Adrienne Strong

Medical anthropology, maternal mortality, hospital ethnography, and dignity in women's health care

I am a medical anthropologist and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Florida with a joint Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis, USA and the Universiteit van Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I study maternal mortality and women's health in Tanzania, currently in the Kigoma region on a birth companionship program and the notions of ideal comfort, care, and support for pregnant women in labor. Before my current position, I was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow with Columbia University's Mailman School of Health, in the Averting Maternal Death and Disability (AMDD) Program in the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health and a Fellow at the Columbia Population Research Center.

My current book project, Documenting Death: Maternal Mortality and the Ethics of Care in Tanzania, under contract with University of California Press, focuses on the inner workings of a government regional referral hospital in Tanzania, examining how institutional structures related to hierarchy, bureaucracy, historical precedents, communication and other factors, may influence the capacity of the institution to provide effective maternal healthcare during times of obstetric crisis. My research focuses on biomedical healthcare providers and administrators, groups that are often overlooked in the context of medical anthropology in sub-Saharan Africa. I contextualize the hospital ethnography with interviews, participant observation, and focus group discussions in communities throughout the region, as well as through the use of primary archival sources from the colonial and post-independence eras. This is the first ethnography to examine the issue of maternal mortality in a low resource setting from this perspective and in the setting of a biomedical facility, complementing the existing work of anthropologists of reproduction who have worked at the community level.

I worked in the Rukwa Region for my PhD fieldwork, which I conducted from January 2014- August 2015. From September 2010 through July 2011, I conducted research on access to healthcare services during pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period in the Singida Region of Tanzania. My most recent project was about a birth companion pilot program in the Kigoma region of Tanzania from January through December 2018, which focused on the ways in which companions impact the social dynamics of health center maternity wards and the care provided in those settings. This project also included an 80-question cultural consensus survey and analysis around the cultural domain of care and support for pregnant women.

This is my personal website, which includes updates on my research, collaborations, conference presentations and papers, publications, teaching, and critical responses to current events related to women's health and reproduction.

Mentions and Public Anthropology

Paper Prize

Washington University Feature

Feature on Anthropology Department Website

Research Report on Global Health Hub

Photoessay on

Mention on Anthrodendum

Mention on Anthrodendum for fieldwork blog


These are courses I have recently taught or am in the process of developing to teach in the future. As I develop more ideas I will continue to update the list. Check back periodically for new additions! Below each prospective course title you can find a brief description of the course. Full syllabi are available upon request.

Introductory Courses:

  • Intro to Medical Anthropology
    • A standard introduction to the sub-field of medical anthropology, including major theoretical perspectives, topics generally considered to fall within the spectrum of medical anthropology, and methods used to conduct this type of research. Covers a range of concepts through an introductory level textbook, as well as journal articles and excerpts from core medical anthropology texts. 
  • Intro to Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
    • This is an introductory course to the interdisciplinary field of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. The course will introduce different feminist, sociological, anthropological, historical, and queer studies perspectives on topics of gender, women, and sexuality. The course will introduce students to a social constructionist framework, which examines how society, culture, and institutions (broadly defined) influence these topics. Students will also be introduced to the concept of intersectionality, which explores the ways in which societal and cultural ideas regarding gender and sexuality interact with race, class, and other aspects of identity. This particular version of the course will have an emphasis on global forms of feminism and health issues as the lenses through which we will explore many of the course’s topics. 

Intermediate Courses:

