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 approach integrates individual experiences with the complexities of people’s broader structural, biological, and historical contexts. 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
  • 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

New Project Details Coming Soon…
2017 – Present
Children in Street Situations in the Upper East Region of Ghana: Context and Experience

Elucidating Eating Disorders and Obesity Health Literacy: Paving the Way for an Integrated Approach to Health Promotion
2014 – Present
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.

The Narrative Construction of Younger Onset Dementia: Patient and Carer Accounts of Meaningful Life Events
2014 – Present
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.

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.

Student Supervision and Committee Involvement
Since 2008, I have the privilege of supervising and advising on a range of research projects. Selected projects include:

1. The Paradoxes of Mental Illness Recovery Narratives
2. The Community Readiness Model: Preventing Native American Suicide in Northern Arizona
3. The Construction and Experience of Risk in Pregnancy and Childbirth in Australia
4. Linguistic Constructions and Legitimations of Suffering in the Medical Encounter
5. Experiences in a Home Care Setting: Identity & Meaning Making in Old Age
6. Food Security and Community Health Development in San Diego
7. Dynamics of Nutrition and Vulnerability: Ethnographic Insights from Cusco, Peru
8. Resilient and Redefined: Understanding the Experiences of Breast Cancer Survivorship for Ghanaian Women
9. Intergenerational Trauma and Young Cambodian Perspectives: Context, Narrative, and Agency
10. Life Experiences of Custodial Grandparents
11. The Representations of Historical and Contemporary Pueblo Indian Identities
12. Development Organizations and Community Expectations in Northern Ghana
13. A Phenomenological Approach to Investigating the Lived Pregnancy Experience through Discourse and Practice
14. The Local Foods Movement and Creating an Urban Agrarian Ethic in America
15. The Changing Human Ecology of Agriculture in Salasaca Ecuador
16. Applying Anthropology Across the University
17. Cultural Models of Cosleeping: The Infant Safe Sleep Debate in Arizona
18. Access to Care: One Clinic’s Experience in Rural East Africa
19. The Anatomy and Physiology of Integrating Medicine: How General Practitioners Access and Disseminate Information about Complementary Alternative Medicine
20. Tobacco Farming in Indonesia: Is Alternative Livelihood Necessary and Feasible?
21. Cambodia and Intergenerational Impact after Trauma: The Past and the Present Amongst the Post-1979 Generation