Susan Erikson

Professor

Health Sciences

Susan Erikson

Professor

Health Sciences

Areas of interest

Medical anthropology; ethnographic research; political economy of global health; global health financialization; desirable health futures; digital health and imaging technologies; obstetrical necessity

Education

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

Biography

Dr. Erikson studies highly complex political and economic systems that shape human health experiences. She is an anthropologist who has worked in Africa, Europe, Central Asia, and North America. During an earlier international affairs career, Dr. Erikson first lived in an eastern Sierra Leonean village for two years before working for and/or with government departments and foreign affairs organizations on foreign policy and trade issues. As an academic, she combines her practical experience with a critical study of the relations of power shaping global health practices. Her current work is on how global investors make money on pandemics and the new forms of global health aid funding.

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) Virchow Prize for her publication, "Global Health Business: The Production and Performativity of Statistics in Germany and Sierra Leone" (in Medical Anthropology) 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 think tank 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 ontological frictions (Sylvanus Spencer at University of Sierra Lone); global health metrics (Vincanne Adams at the University of California, San Francisco); health futures (Richard Rottenburg at the University of Halle and Abou Farman 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. Postdoctoral work was funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. She partnered with FHS colleagues to receive funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) for research collaboration on corporate and privatizing trends in global public health.

Dr. Erikson has a passionate interest in deepening people’s understanding of critical anthropological theory and method and their applications to planetary health. To that end, she is involved with several approaches to expanding medical anthropology education and training beyond conventional curricula. She is a co-founder and current coordinator of the Cascadia Seminar, an ongoing bi-annual interactive forum for exploring cutting-edge work in medical anthropology. Her most rewarding workshop training experience to date was as a co-PI for a Volkswagen Foundation-sponsored workshop held in Freetown, Sierra Leone, working with Sierra Leonean and European Masters and PhD students exploring the use of critical medical anthropology theory and method to anticipate planetary futures.

Research Interests

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

Dr. Erikson is a medical anthropologist of global health who combines anthropological theory and ethnographic method with Science and Technology Studies approaches to study global health futures, the financialization of global health, biomedical and indigenous health knowledge productions and piracies, and governmentalities.

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 global politics, business, and finance shape health care the world over. 

In a 2008 Lancet invited commentary, “Getting Political: Fighting Smarter for Global Health,” Dr. Erikson argued for greater attention to be paid to how global health is done politically. Cultivating health partisans willing to ‘get political’ to reduce suffering originating in the economic and policy architectures is key. How can this be accomplished? By using more ethnographic research in policy development and intervention planning. In a publication “Global Ethnography: Problems of Theory and Method” in Reproduction, Globalization and the State, she outlines a methodological approach – wholly anthropological in its orientation – that can detect architectures of global health. The methodology is applicable for people seeking ethnographic evidence-based means to assess what works to reduce human suffering. Such methodologies can also work to identify approaches and practices 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 global health aid. Recent work on how health data is increasingly curated for use in financial instruments include “Global Health Futures: Reckoning with a Pandemic Bond” in Medicine Anthropology Theory, found at http://www.medanthrotheory.org/read/11401/global-health-futures.

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

Supervisory Topics

(Dr. Erikson is not currently accepting new students. But do not hesitate to reach out to let her know about interesting student projects on the financialization and datafication of global health.)

Dr. Erikson works 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 global relations of power, not simplistically only happening, silo-like, in poor countries. Dr. Erikson works with Masters and PhD students committed to deep work in anthropology, and who are intent on using anthropological theory and methods in their own work. Her supervisory interests focus on supervising the study of global health arrangements involving African 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 (read “Global Health Business” at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01459740.2011.621908).