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Awards > Sutton-Smith Doctoral Award


The award honours Brian Sutton-Smith. Professor Sutton-Smith was awarded the first Education PhD in New Zealand in 1954. The Sutton-Smith Doctoral Award is awarded annually for an excellent Doctoral thesis by an NZARE member. The Award was approved at the 2004 NZARE Annual General Meeting, awarded for the first time in 2006. The award consists of a written citation and a cash prize of $1000. The NZARE Council retains the right to make no award in any one year.

Recipient of the Sutton-Smith Doctoral Award:

2006: Veronica Mary Enright O’Toole, University of Canterbury (Citation, PDF, 96KB)
2007: Tony Dowden, Massey University (Citation, 88KB)
2008: Helen Dixon, The University of Auckland (Citation, 68KB)
2009: Gill Rutherford, University of Otago (Citation, 254KB)
2010: Katie Fitzpatrick, The University of Auckland (Citation, 221KB)
2011: Margaret MacDonald, University of Canterbury (Citation, PDF, 205KB)
2012: Graham McPhail, The University of Auckland (Citation, PDF, 203KB)
2013: Marek Tesar, University of Auckland, (Citation, PDF, 210KB)

Veronica O'Toole
Tony Dowden
Helen Dixon
Gill Rutherford Katie Fitzpatrick Margaret MacDonald
Graham-McPhail Marek Tesar  


Nominees must be current NZARE members. Any NZARE member may make nominations. Theses nominated must have been undertaken in New Zealand and/or have clear implications fro New Zealand education. Theses must have been completed and examined between 1 September and 31 August of the calendar year prior to the closing date for nominations which is 1 September. Theses completed after this date may be nominated fro the following year’s award. Nominations should be forwarded electronically to the NZARE Awards convenor at by this date. Nominations must include:

  • a letter of nomination. Nominations may be made by the nominee’s supervisor(s) or other staff members in the institution in which the nominee undertook his/her thesis; by colleagues in the nominee’s workplace, or by any current member of NZARE. Members may self-nominate. 
  • Evidence that the thesis was considered by the examiners to be of high quality. Where possible this should include copies of full examiner reports, the names of the examiners. The institution where the thesis was undertaken should submit a report supporting the nomination. PhD and EdD theses may be nominated. 
  • A copy of the abstract and one chapter from the thesis. Full copies of the theses will be requested when necessary. Theses will be returned.    
  • Appropriate citations or letters of support
  • Email, postal, phone details of nominators and nominees 
  • A recent colour photo of nominee 
  • Evidence of current NZARE membership numbers and expiry dates of nominee and nominator (details can be obtained from

topAward selection

In each year a sub-committee appointed by the NZARE Council will receive and consider the nominations and make a recommendation to the Council regarding conferring the award. The final decision must be ratified by the Council. The Council retains the right to make no award in any one year.

In making its decision, the sub-committee will consider the theses' contributions to new knowledge in education, which may be empirical, theoretical and/or methodological. Contributions to educational theory, practice, policy, innovation, and research methodology will be considered equally. Originality, thoroughness and presentation of the work will also be taken into consideration.

The Award will be conferred at the NZARE annual conference, and notified in the Association's publication Input and on its website.

Brian Sutton-Smith biographical notes

Brian Sutton-Smith was born in Wellington in 1924. He trained as a teacher, completed a BA and MA, and taught in primary schools prior to taking up a doctoral fellowship with the then University of New Zealand. Professor Sutton-Smith's PhD was titled The historical and psychological significance of the unorganized games of New Zealand primary school children. Following the completion of his PhD Professor Sutton-Smith travelled to the USA on a Fulbright Travel Grant and Smith Mundt Research Fellowship. After a brief period back in New Zealand teaching in a primary school and working as a sessional assistant in educational psychology at Victoria University, he returned to the USA in 1957 and began an outstanding academic career with a major research focus on children's games, adult games, children's play, children's drama, films and narratives, as well as children's gender issues and sibling position.

Professor Sutton-Smith is the author and editor of some 50 books, the first of which was Our Street (1950, Reed) for New Zealand children, written in their own way of speaking; and the last of which is The Ambiguity of Play (1997, Harvard University Press). He is also the author of some 350 scholarly articles. The children's novel Our Street, about his own growing up in the suburb of Island Bay in Wellington, is a metaphor for Professor Sutton Smith's life work. Professor Sutton-Smith currently has a book in press titled Play (as if) the struggle for survival, which includes personal accounts of his own grandchildren's favourite forms of play, as well as the reminiscences of others, and is written as a result of his search for an adequate definition of play.

Professor Sutton-Smith's academic life was 10 years at Bowling Green State University, Ohio; 10 years at Teachers College, Columbia University New York; and 17 years at the University of Pennsylvania. He has been at times known as a Professor of Psychology, a Professor of Education, a Professor of Human Development, and a Professor of Children's Folklore.


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