Bodies Speaking Out: Public Health and Community through the Lenses of Science, Ethnography, and Media

Fall 2016, Winter 2017, and Spring 2017 quarters

Taught by

Anne Fischel
communication, media and community studies
Carolyn Prouty
health science, public health, bioethics
cultural anthropology
  • UG

This program builds interdisciplinary knowledge and skills in public health, ethnography, documentary media production, history, cultural studies, and community-based research as a basis for collaborative work with community partners in the Pacific Northwest, particularly at the intersections of health, labor, and migration. How have people and communities come to understand and represent the complexity of their embodied experiences of health, including individual and collective well-being, sickness, disability, and healing? What conditions of inequity can jeopardize health, including jobs, schooling, housing and industrial exposures? What social networks, educational resources and medical practices have communities created to address their concerns? How can we—as students and practitioners of documentary media, ethnography, history, and public health—contribute to their ongoing efforts? At the core of these questions lies an ethics of engagement that places us in the role of listeners, collaborators, and facilitators, recasting more conventional relationships between researchers and subjects, adults and youth, health workers and patients, academics and community members.

Drawing from a range of cases in the U.S. and abroad, we will learn foundations of global health, occupational health, epidemiology, and critical medical anthropology. We will study archival research, oral history, and ethnography as techniques for understanding and documenting people’s everyday lives, exploring experimental and collaborative methods that give voice to stories of illness and healing. We will learn practices of documentary photography and possibly video and activist art to document community efforts, and support communities to create their own narratives of struggle. We’ll explore community-based research projects that have the potential to change the relationship between higher education and local community. We’ll explore the politics and ethics of representation in visual images, and investigate how our own images, produced collaboratively with community members, can challenge relations of power and privilege that have traditionally existed in mainstream media.

Central to these studies will be consideration of the economic and social conditions that contribute to community health and well-being. We’ll learn how structural inequalities of race, class, and gender (among others) shape exposure to harm and access to remediation. We’ll learn how struggles over housing, schooling, jobs and other social and economic conditions affect individual health and the collective health of communities. We will consider how infectious diseases, once easily treatable such as tuberculosis, have resurged in virulent drug-resistant forms under conditions of incarceration, substandard housing, and biomedical abandonment. We’ll learn how economies of production and exposure to carcinogens and other industrial toxics affect poor communities and communities of color disproportionately, mapping onto patterns of social, economic, and political marginalization. We’ll learn how immigrant laborers, including those in Washington State, face particular occupational hazards and limits to care, and follow what they are doing or hope to do to address these challenges. Finally, we will learn how struggling communities develop strategies of resistance, including alternative health care programs and schools, and documentary media campaigns. We will explore these critical facets of environmental justice and health inequities both locally and in Southeast Asia and Latin America. A key focus will be studying and engaging with efforts in our region—through field trips, ethnographies, public health research, films, historical and contemporary studies—and projects that explore research and collaboration with nearby communities.

Fall quarter will emphasize in-class studies and beginning community dialogues to create a foundation for our collaborative work winter quarter. We will explore case studies and models of community collaboration to inform our efforts, taking a two-night field trip to Mt. Vernon farming communities. While the fall quarter media component will focus on archives and documentary photography, in winter we might widen our studies of art and media practices to incorporate video documentary, activist art and recorded oral histories. We will also conduct urban studies in Portland centered on housing instability. We’ll embark on collaborative projects with community organizations to document, support, and augment their work. Possible projects include facilitating community photography (Photovoice), video documentary, collaborative ethnographic studies, performance, public health communications, and health policy advocacy. Spring quarter we will focus on writing, revision, photo/video editing, presentations, and completion of our collaborative projects.

Research Opportunities

collaborative community-based research winter quarter.

Internship Opportunities

Winter and spring internship possibilities with community-based organizations. Students must complete an in-program Internship Learning Contract in consultation with the faculty and Academic Advising. Please go to Individual Study for more information.

Program Details

Fields of Study

anthropology biology community studies cultural studies health history media arts

Preparatory For

public health, anthropology, history, media arts, biology, medicine, and community-based work.


Fall Open Winter Signature Spring Closed

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Advertised Schedule

First spring class meeting: Tuesday, April 4th at 10am (Sem II C2105)

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning


$210 in fall and $190 in winter for overnight field trips and CPR and First Aid certification.


2016-05-16Title and description updated (formerly Bodies Speaking Out: Documenting Health, Healing, and Community).