Health & Society Archive (2016-2017)



Susan Burch, American Studies Program, Middlebury College

“Committed: Native Sovereignty, Institutionalization, Family, and Remembering”

This presentation centers on life stories from South Dakota’s Canton Asylum, a federal psychiatric institution for American Indians. Between 1902 and 1933, the Asylum detained nearly 400 Indigenous men, women, and children from more than 50 Native nations. Focusing especially on the experiences of Menominee people collectively stolen from their homes in Wisconsin to Canton in November 1917, this talk exposes contested understandings of kin, diagnoses and forced removals, and remembering. Complex relationships between the three concepts also emerge: medical diagnoses and institutionalization were used to undermine Indigenous kinship and they complicate remembering. At the same time, remembering—recalling and repopulating the past—offers a way to challenge pathological diagnoses and affirm Native self-determination. This project unsettles the projected objectivity and commonsense logic of US medical diagnoses and institutionalization. It brings to light the violent entanglement of settler colonialism, racism, ableism, and patriarchy and their impact on Native self-determination, families, and remembering. Collaborating with relatives of those incarcerated at Canton, and drawing on decolonizing and disability studies methodologies, this work seeks to generate meaningful historical knowledge and new theoretical strategies and perspectives.

Date(s): Tuesday, 9/6 2:00 PM to Tuesday, 9/6 4:00 PM

Campus Address: Lower Level – Stevenson Hall
Address: 701 South Morgan Street
Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States
Contact: Linda Vavra
Phone: (312) 996-6352


Date(s): Thursday, 10/20 2:00 PM to Thursday, 10/20 4:00 PM

Campus Address: Lower Level – Stevenson Hall

Address: 701 South Morgan Street

Location: Chicago, Illinois, US

Contact: Linda Vavra



Phone: (312) 996-6352

Carol A. Heimer, Sociology Department, Northwestern University

Title: What WHO Knows:  The Politics of Information Gathering in Disease Surveillance

Using the case of SARS as an example (and with some comparisons to outbreaks of Ebola, Zika, and other infectious diseases), this paper considers how expert knowledge is assembled and used by the World Health Organization.  The authority of international organizations such as WHO derives in part from their expertise and their claims about the orderly use of high-quality evidence in policymaking.  But their authority also comes from their capacity to represent and create consensus among actors.  These two bases of authority sometimes conflict.  Like other international organizations, the WHO is required to base its actions on particular kinds of information gathered from specified official sources.  But official information is not always adequate for decision making, either because official bodies misrepresent the true situation or simply do not have the data.  In such cases, organizations like the WHO may turn to unofficial, even clandestine, sources to bolster what they are “allowed” to know, to ratchet up the pressure for official sources to provide more accurate and more timely information, and to change the ground rules for decision making.


ennifer Brier, Gender and Women’s Studies and History

“‘I’m Still Surviving’: Women’s History of HIV in Chicago”

Click here for event flyer

Professor Brier will reflect on her recent exhibit “In Plain Sight” and oral history project “I’m Still Surviving.”  She will discuss the methodology and ongoing challenges in the multi-year oral history project.  The uncovered histories expose new narratives about women and HIV in the 21st century that center women’s experiences of physical and mental health, racial and economic segregation over the course of their lifetime, and barriers they face to comprehensive care. The initiatives merge the history of HIV/AIDS into the history of Chicago.

Jennifer Brier’s research and teaching are largely focused on exploring the historical intersections of gender, race, and sexuality.  She is an active public historian, working to make history useful and meaningful to communities beyond the academy. She curated the award winning exhibition, Out in Chicago, at the Chicago History Museum in 2011.  In 2012, she curated a traveling exhibition on the history of AIDS for the National Library of Medicine “Surviving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics and Culture,” that will go to hundreds of cities over a five year run.

 Date(s): Thursday, 2/9 2:00 PM to Thursday, 2/9 4:00 PM
Campus Address: Lower Level – Stevenson Hall
Address: 701 S. Morgan St.
Location: Chicago, IL
Contact: Linda Vavra
Phone: 312-996-6352


Organs, Icons, and Ethics:  Figuring Living Kidney Donation in Mexico and Beyond

In living donor transplantation trying to help one person fundamentally depends upon harming another.  This is thus a rather extraordinary form of sacrificial medicine, yet one that has become a routine medical practice worldwide.  Drawing on my recent book, this talk examines how living donation gets contingently rendered as life-saving — or as life-risking — across different sites.  Bringing together comparative material from Mexico and the U.S., I ask:  what are the particular images, stories, and ideas used to imagine the figure of the living donor?  What is made more (and less) visible in such imaginings?  And ultimately, what thus becomes more (and less) clinically practicable, politically legible, and ethically permissible?

Megan Crowley-Matoka is Associate Professor in the Departments of Medical Education and Anthropology and Director of Graduate Studies for the Program in Medical Humanities and Bioethics at Northwestern University.  A sociocultural and medical anthropologist, her work examines the culture of medicine in relation to the making of both self and state.  Broadly focused on the question of how patients, medical professionals, and policy makers make decisions in the face of clinical uncertainty, her research engages areas of medicine where the balance between offering healing and inflicting harm is delicate and in dispute, and tracks the uneven social configurations and consequences — as well as the moral problems — that emerge in such zones.  Her first ethnographic project, recently published in the book Domesticating Organ Transplant: Familial Sacrifice and National Aspiration in Mexico (Duke 2016), explores the intimate dynamics and inequitable politics of organ transplantation in Mexico. Her second book project, currently underway, is an ethnography of the political and moral economies of pain management in U.S. biomedicine as they emerge in the articulations — and disarticulations — between pharmaceutical, surgical, and public health modes of care.

 Date(s): Thursday, 3/16 2:00 PM to Thursday, 3/16 4:00 PM
Campus Address: Stevenson Hall
Address: 701 South Morgan
Location: Chicago, IL, United States
Contact: Linda Vavra
Phone: (312) 996-6352