Thursday, March 22, 2012

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Public Health + Anthropology?

Perhaps. I visited a once-teacher of mine from community college a couple of weeks ago -- a cultural anthropologist (PhD), and one I'm happy to have kept in touch with. And I guess I shouldn't say a 'once-teacher,' since I'm definitely still learning from her. I was talking to her about breastfeeding and what I'm doing at the moment, the project I'm working on with the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington, and my plans on becoming an IBCLC. While we spent some time talking about education (as we always do), she suggested a program at the University of Washington that is a concurrent MPH and PhD -- the Doctoral would be in cultural anthropology, of course.

I won't go into detail right now about how I always find myself going back and forth with what I believe is the commodification of formal institutions I often find myself at odds with -- that often interferes with my desire to work towards a doctoral degree. I fear it will widen the space between communities I want to represent, and ironically those communities are the reasons I even went to school. It's a double-edged sword. But I also love what I do! I love working towards a goal of getting more Black women to breastfeed! I love examining ways to use what I have learned studying anthropology to greater represent underrepresented populations, and bridging social and cultural misunderstandings between groups! I love exploring areas that are overlooked! And I love that I am able to give the practices of this discipline a more public view, and get people excited about it. I love my field almost to a fault! But public health?

Maybe this sounds strange considering the reasons I'm even here -- to decrease disparities in the Black community. But I have only ever seen myself doing applied cultural anthropology -- using my 'anthropological expertise to solve contemporary problems' as a Black feminist anthropologist. I have only ever visualized working on the social and cultural aspects to critique and challenge inequality at the foundation and raise radical social and self awareness among our women, men and children through righteous action, participatory action research and critical ethnographies. I've not visualized a biological or even bio-cultural approach. Or, through those avenues mentioned in the image above -- surveillance, monitoring, risk -- at least it has not been on my agenda. But maybe I'm more ignorant about public health than I give myself credit.

I know there are many anthropologists and breastfeeding advocates who earn advanced degrees in Public Health -- but it just never occurred to me I may be one of them. I am definitely going to give this a lot more thought and look into it because it's definitely worth it. And even though my professor told me the sad but true story that a class referencing 'mother's milk' in the title will draw less students than one with something general like 'Environmental Anthropology' (another subject we were talking about),  I can already visualize The Anthropology of Human Lactation as a course offering.