My research draws from medical sociology and science studies and uses ethnographic and historical methods to address key issues in the for-profit U.S. health care system. I have conducted research on medical technologies, health professions, death and dying, and population health. I am currently working on three major collaborative projects.
With Pamela Prickett, I am doing a fascinating study of unclaimed deaths: people who die without family or with families unwilling or unable to bury them. We are interested in what happens in people's lives that they become unclaimed, how government agencies deal with their bodies and assets, and how certain groups step in to reclaim the unclaimed. This project is about the cultural work abandoned and forgotten dead bodies do in our society.
Second, with Tanya Stivers I study communication between clinicians and patients. We examine how some of the most important public health crises find their origins in the patient-doctor interaction. Every prescription for opioids exposes another patient to the risk of addiction; each deferred vaccine places more people at risk of deadly infections. Today’s patients come armed with preferences and concerns that place physicians in a bind: comply with patient desires or prioritize patient health. We reveal that subtle communication patterns can shift the prescription behavior of clinicians.
Third, Iddo Tavory and I continue our exploration of the work of Charles Sanders Peirce. This work has a methodological and a theoretical component where we explore semiotics as a methodological toolbox for ethnographers. In addition, I remain interested in social science research on standardization and community spillover effects of lack of health insurance. My goal is to conduct robust qualitative research that reveals the invisible benefits and costs of the U.S. health care system.