Challenging Biological Essentialism with Embodied Histories of Health Inequities -- talk by Nancy Krieger


Thursday, March 9, 2017, 5:00pm to 7:00pm


Plimpton Room, Barker Center 133, 12 Quincy St.

A lurking biological essentialism infuses contemporary research on “health disparities.” Mindful of the long reach of early 20th century mainstream eugenics, biological sexism, and the long shadow of Jim Crow, this talk discusses how NIH presents “health disparities” in its strategic documents and its new mandate to account for sex, but not also gender, in all studies. The talk draws on ecosocial theory to present an alternative approach that conceptualizes health inequities as embodied history, using examples from trends in US mortality, police violence, breast cancer,including in relation to Jim Crow.

Nancy Krieger is Professor of Social Epidemiology and American Cancer Society Clinical Research Professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) and Director of the HSPH Interdisciplinary Concentration on Women, Gender, and Health. She is an internationally recognized social epidemiologist (PhD, Epidemiology, UC Berkeley, 1989), with a background in biochemistry, philosophy of science, and history of public health, plus 30+ years of activism involving social justice, science, and health. She is an ISI highly cited scientist (since 2004; reaffirmed: 2015), a group comprising “less than one-half of one percent of all publishing researchers.” Dr. Krieger’s work addresses: (1) conceptual frameworks to understand, analyze, and improve the people’s health, including the ecosocial theory of disease distribution she first proposed in 1994, concerned with embodiment and equity; (2) etiologic research on societal determinants of population health and health inequities; and (3) methodologic research on improving monitoring of health inequities.

Bodies / Archives / Databases

Our museums and computers store bodies. Some are physical, appearing as material objects or as the “negative space” around them, and others are abstracted.

The 2016-17 Gender and Sexuality Seminar Series interrogates the space between the archive, site of haunted specificity and historical embeddedness, and the database, locus of standardization and generalizable knowledge about human normativity, pathology, and variation.

All events take place from 5-7 pm in the Plimpton Room (Barker Center 133, 12 Quincy St.) and are open to the public.

Sponsored by the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University and the Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality.