation Research Board, . Included in the Regional Futures Compendium of the Capital Region Institute (Valley Vision), Sacramento , California. ). Davis : Institute of Transportation Studies- University of California , .

Roberts, I. , & Godlee, F. (2007). Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Medical Conferences. [Editorial]. British Medical Journal (BMJ), 334 , 324-325.

Reproduced from UC Chronicle

Canterbury University sociologist Dr Hazel Ashton plans to make the most of a postdoctoral research grant she received from the Building Research Capabilities in the Social Sciences (BRCSS) Network.

Dr Ashton, a postdoctoral fellow in the Social Science Research Centre, was one of four researchers to receive one-year postdoctoral awards from the BRCSS Network recently. The network is a virtual research community, launched in 2003, which aims to provide support and enhance the research capability of social-science researchers in New Zealand.

Dr Ashton said she felt “very fortunate” to have funding to further develop research she carried out while doing her PhD.

“I have been very lucky to have received this funding. Lots of people spend years on their doctoral thesis and then don’t have any opportunity to do anything with it. There are so few opportunities in the social sciences to develop doctoral research,” she said.

Dr Ashton’s project, entitled “New Creative Social Science for chosen Quality Futures”, will look at ways of helping people in local communities communicate comfortably and effectively with each other and with academic, policy and decision-making institutions about socio-cultural, economic and environmental issues that are important to them.

While she was doing her thesis, Dr Ashton developed a methodology using interactive communication technologies and film to aid this process. She plans to use her postdoctoral award to explore the application of her concepts further in the contexts of enhanced local-to-local and local-to-international communication and development.

Her research is focused on her website To build the website, Dr Ashton engaged a web provider who stretched the available open-source technologies so the website could function as a virtual village and an academic hub that Dr Ashton believed could be useful to localities, universities and policy makers alike.

Dr Ashton said she hoped a range of people would visit the website, engage in lively conversations and share knowledge.

The postdoctoral award would be used to help develop the website further.

Completed Projects


Dr. Ruth McManus
Post doctoral Fellow

Project outline

The aim of the project is to explore current debates on care and welfare and examine policy practices with respect to childcare in New Zealand and a selection of other OECD countries. This fellowship comes under the Social Science Research Centre's broader project 'Reframing the debates: An Analysis of Welfare States in an Age of Globalisation
The research plan is to map out and engage with current debates in the care and welfare state literature.

Brief research outline

How do families and the welfare state cope with and re-organise around globalisation fuelled economic crises and profound demographic transitions? It is common to approach such concerns through the theme of caring, where the question above gets translated into 'How does the organisation of care change in such circumstances, and what are the effects of these changes in the ability to care?'

The ability of 'caring' to shed light on such complex social changes is, however, questionable. For instance, existing international and NZ accounts of care (e.g. Finch & Groves1983, Waerness 1984, Saville-Smith 1987, Munford 1989) tend to employ dichotomous analytical categories when examining boundaries of care. There is a tendency to replicate the gendered division of labour where women are associated with private/home/family/care responsibilities and men are associated with public/civic/employment/ financial support responsibilities even when approached critically (i.e. in terms of collusion between patriarchy and state).

Problems with this approach have already been identified in the literature. One is that this conceptual approach has unintended analytical consequences. The gendered analysis of care implicitly works with a specific model of the family unit - the gendered nuclear family. This imposes a very specific understanding of the organisation of care that tends to predetermine the outcome of analyses of care in that there is a tendency to generate economically deterministic, statist and women as victim orientated accounts of change around care. For instance, when analyses use the gendered dichotomy of care, there is a tendency to see that there is now a heavier burden of care responsibilities on women. The gendered dichotomy of care locks analysis of the caring nexus and the associated position of women in society into a state's response to economic downturn that ghettoises women. That may be the case, but this approach cannot take account of the cultural place for e.g. House-husbands, whanau care, split- family/ employment roles, the use of extended family members as carers to name but a few. Nor can it take account of the changing configurations of care provision that cut across traditional categories of organisation such as the individual, family, business and state. In brief, the organisation of care is much more complex than that allowed for in the gendered dichotomy of care approach.

Internationally, there is a trend to question these gendered analyses of care. For instance, current research suggests that these concepts are no longer empirically accurate. Statistical trends indicate an increasing diversity of family forms, the nuclear family model only counts for one, and not necessarily the pre-dominant form of family organisation. As the gendered division of care relies upon the nuclear family model, it comes into question.

