Professor Robin Kearns

MA (Auckland), PhD (McMaster)

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Head of School


I am a socio-cultural geographer with a broad and collaborative research programme that largely focuses on place and wellbeing. As an MA student at The University of Auckland in the early 1980s, I researched community dynamics and land use change in Northland, the region of my childhood.  Receipt of a Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship then took me to McMaster University in Ontario and a Geography programme with strengths in political economy and quantitative analysis. While absorbing those influences, I retained an earlier interest in humanistic geography and developed a doctoral thesis on the urban experience of deinstitutionalised psychiatric patients. I returned to Auckland in 1988 supported by a Medical Research Council postdoctoral fellowship and commenced a lectureship in what was then the Department of Geography in 1990. Over the three decades since, my research links with Canada have remained strong. During sabbatical leave periods I have had visiting positions at Toronto, Queens and Guelph and I am an adjunct professor at Western University (London, Ontario). My scholarship has contributed to the evolution of the subdiscipline of health geography.

Research | Current

Over the last three decades, my research programme has converged on two themes in socio-cultural geography: 

  1. Understanding the meanings and dynamics of places and their influence on human wellbeing.
  2. The downstream effects of policies and political practices on the cultural dynamics of places.

My work aims to generate theoretical and methodological contributions in the international literature as well as inform local policy and planning. My inquiries range across rural (e.g. school closure), urban (e.g. suburban trans-nationalism), coastal (older renters on Waiheke Island) and health-system (e.g. primary care) spaces.

The unifying theme, as expressed in the title of my 2002 Routledge book, is a critical understanding of the links between culture, health and place. My work is both empirical and theoretical, and aims to demonstrate the mutuality of discovery, integration, application, and pedagogy. It is largely collaborative. I appreciate working with enthusiastic colleagues who appreciate the joy of generating new ideas, the adventure of fieldwork and the satisfaction of good writing.

My work is currently funded by a range of grants from external agencies including the National Science Challenges Ageing Well and Building Better Homes, Towns and Communities.

Teaching | Current

I regularly contribute to a range of undergraduate courses including

GEOG 250: Geographical Research in Practice

GEOG 305: Population, Health, & Society

GEOG 315: Research Design and Methods in Human Geography

I also am sole-instructor for the postgraduate course:

GEOG 714: Population, Mobilities and Wellbeing

In 2010 I was a recipient of a University of Auckland Sustained Excellence in Teaching Award and in 2011 I received membership of the Ako Aotearoa Academy of Tertiary Teaching Excellence

Postgraduate supervision

I am particularly enthusiastic about postgraduate supervision. My goal is to challenge students to ‘unpack’ the nature of place and see relationships within and between places and place-expreience that might otherwise remain obscure.

Current postgraduate students



The public library as place: Assembling a contemporary community site - Salene Schloffel-Armstrong (co-supervised with Tom Baker) 

Pet Names: A critical Geography of Non-human Identity Construction in Auckland City - Linda Madden (co-supervised with Ward Friesen)

Playing with public space: the role of the experimental in city-making - Rachael Bowell (co-supervised with Francis Collins, Waikato)

Papatuanuku’s Garden: Plant Medicine, Decolonising Worldview and Multispecies Healing in Aotearoa New Zealand  - Alice McSherry (Co-supervised with Ann Bartos and JC Gaillard)

People’s participation in disaster risk reduction: recentering power - Katherine Hore (co-supervised with JC Gaillard and Tim Davies, Canterbury) 


Older renters' everyday management of dampness in their homes on Waiheke Island - Elliott Serjeant (Co-supervised with Tara Coleman) .

Understanding how community ‘ownership’ has shaped a park as a place: A case study of Randwick Park, Manurewa, Auckland - Hannah Chapman-Carr (Co-supervised with Ann Bartos)



Distinguished New Zealand Geographer (NZ Geographical Society) 2014

Melinda S Meade Distinguished Scholar Award (American Association of Geographers) 2018


Associate Editor of Health & Place (Elsevier) (IF: 3.2)

Section Editor (Health), Int’l Encyclopaedia of Geography: People, the Earth, Environment, and Technology (Wiley-Blackwell)


Committees/Professional groups/Services

Professional memberships:

New Zealand Geographical Society

Association of American Geographers

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Hanlon, N., & Kearns, R. A. (2016). Health and rural places. In M. Shucksmith, D. Brown (Eds.) Routledge international handbook of rural studies (pp. 62-70). Abingdon, Oxford: Routledge.
  • Andrews, G. J., Kingsbury, P., & Kearns, R. (2014). Soundscapes of wellbeing in popular music.
  • Kearns, R. A., & O'Brien G (2014). A week on the Chathams: A geographer and a poet look back on a week spent on the Chatham Islands, December 2012. Landfall (227), 77-86. Related URL.


Contact details

Primary office location

SCIENCE CENTRE 302 - Bldg 302
Level 5, Room 561
New Zealand

Web links