Feminist professor awarded Marsden Medal

Feminist professor Virginia Braun who teaches gender, critical health psychology and qualitative research at the University of Auckland has been awarded this year’s Marsden Medal.

Professor Virginia Braun has been awarded the 2021 Marsden Medal.
Professor Virginia Braun has been awarded the 2021 Marsden Medal. Photo: Billy Wong

The medal is awarded by the New Zealand Association of Scientists and recognises senior researchers for a lifetime of outstanding service to the profession of science.

Professor Braun is a graduate of the University of Auckland and completed her PhD on a Commonwealth Scholarship at Loughborough University (UK). She was appointed lecturer in the University of Auckland’s School of Psychology in 2001.

She collaborates internationally in research and teaching, in particular with Associate Professor Victoria Clarke from the University of the West of England. Their scholarship and guidelines for qualitative research, especially the method thematic analysis, has had a huge global impact, well beyond the discipline of psychology. They have written two qualitative textbooks; the most recent, Thematic Analysis: A Practical Guide, has just been published.

Professor Braun has taught qualitative research workshops and given keynotes in numerous countries. The Marsden Medal recognises this substantial methodological contribution.

Her wider area of research is focused on the relationship between the social, scientific and individual in terms of bodies, sexuality and health. Her work examines the influence of culture and society on individual choices and broader issues like public health policy and practice.

That focus has led to research exploring issues such as genital cosmetic surgery, sexual norms and expectations, body hair practices and, more recently, healthy-eating and Covid-19 lockdown.

“I see my role as a critical scholar as questioning accepted norms and challenging embedded expectations, particularly of women and the constant gendered messages women are bombarded with, such as they must look and act in a certain way,” she says.

“One of my roles is to disrupt those stories, through academic research and also through the media. In doing that, I aim to raise questions about what we understand as normal, and ideal and what we think is not, and how those can limit people’s lives and well-being.”

Professor Braun has spoken publicly in the media about voluntary childlessness and the societal pressure on women to have children.

“I got positive feedback for talking publicly about this, for saying things that can be hard for people to say. The idea that women have to have children remains deeply embedded in our culture.”

Within the Faculty of Science, she served as Associate Dean (Equity) for many years, developing initiatives that create a more inclusive working and learning environment for staff and students, such as a research fund to support parents returning from extended parental leave.

Professor Braun is a keen cyclist and a regular Twitter user, commenting on a wide range of issues and debates connected to health, social justice and qualitative scholarship.

Media contact

Anne Beston | Media adviser
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