Susan Erikson


Health Sciences

Susan Erikson


Health Sciences

Areas of interest

Anthropology, ethnographic research, global health politics, information technologies


  • BA, English and Education, Boston College
  • Cert, Organizational Development, Georgetown University
  • MA, Anthropology, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • PhD, Anthropology, University of Colorado, Boulder


Dr. Erikson is an anthropologist who has worked in Africa, Europe, Central Asia, and North America. During a first international affairs career, Dr. Erikson worked for or with government departments and agencies on issues of international development, foreign policy, and trade. As an academic, she combines her practical work experience with a critical study of the relations of power informing global health scenarios.

Dr. Erikson is the founding director of the Global Health Affairs Program at the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, and was voted Best Professor there in 2004. She joined the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University in 2007, where she was awarded the Graduate Teaching and Mentorship Excellence Award in 2012. She won the Society for Medical Anthropology's (SMA) 2013 Virchow Prize for her publication, "Global Health Business: The Production and Performativity of Statistics in Germany and Sierra Leone," and contributed chapters to edited volumes that won SMA's Basker Prize in 2012 (Reproduction, Globalization, and the State) and two SMA Council for the Anthropology of Reproduction book awards in 2006 (Barren States) and 2012 (Reproduction, Globalization, and the State).

Mid-career, Dr. Erikson has been a Senior Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg/Centre for Global Cooperation Research in Duisburg, Germany (2014-2015). In 2016, she was a Mercator Fellow with the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) project “Adaptation and Creativity in Africa: Technologies and Significations in the Production of Order and Disorder” at the Universities of Leipzig and Halle, Germany. Intellectual communities that inform her mid-career work include that of historical socialities (Sylvanus Spencer at University of Sierra Lone); metrics (Vincanne Adams at the University of California, San Francisco); health futures (Richard Rottenburg at the University of Halle and Abu Forman at New York University); pseudo global health (Patricia Kingori at University of Oxford and Rene Gerrets at the University of Amsterdam); and trust in medicine (Songi Park at the University of Halle and Uli Beisel at University of Bayreuth).

Dr. Erikson’s research has been funded by the Canadian Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the US National Science Foundation (NSF), the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the Institute for International Education (IIE), Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), and others. She also partnered with FHS colleagues and received funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) for research collaboration on corporate and privatizing trends in global public health.

Research interests

Global Health Data and Global Health Financialization are Dr. Erikson's two current research foci.

Dr. Erikson is an anthropologist of global health and conducts ethnographic research on global health futures, the financialization of humanitarian aid, biomedical knowledge production, expertise, governmentality, and the political economy of global health. Early in her research career, Dr. Erikson's findings showed that health outcomes are inextricable from economic, political and techno-scientific interests. Her dissertation and early postdoctoral work focused on the political economy of prenatal imaging and technology use in Germany. In 2008, she returned to Sierra Leone to conduct research on the contingencies and conditionalities of health praxes there. She continues to study how politics, business, and finance operate in conjunction with biomedical clinical care and health services the world over. 

In a 2008 Lancet article: “Getting Political: Fighting Smarter for Global Health,” Dr. Erikson argues for greater attention to be paid to how global health is done politically. Actively developing health partisans willing to ‘get political’ to reduce suffering originating in the economic and policy architectures of global health is key. How can this be accomplished? By using more ethnographic research in policy development and intervention planning. In a 2011 publication about global ethnography, she outlines a methodological approach – wholly anthropological in its orientation – with the capacity to identify architectures of global health. The methodology is applicable for people who seek ethnographic evidence-based means to assess what is working to reduce human suffering. Such methodologies can also work to upend structures that, however unintentionally, hurt people.

Since 2013, Dr. Erikson has conducted fieldwork research in Sierra Leone on the production, use, and global circulation of health data. She was in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in February 2014 leading a research team studying local and global data use when news of Ebola infections in neighboring Guinea first reached the capital city. Findings from that research – that health data is used not only for accountability, but also and increasingly for invest-ability – led to a research project on the financialization of humanitarian aid. Her current work is on humanitarian aid and has included the Financialization of Ebola,

A career goal is to contribute ethnographic analyses of bureaucratic, administrative, and financial power exegeses in ways that improve local health sovereignty.

Supervisory topics

Dr. Erikson is interested in working with students who will use anthropological methodological and analytical tools to increase knowledge, understanding, and empathy in the world. She teaches that global health is a worldwide social field within which local health likelihoods are constituted through relations of power, not simplistically only happening in poor countries. Students interested in working with her will be interested in how prevailing capitalist rationalities shape people's experiences of health. Her supervisory approach is informed by her experiences conducting research in Germany and Sierra Leone, and her findings on neoliberal affects on health outcomes in both countries.

At the Masters and PhD levels, Dr. Erikson works with students committed to deep work in anthropology, and who are intent on using anthropological theory and methods in their own work. At present, Dr. Erikson's supervisory interests focus on supervising the study of global health arrangements involving African countries. Students are encouraged to contact Dr. Erikson directly about her supervisory availability only if they are interested in using anthropological theory and method to study aspects of politics and power in humanitarian and global health aid, global health futures, data, money, or financialization as subjects of their research projects.


This instructor is currently not teaching any courses.

Publications and activities

Susan Erikson publications and activities