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Right now, anthropologists are researching the diverse social impacts and responses to the disease around the world, and exposing the ways that this public health crisis intersects with other forms of injustice. At UD, our anthropology faculty are looking at the pandemic in relation to cultural meanings of risk, the effects of the pandemic on hurricane recovery efforts, the consequences for the human microbiome, the reshaping of gender norms and domestic labor, and issues of race and immigration, poverty and inequality, and science and policy.
Our work exposes the bio-cultural dynamics that shape health and illness and the inequities that multiply COVID-19’s impact on vulnerable populations. It reinforces our knowledge of how events like COVID-19 do not happen in isolation but build upon existing issues. Anthropological research is essential for designing and implementing disease prevention strategies, strengthening health care systems, and promoting well-being in diverse contexts. COVID-19 is a disease on a global scale, but it is not a universal phenomenon. Anthropological research is essential for placing it in context.
This statement was written by Lu Ann De Cunzo, UD Professor of Anthropology, and is informed by Jean Segata, social anthropologist, “COVID-19 Scales of Pandemics and Scales of Anthropology,” Somatasphere.
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Dr. Jennifer Trivedi’s research examines historical and cultural contexts surrounding disaster vulnerability, response, and recovery. She is now part of a team with the Disaster Research Center that is assessing the impacts of COVID-19 on hurricane recovery, changing definitions of “hazardous” jobs amidst the pandemic, coping strategies among UD faculty, how the pandemic relates to cultural meanings of risk and disaster, widespread anxiety on job security, and the impacts of COVID-19 on college sports. You can hear more about Dr. Trivedi’s research by listening in to the COVIDCalls Podcast and The Big Rhetorical Podcast, where she was recently featured. You can read more about her work on COVID-19 in the journal, Human Organization. Her latest publications focus on teaching during a pandemic and what recovery will look like. Also, read her comments on the unifying vs. divisive possibilities of pandemics.
Melissa K. Melby
Dr. Melissa Melby is a medical anthropologist with training in chemistry, environment and development, public health and nutritional epidemiology. She is in a research group that is interested in how cultural practices and exposures (such as antibiotic use, diet, and exercise patterns) impact the microbiome, which in turn affect co-morbidities (associated with gut microbiota dysbiosis) that increase susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 outcomes. In this PNAS paper, the group examined how COVID-19 may impacts population differently according to biocultural factors such as hygiene, food, and social interaction, and explore how pandemic control practices (eg disinfection, use of antimicrobials, social distancing, and dietary changes) may impact human health through the microbiome, particularly at the bookends of life.
Carla Guerrón Montero
Dr. Carla Guerrón Montero is a cultural and applied anthropologist whose long-term research focuses on tourism, food, and the African diaspora in Latin America. She has recently argued that issues of race and inequality have powerfully influenced how COVID-19 is talked about among politicians and in the media, and she co-authored a letter to Delaware Governor John Carney about the need to protect highly-vulnerable immigrant populations across the state during the pandemic.
Dr. Georgina Ramsay conducted fieldwork in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during 2019’s Ebola outbreak and has written about poverty and inequality as key factors in how pandemics impact diverse populations.
Dr. Karen Rosenberg, a biological anthropologist with interests in human evolution as well as human health, recently organized a panel of UD experts to discuss the science of COVID-19 and potential policy responses.
Bahira Sherif Trask (Anthropologist and Chair of UD Education and Human Development)
Dr. Bahira Trask’s anthropological research examines gender, globalization, and family change. She has written recently about how “shelter-in-place” policies can affect families and influence gender roles, especially domestic and caretaking responsibilities. To hear more about her research on COVID-19, see her presentation to the UD College of Education and Human Development and her presentation to the Universal Peace Federation.
You can contribute to research on the social and cultural dimensions of COVID-19 by sharing your experiences with the UD Disaster Research Center’s Study on Community Impacts and Adaptations to COVID-19.