Research

Empirically, my research can be organized around three themes; each theme questions different geographies of “life”. 

  1. Microscopic Life. How do cities prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks? This line of inquiry investigates human migration, public health, and urban planning, but also how disease outbreaks are tied to environments and people.
  2.  Excess Life. How do experts demarcate people they deem to be unproductive? I examine the emergence of different population categories, such as healthy national workforce of the early 20th century, “disadvantaged child” of the 1960s, and most recently those diagnosed along autistic spectrum disorder.
  3. Life Sciences. How are scientific theories used and abused within the longstanding, and tired, debate of nature versus nurture? In turn, what practices, and the political economy behind these practices, arise from these theories? I track debates in bacteriology, IQ and child development, urban toxicity, and the funding of biomedicine research and development.

Current Research Projects

My current project examines how diseased migration formed as a concept, distinct from a healthy national population. My postdoctoral research project, entitled “Sick Pilgrims, Quarantine Science: Managing Populations after the Fifth Cholera Pandemic, 1892-1924”, asks why the Hajj pilgrimage became the dominant model for health experts who imagined the problem of sick itinerate populations.

I examine how “disadvantaged children” became a site to compensate and intervene in, during a period of national crisis in the 1960s. I focus on specific experts in the War on Poverty, such as child psychologists, educators, and pre-school policy planners. I examine how experts constructed and evaluated children’s mental growth in concert with their home environments.

Future Project

I am working on developing a new project, which will bring my research questions to bear on the present by investigating autism spectrum disorders. Knowledge of autism remains fixed within the realms of biomedicine, the cause scripted by nature (genetics, tainted vaccines, developmental neurobiology) and nurture (environmental toxins, endocrine disruptors, home environments). The “epidemic” of autism has been declared a national problem in the US, materialized through federal shifts in policy and increased funding. Nonetheless, a growing autism rights movement has challenged this ‘cure autism’ agenda. Through my future research, I will apply conclusions that came out of my dissertation about how to reframe health, away from normal/pathological and towards the concept of “spectrum.”

Past Research

In my dissertation I researched cholera, marsh reclamation, and the science and expertise of urban health. I traced the historical links between the state control of cholera with the ecology and economy of waterfronts to show the ways that they reinforce one another. My research unpacks how North American cities prepared for cholera pandemic that threatened, but never became the crisis that it was feared to be.

In my Masters of Environmental Studies and Planning, I wrote on food-based diseases, agriculture, and urban growth. I interrogated how and why avian influenza looms large on the horizons of North American cities. This research demystified actions taken in cities and nations against contemporary disease outbreaks and opened the door to my larger historical inquiry of epidemic crises.

On-Going Interests

+ The debates around overpopulation, migration, and the policing of borders.
+ The history and political economy of vaccine innovation, along with the current economics of drug logistics firms.
+ How the funding of scientific research influences, and is influenced, by national politics.
+ How the financial crisis of 2008 and austerity measures has restructured everyday life, in particular through health and social reproduction.
+ Newly emerging diseases, such as H1N1, H5N1, and antibiotic resistant bacteria.