  • Global Gender Issues
    • This course compares the life experiences of women and men in societies throughout the world. We will discuss the evidence regarding the universal subordination of women, and examine explanations that propose to situate women’s and men’s personality attributes, roles, and responsibilities in the biological or cultural domains. In general, through readings, films and lectures, the class will provide a cross-cultural perspective on ideas regarding gender and how gendered meanings, practices, and performances serve as structuring principles in society.
  • Anthropology of Maternal Death
    • The course offers an introduction to the phenomenon of maternal death as viewed by anthropologists but also as conceived of by public health experts, clinicians, and advocacy organizations. Students will learn about the social, structural, and clinical causes of maternal death, in addition to exploring the challenges both low and high income countries face as they seek to continue reducing these deaths in their settings. Drawing on ethnographies, journal articles, my field research, and first hand accounts from women who have had near misses with death or experienced severe obstetric complications, students will come face to face with the ways in which healthcare systems globally still struggle with maternal mortality.
  • Issues in Contemporary Africa Through Fiction, Film, and Ethnography
    • This course introduces students to the diversity of contemporary Africa and its current successes, challenges, and debates through the lenses of film, anthropological ethnographic writing, and fiction from African writers in Africa and the diaspora. Moving beyond the classics of Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, students will read works by emerging African authors and watch clips from film makers and tv producers who use alternative platforms such as YouTube to disseminate their works of social commentary and art.
  • Life Course Perspective on Challenges Facing Women in the global South
    • This course explores sociocultural and structural challenges facing women as they seek to thrive throughout their lives. Based in anthropology and women's studies but including interdisciplinary texts from fields including as biology and history, the course covers topics such as sex selection abortion, female infanticide, nutrition, child marriage, female genital cutting, sex work, nutrition, gender based work loads, women in agriculture, infertility, childrearing, menopause, and senescence from a cross-cultural perspective. 
  • Research Methods in Cultural Anthropology
    • An introduction to field methods in cultural anthropology, which includes hands-on mini research projects so students can master elementary aspects of research design, data collection, and analysis. The course includes class sessions to be held in different locations so students can hone their participant observation, interview, and analysis skills. Designed to be interactive and an engaging intro to the foundations of ethnography, the course is set up to meet once a week in the class room and once every two weeks in an alternative location. 

Advanced and Seminar Courses:

  • Medical Personnel Only Beyond this Point: Hospital Ethnography in Theory and Practice
    • Hospital ethnography is a growing field in the social sciences, with roots in anthropology and sociology. For some time, researchers primarily conducted hospital ethnography in settings in high-income countries, largely neglecting the ways in which biomedicine is practiced and transformed in other environments and geographic areas. However, more recently, the area of hospital ethnography is rapidly expanding to include transformative research in resource-poor settings, which has critical theoretical and practical implications. This course will serve as a primer in the burgeoning area of hospital ethnography, covering its roots, as well as the ways in which it continues to evolve through journal articles and monographs, both classic and brand new. Students will leave the course with a thorough knowledge of the ways in which hospital ethnography contributes to, is in dialogue with, and differs from the fields of medical anthropology, medical sociology, and science and technology studies (STS). The course will also cover the methodological, bureaucratic, and ethical challenges inherent in and unique to working in hospital settings and other health facilities in a variety of geographic contexts.  
  • Advanced Research Methods
    • Building on Research Methods in Cultural Anthropology, this course takes students through more complex and detailed research planning  and design, as well as data collection and analysis. The course draws on both staples of anthropological research methodology and cutting edge methodological innovation being used in the field. The students will have the opportunity to utilize various qualitative and statistical analysis software programs, as well as learning the basics of social network analysis and multidimensional scaling. Such software might include UCINET, NetDraw, R, SPSS, MAXQDA, or NVivo. We will discuss topics such as social media in research, research in the digital age, data management and digital archiving, and research ethics in various settings. Students will engage in a semester long process of planning and carrying out a mini research project of their own creation, culminating in class presentations. This is also a space for graduate students in the course to develop the research methods section of future grant applications.  
  • Social Theory for an Uncertain World: Complexity, Risk, and Uncertainty
    • How do anthropologists and other social scientists study the concepts of risk, complexity and uncertainty? Following the introductory weeks, this course is arranged in topical units that address these theoretical concepts from a variety of perspectives including health, economics, disaster preparedness, and the environment. Students will leave the course being able to synthesize definitions of these complex, manifold topics and how they might draw on these theoretical approaches in their own research and writing. 

Request a full syllabus

In the spirit of scholarly dialogue and collaboration, I am happy to provide instructors and faculty with copies of any syllabi I currently have on file. Please use the form below to submit a request to see copies of the syllabi for any of the above courses. In the subject line, please specify which syllabus or course proposal you would like.

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