The need for conceptual repositioning is recognised in international debates on defining care (e.g. Mary Daly and Jane Lewis 2000) that call for the need to expand the political economy aspects of care analysis. This call articulates with the work done by CAVA that seeks to reformulate the ways in which the nexus of family and employment (strongly embedded in 'care analyses) is worked through. The ultimate aim of these international debates is to analyse and participate in moves toward a new form of welfare state resettlement.

A good practical way to approach care in New Zealand is to analyse the current family and employment nexus in NZ and link this to international care debates.

Completed Projects

Susan Lilley, University of Canterbury targeted summer scholarship in affiliation with the Social Science Research Centre and part of 'Reframing the debates:

Whose Role is it anyway?: Implementing family -friendly workplace practices in New Zealand.

Student: Susan Lilley

Implementing family-friendly workplace practices in New Zealand, prepared by Susan Lilley.

This project was under the supervision of Dr. Jane Higgins and Dr. Ruth McManus, School of Sociology and Anthropology University of Canterbury.

The summer scholarship was in affiliation with the Social Science Research Centre and part of ‘Reframing the debates: Analysis of welfare states in an age of globalisation’ (below) project.

Whose Role is it anyway?: Implementing family –friendly workplace practices in New Zealand (PDF, 106 KB)

An empirical overview of current work/life balance policies has been undertaken and completed.

Work in Progress

To date:

  • a position paper on care in New Zealand has been presented at conference and is currently under review.

Conference Papers and Presentations

Project description

Constructive Conversations is a six-year research project (2003-2008) involving researchers from four New Zealand universities. Its goal is to model the assessment of technologies in their social contexts in order to enable improved risk-assessment decisions and decision-processes for a range of biotechnologies. The project will investigate in detail 1/ genetic testing and biobanking; 2/ plant biopharming; 3/ animal biopharming; and 4/ nutrigenomics and functional food. It will develop methods for eliciting the diverse range and types of knowledge relevant to the assessment of these and other technologies.

Constructive Conversations: Korero Whakaaetanga is funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST), and is co-hosted by the School of Political Science and Communication and the Social Science Research Centre.

The Project Leader is Dr Joanna Goven.

Project leaders

Professor David Thorns
Dr Jane Higgins

Post Doctoral Fellow

Dr Ruth McManus

Research project outline

During the last twenty years, as welfare state structures established during industrial –era capitalism have struggled to cope with globalisation, the dominant models used for the analysis of welfare regimes have become problematic. In New Zealand, the wage earners welfare state - the model of post 1938 welfare - reflects a social, and particularly a gendered order based on the male worker (earning a family wage) whose care needs and responsibilities are largely invisible because they are met by unpaid labour in the home. Labour market insecurity and the increasing involvement of women in paid work have produced a reworking of the boundaries between public and private worlds, particularly around care work, so that this model is now inadequate as a means of conceptualising social security. New Zealand is not alone in experiencing a mismatch between its welfare landscape and the changing risks and needs of its increasingly diverse population. Using comparative case analysis this research will challenge dominant welfare state models and explore new ways of theorising and analysing social policy construction and delivery. The cases will include New Zealand and the strength of the study will come from the fact that New Zealand has been and continues to be the site for innovation. Policy practices with respect to work, childcare and housing will be examined.

Related Project

Analysis of Welfare States in an Age of Globalisation

House and Home Research

The importance of home ownership to New Zealanders raises questions about the strong relationship that exists between house, home and New Zealanders' individual and collective identity. The purpose of the research is to analyse this issue as it manifests itself in one of New Zealand's major cities.

Sustainability and Urban Planning

The project has analysed a sample of urban plans recently released for public consultation under the jurisdiction of the Resource Management Act 1991(RMA). The objective is to assess the ways in which ideas of sustainability have been grappled with and operationalised consistent with the statutory requirements of the RMA.

Sustainable Housing in Disadvantaged Communities

Overcrowding, homelessness, and physically inadeqate houses are associated with poor socio-economic outcomes, placing families and communities at risk. Communities in serious housing need often face multiple problems - unemployment, drug abuse, violence, welfare dependency. This research asks how housing need in these communities can be addressed in socially, environmentally and fiscally sustainable ways.

See the Summer Studentship Projects