Our CHELab’s innovative program of research deploys an array of theories and methods from social science to unravel the complex and fundamental intersections between culture, environment, and well-being.

We are centrally motivated by what we, as anthropologists, can do through our research activities to help create fair societies and remove suffering.

At any time, we have a range of ongoing projects at various stages of development that engage a wide array of wonderful partners and collaborators from almost every field of study. This is a sample of our current projects.

Food, Sharing, and Connection in Lock-down

Food is fundamental to physical and social wellbeing. For households in the time of COVID-19, what, how, and with whom they get, prepare, and eat food is transformed. We are exploring how people in urban Puerto Rico connect through food sharing and other strategies to manage daily life under quarantine and related challenges of a global pandemic. Primary contact: Alex Brewis

Water Insecurity Driving Food Insecurity [WI>FI] 

Many households globally struggle daily with food insecurity. In the WI>FI project we are investigating the conditions under which household food insecurity might be mostly accounted for by water insecurity. Without secure water, for example, you can’t easily grow or cook food. If we can produce consistent evidence that water insecurity drives household food insecurity, this then suggests food insecurity interventions must begin by securing household water access. Longitudinal data collection is currently underway in collaboration with Haramaya University (HU), Ethiopia and the Kersa HDDS. Here’s some more about the work and our key HU collaborator Dr Kedir. Primary contact: Alex Brewis

Global Ethnohydrology Study [GES] 

Running strong since 2006, the Global Ethnohydrology Study (GES) studies local cultural knowledge and coping with water insecurity and other challenges of living with climate change. To date, we have collected data in 20+ different countries, and at multiple sites within the US. The GES is a signature project that not only collects important research data, but also is committed to training cohorts of students in field collection and lab analysis of cultural data; to date, thousands of students and dozens of experts from an array of fields have participated. Some of the publications from this study can be found here. Primary contacts: Amber Wutich & Alex Brewis

Small World/Big Bodies

Bodies almost everywhere are getting larger, in what is termed an “obesity epidemic.” For the last 2+ decades, our team has been working across the globe to understand changing stigma toward “fat.” You can read the NYTimes coverage of our seminal 2011 findings. We are currently completing a book based on ethnographic fieldwork in Japan, Paraguay, Samoa, and the US, for a comparative study of what it is means to “live with weight.” Another aspect of the project is investigating how “fat talk” works in different cultural settings. Read more on that here. Primary contacts: Cindi SturtzSreetharan or Alex Brewis

The Water Sharing Project

Our team has been working with the larger HWISE-RCN network, gathering and evaluating evidence from multiple global sites to understand household-to-household water sharing is a common emergent social response to extreme water insecurity. We are testing how sharing might buffer households from the deleterious health effects that typically accompany seasonal water shortages, interruptions of water services, and natural disasters. But the team is also considering when expectations to engage in water sharing can also become burdensome and distressing. Water sharing is a virtually invisible aspect of global health, and we are excited to be advancing this new area of research. Primary contacts: Amber Wutich & Alex Brewis

Teaching Structure and Stigma

Our team doesn’t just do research. We also train people how to do social research. We want our training to be highly impactful. So we do research on how to best train. We have been working lately on how to best teach “structural competency” to pre-health students and health professionals, as well as identifying the forms of undergraduate research experiences that have the greatest long term impacts, years later. Primary contact: Alissa Ruth


What Makes a Good Citizen Social Scientist?

Citizen science (CS) is a potentially fun means to scale our research, encouraging wider public participation in our research adventures. CS has been widely applied in the natural sciences. But very little has been done in social science, in part because you need good observers of social phenomena. Using Phoenix as our test-bed we are investigating a fundamental question: what makes a good citizen social scientist? Primary contact: Cindi SturtzSreetharan

Stigma and the Undoing of Global Health

Pulling from our decades of work in low-resource communities across the globe, we are synthesizing understandings of the ways that global health efforts can inadvertently damage those is means it serve by creating or reinforcing social stigma. It’s a project to directly challenge conventional thinking in public health. We have a new book out with Johns Hopkins University Press. Primary contacts: Alex Brewis & Amber Wutich

Global Impact Collaboratory

How do we know that our projects will or do have a meaningful, sustainable impact? Launched three years ago, the Global Impact Collaboratory tests the best ways to bring innovative ethnographic methods into development program design, monitoring, and evaluation. I co-direct the GIC with a great team that includes ASU’s Roseanne Schuster and Peggy Ochandarena at Chemonics International, one of the most experienced development practitioners in DC. We are always happy to talk to people about how anthropology can improve development, and manage contracts to help programs improve the monitoring, evolution, and learning. Recent USAID-supporting projects have been located in Mozambique (coastal climate adaptation), West Bank (justice), Haiti (rule of law), and Zambia (wildlife crime). You can read about the Mozambique work here. Primary contacts: Roseanne Schuster (GIC) and Alex Brewis

Justice and Well-Being in Haiti.

Inequity and injustice are well known drivers of illness and suffering. In Haiti, we are working with those monitoring the USAID-funded Justice Sector Strengthening Process to test how injustices – both lack of access to rule of law and inequities in access to food, water, and money – cluster together in ways that undermine mental and physical health. Primary contact: Alex Brewis

Better Post-Bariatric Lives

Weight-related stigma is prevalent and often socially permitted in the US. In collaboration with Mayo Clinic – Arizona, we spent three years conducting a longitudinal ethnographic study with bariatric surgery patients. We tracked how their lives and social identities changed – or didn’t – in the wake of massive weight loss. The story proved anything but simple. A book is forthcoming in 2021 with NYU Press, as a capstone to the now-completed project. Here is some more information. Primary contact: Sarah Trainer.