Assoc Prof Karen Nairn, College of Education

Associate Professor Karen Nairn, University of Otago College of Education, has received a $840,000 Marsden Fund grant for her project “Putting Hope into Action: What inspires and sustains young people’s engagement in social movements?”

The grant comes as part of the latest Marsden Fund annual round where University of Otago researchers gained around $24m for 33 world-class research projects – the University’s most successful round ever.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie warmly welcomed the outstanding success of so many Otago applicants in the highly competitive round.

“The Marsden Fund represents the most stringent and prestigious national contest of research ideas in New Zealand and Otago’s success in this latest round helps cement our place as a research-led university with a reputation for excellence.”

Project details

Hope for social change is a powerful catalyst for taking political action. Our aim is to understand the role of hope in the politicisation of young people (aged 18-29) in New Zealand. How might hope for social change inspire, and sustain, young people’s political action? Brexit, Trump, and recent UK elections have generated considerable debate about the role of the ‘youth vote’, challenging assumptions of young people as apolitical. Working with six collectives of young people, which are addressing social and environmental injustices, we will explore how they put their hopes for social change into action. Deploying activist history interviews and ethnographic methods, such as participant observation and social media, we will investigate what sustains young people’s collective engagement. Each collective will be invited to present their vision for the future as a ‘living manifesto’. The project will fill a significant research gap in New Zealand while making an important contribution to international research on politics, new social movements, and the role of hope. As a society, it is imperative we understand what kinds of futures young people are working towards because their hopes and actions could transform the lives of future generations.

Read about the other Otago Marsden recipients.