Erica Prussing, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

I am a medical anthropologist whose research examines the cultural politics of defining and addressing social inequalities in health, especially within indigenous communities. My projects are frequently interdisciplinary, and emphasize combining anthropology with public health (especially through “cultural epidemiology,” which aims to culturally situate both the causes of health problems and the production of epidemiological knowledge).

Topics of recent projects in Native North America include promoting sobriety, and understanding historical trauma as a conceptual framework for contemporary mental health.  Other recent work examines complementary/alternative medicine use by parents for children with developmental disabilities, and projects to address youth violence and perinatal HIV transmission.

My major ethnographic project to date considers how women pursue sobriety in the Northern Cheyenne community in southeastern Montana, and documents the persistence of discursive and structural barriers to tribal control over local health services. Findings demonstrate how, in the absence of full institutional control, services to support sobriety are often “indigenized” in a grass-roots fashion. For example, younger generations of Northern Cheyenne women are creatively transforming the prevalent “Twelve Steps” of Alcoholics Anonymous into a forum for social commentary shaped by localized identity politics.

My current projects integrate insights from science & technology studies and postcolonial studies with medical anthropology, to examine how epidemiological knowledge is produced and applied in efforts to promote greater social justice in health. For example, I am undertaking a multi-sited, international study of how indigenous communities are engaging and/or developing new forms of epidemiology in their efforts to alleviate disparities in health.  I am also completing a cultural analysis of both past and present efforts to define and address “racial” disparities in infant mortality in American epidemiology.