Brooke Jespersen is remotely conducting her dissertation research, which investigates how older Puerto Rican adults and their families pursue “good” lives in the context of Puerto Rico-US migration and the COVID-19 pandemic. While the notion of “remote anthropological research” often feels like a contradiction, Brooke has found that adapting her research design to the constraints of COVID-19 has generated exciting opportunities and connections in her work. Originally, Brooke had planned to conduct a multi-sited ethnographic study of older adults in Puerto Rico and Cleveland, primarily focused on recruiting participants through senior centers. Due to restrictions on travel and in-person gatherings, she shifted her geographic focus to Cuyahoga County and is recruiting participants through Facebook groups and online networking. One challenge associated with online sample recruitments is that many older Puerto Rican adults in Cuyahoga County lack internet access. To address this challenge, Brooke expanded her sample to include middle-aged Puerto Rican adults who, in turn, recruit their elderly parents for interviews. The strategy has enriched her project by adding an intergenerational perspective and has facilitated recruitment of older adults with diverse living arrangements, family configurations, and levels of functional mobility. As the COVID-19 pandemic influences Puerto Rican migration patterns, Brooke is also drawing on archival research, data sets, and interviews to understand how emergent mobilities and immobilities shape Puerto Rican aging. Brooke will present the ways she has adapted her research to COVID-19 at an invited Presidential Roundtable entitled, “The Best-Laid Plans: Adapting Research to COVID-19,” at the upcoming April meeting of the Society for Psychological Anthropology.
From August 2019 through December 2020, Sonya Petrakovitz lived in Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui while conducting her research on the local ancestral medicines and the island’s ongoing debates about its political and economic status and future. During her nearly 17-month residence, she examined how the protected knowledge of the Rapa Nui ancestral medical traditions persists as a powerful force for bonding vital aspects of “being Rapa Nui” with parallel civic concerns for immigration, land rights, and political & economic authority – addressing persistent community ideologies of who should have access to what on the island.
The appearance of COVID-19 presented Sonya and her research with unexpected and unprecedented access during the first 9 months of the island’s response to the global pandemic. Health, medicine, and local sustainability instantly became the main topics of conversation in all settings as they were abruptly forced to return to a life, once again, as a community in isolation.
To read more about Sonya and her time on Rapa Nui, click here.
Dr. David Kaawa-Mafigiri (Ph.D. 2007) and Megan Schmidt-Sane (ABD) have been collaborating to lead anthropological research on the context of Ebola prevention and transmission in high-risk border districts in Uganda. The Ebola epidemic has been on-going in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since August 1, 2018. Several cases have crossed over into Uganda, sparking concern about the porous border region. Their work started in January 2019, when they undertook a baseline research project over-seen by UNICEF Uganda on behalf of the Uganda Ministry of Health National Task Force on Ebola Preparedness and Response. The research team described the context of livelihood strategies in the border region, and how these strategies limited uptake of Ebola prevention measures. They also noted ongoing burial practices and the transportation of suspect cases and/or the deceased across borders, which poses a risk for Ebola transmission. Additionally, gender norms for caretaking create differential risk for women and men. Their findings were incorporated into UNICEF’s Communication for Development (C4D) strategy, part of the National Task Force on Ebola Preparedness and Response.
Currently, they are working with researchers from UNICEF, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Translators without Borders to conduct focused re-search on dimensions of (mis)trust in the border regions, in both the DRC and Uganda. They will lead additional fieldwork in March 2020 in Uganda’s border region, with the goal of informing current Ebola response programs to bolster community uptake and trust in the response and inform future epidemic responses. Their work demonstrates the unique position of anthropologists in epidemic response, by documenting community dynamics and community engagement, and feeding research results directly into on-going programming and policies both in Uganda and globally.
Dr. Lihong Shi was on sabbatical for the 2019-20 academic year. She received a grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and is conducting fieldwork in China for her project on the grief experience among Chinese parents who lost their only child born under the previous one-child policy. Unlike her previous research for which she lived in a village in China, this project has taken her to China’s most crowded cities as well as small towns and villages where she met with bereaved parents to hear their stories.
While in China, she gave three invited talks on her book and her current research project, including the Fei Hsiao-Tung Lecture in the Center for Anthropology and Ethnology at Tsinghua University, the Yiwulv Lecture in the College of Sociology at Shenyang Normal University, and a talk in the Institute for Population and Development Studies at Xi’an Jiaotong University.