Oral Presentation Session - Invited Status Awarded
Invited by: Society for Medical Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Health
Secondary Theme: Science
Birth cohorts, as a particular kind of longitudinal study, are increasingly recognised as important for understanding how biological, social and environmental processes interact over time and contribute to health inequalities. Large scale efforts across a range of national and transnational contexts are being made to maintain existing birth cohorts (both national, regional and international consortia studies), but also to establish new birth cohorts and/or transform existing research populations in ways that make it possible to follow them across time. In part these efforts are informed by the fact that such studies are increasingly seen as central to emerging terrains of biosocial research, focused on the embodied consequences of exposure to pollution, stress, toxic waste, malnutrition or adversity, which take centre stage in ‘life course' approaches, including Developmental Origins Of Health and Disease (DOHaD) and epigenetic research. Nevertheless despite birth cohorts being terrains of biosocial research that frequently emerge at the intersections between the biopolitics of global health and uneven access to or provision of care they remain relatively under examined and utilised in anthropological research.
This panel brings together researchers examining birth cohorts as a ‘technology of the biosocial’, including those involved in establishing or working with birth cohorts or those conducting research where the biosocial findings from birth cohort studies dynamically shape their practices of inquiry and analysis. Contributors to the panel engage with the local, national and transnational contexts and parameters of birth cohorts in China, Mexico, Bangladesh, the US, Dominican Republic, and Canada. The papers reflect on how ethnography can be innovatively positioned to understand and examine emergent biosocial phenomena through working with birth cohorts. They consider the methodological challenges and opportunities at stake when ‘big data’ approaches are valorised and where the temporal scope is broad, encompassing the ‘life course’ and both past and future generations. Can ethnographically ‘thick’ accounts of ‘time’ (e.g. related to say transitional moments in the life course such as adolescence or pregnancy), ‘place’ (e.g. neighbourhood) or ‘social practices’ (e.g. eating ) help to illuminate the biosocial dynamics that shape health outcomes and ‘life course’ approaches in the context of birth cohort studies? How might key area of anthropological expertise be used in researching birth cohort studies? For example, might the anthropology of kinship, with its rich history of thinking through nature, culture and inheritance, be better used to understand contemporary concerns about how biosocial transmission occurs and to what effects? Similarly how can long standing expertise examining the ways race/ethnicity, sex/gender, class and other population-level categorizations become reified, be used to shape biosocial research in birth cohort studies?