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TRIADS Speaker Series: Ten Years of Collaboration Between Ethnography and Epidemiology

Thursday, February 1 | 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Knight Center, 210
Throop Drive and Snow Way Washington, St. Louis, MO 63130

In this talk, an epidemiologist (Téllez-Rojo) and a medical anthropologist (Roberts) reflect on our decade of collaboratively "making better numbers" about environmental health in Mexico City. Our bioethnographic approach involves first, an open-ended, data collection stage with a small “n” that often generates surprising findings. These findings can then be used to iteratively test hypotheses at a larger scale using both life and social science methods and analysis. Our talk focuses on two bioethnographic projects. In the first, we leveraged our open-ended findings from a small number of households, about the relationship between water intermittency to chronic health conditions, (diabetes, CV disease), to generate nationally representative quantitative data on the previously hidden phenomena and health impacts of household water intermittency across Mexico. In the second, we conducted open-ended household chemical assessments to understand how residents of working class neighborhoods interact with cleaning products to better hone in on specific environmental health risks in Mexico City. Along with describing our bioethnographic approach and projects, we discuss the many challenges we have faced in carrying out this kind of multidisciplinary work.

The TRIADS Speaker Series is co-sponsored by the Digital Intelligence & Innovation Accelerator.

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Speaker Information

Elizabeth F.S. Roberts is a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, who investigates scientific and public health knowledge production and its embodied effects in Latin America and the United States. She currently collaborates with engineers and environmental health scientists in the United States and Mexico as part of two ongoing team-based projects in Mexico City that she directs: “Mexican Exposures: A Bioethnographic Approach to Health and Inequality” and “Neighborhood Environments as Socio-Techno-bio Systems: Water Quality, Public Trust, and Health in Mexico City” (NESTSMX). In these projects, she and her team trace the looping social, economic, biological, and technical processes that shape everyday life, health, and inequality in working-class neighborhoods. One of the key aims of Professor Roberts’ current work is the development of bioethnography, a method that combines social and life sciences approaches in order to make better knowledge about health and inequality.

Martha M Téllez-Rojo, obtained a Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the National Institute of Public Health (INSP) in Mexico (2003) after a Masters in Statistics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (1994). She is a senior researcher (ICM-F) at the Center for Nutrition and Health Research at the National Institute of Public Health, Mexico with more than 250 papers published in high-impact scientific journals and more than 6000 citations. Her main focus of research is the study of the long-term effects of the co-exposure of environmental toxicants and nutritional conditions during gestation and infancy.

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