Academic Specialities & Projects

As a medical and psychological anthropologist, I study the cultural dimensions and subjective experiences of illness, well-being, and healing. I am particularly interested in how people experience, understand, and derive meaning from misfortune, uncertainty, and disorder. My work also engages themes at the “beginnings” and “endings” of life. My academic work has generally focused on the following domains:

  • Global health and development studies
  • Spirit children and infanticide discourse and practice
  • Childhood, the life course, and aging
  • Anthropology of the “beginnings” and “endings” of life        
  • Euthanasia, bioethics, & medicalization in low income contexts
  • Family and intergenerational relations
  • Mental health and historical and intergenerational trauma
  • Misfortune, meaning, and disorder
  • Risk, uncertainty, and decision-making
  • Divination practices
  • I am comfortable working within phenomenological, symbolic/interpretive, narrative, critical (political-economic and ecological), cultural psychodynamic, and psychoanalytic methods and theories
  • Design thinking and research as a form of applied anthropology
  • Regional specialties include Ghana, Burkina Faso (and West Africa generally), North America (including First Nations peoples), and Australia

See my consulting page for areas of industry related expertise.

Selected Projects

Toward a Cultural Psychodynamics of Critical Moments: Perspectives on the Beginnings and Ends of Life
2019 – Present
Cultural psychodynamics spans a long-held conceptual gap in anthropology existing between sociocultural and psychological explanations. It systematically links psychoanalytic approaches with a nuanced cultural phenomenology. Cultural psychodynamics offers a set of non-reductive and integrated perspectives that are useful for understanding people’s experiences and inner worlds and how they are shaped by and shape their social and cultural context.

The Narrative Construction of Younger Onset Dementia: Patient and Carer Accounts of Meaningful Life Events
2014 – 2019
This ongoing qualitative study is developing holistic and experience-near understandings of the meaningful life events and associated narratives of persons diagnosed with younger onset dementia and their carers. One area of analysis, for example, focuses on how past traumatic experiences are used to emplot and structure understandings of dementia. The project is also examining barriers to quality care (to include home and community design) and the relational dynamics between caregivers and persons with dementia.

Elucidating Eating Disorders and Obesity Health Literacy: Paving the Way for an Integrated Approach to Health Promotion
2014 – 2017
This qualitative and quantitative research aims to clarify key aspects of health literacy relating to obesity and eating-disordered behaviour among the public, health professionals, researchers, administrators, and other key stakeholders. A core area of inquiry is to what degree do professionals and the public medicalize obesity and what are the potential consequences of framing obesity as eating disordered behavior.

Interprofessional Cultural Competency Program Design
2016 – 2017
I am currently leading the design of cultural competency workshops for health professions, medical sciences, and public health programs. The goal is to design a paradigm and set of tools that avoid the common pitfalls of competency-based programs—for instance, presenting culture as a static, fostering a one-size-fits-all view of a culture, or perpetuating the misperception that culture is an obstacle. This design offers a set of prompts that encourages curiosity and opens an invitation to be empathetic and focus on the moral meanings and what is “at stake” for patients.

The Spirit Child Phenomenon and the Nankani Sociocultural World
2006 – 2016
This long-term ethnographic research examined the sociocultural context and multivocal discourse surrounding spirit child phenomena and the perception and practice of infanticide in Northern Ghana. This project resulted in several publications and my book “Spirit Children: Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana.”

Yua Community Development Research and Project Implementation
2008 – 2013
This was a long-term community-based research and development project that included the design and implementation of a solar powered mechanical water pump, a borehole repair program, user-centered design and construction of the community nurses’ quarters, a health clinic remodel, a solar powered lighting project, drip irrigation research to expand dry season farming capabilities, and other research and sustainable development projects.

Provider Experiences and Relational Styles in the Context of Electronic Medical Records
2010 – 2012
This project established how Electronic Medical/Health Records (EMRs) influence the human and patient-centered dimensions of clinical interactions and offered a framework for understanding providers’ acceptance and use of EMRs. The project examined the many modalities of communication and interactive styles to explore what effects EMRs have on communication between providers and patients in medical consultations.

Risk and the Changing Perceptions of Nankani Maternal and Infant Vulnerabilities
2008 – 2010
This project involved ethnographic research and person-centered interviews into the changing understandings of maternal and infant vulnerability and notions of risk among the Nankani people living within the context of expanding biomedical services and education efforts in the Kassena-Nankana District of Ghana.

Moving Towards Healing: A Nunavut Case Study
2004 – 2006
This project offered a comprehensive review of the meaning, experience, and processes of healing in an Inuit community in Nunavut. The emphasis was on the constructive and positive elements employed by Inuit to come to terms with a variety of individual and collective traumatic events; the emotional and social repercussions of sexual and physical abuse are the most common of these.

The Circle of Song: The Intergenerational Transmission of Identity and Trauma
2000 – 2002
This person and family-centered research examined the intergenerational transmission of identity and the role of trauma in a four-generation Coeur d’Alene Indian family. This research resulted in new ways of thinking about resilience and historical trauma.