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


Within the field of anthropology, it is my belief that through courses we have a unique opportunity to broaden students' horizons while also challenging them to integrate new, and sometimes conflicting, perspectives into their understandings of the world, encouraging them to encounter their own firmly held beliefs as they grow as scholars in the field. By connecting students with course assignments that encourage them to interact with their own backgrounds and the communities in which they find themselves, I enable them to discover new and empowering experiences built on course texts and assignments. Throughout the semester, I work to create a classroom environment that encourages exploration, trial and error, and the reintegration of these diverse positions in order for students to leave my course with more nuanced and thoughtful worldviews. My teaching approach facilitates learning that is both personal and connected; students gain self-knowledge while building anthropological knowledge and expertise. I guide students as they make connections between their experiences and interests and new concepts, facilitating a process of encountering novel perspectives and reintegration in order to come to a more complex understanding of the world.  

In order to accomplish personal and connected learning, I use methods including reflection, practice, and collaboration in order to lead students to higher order skills including synthesis and evaluation of scholarly debates and societal challenges. In discussion based courses, I use a mixture of class formats and active learning assignments to facilitate student engagement with the materials. For example, I have students break into small groups and I provide each group with a passage from the day’s readings, which I have identified as being particularly significant, complex, or controversial, printed on a large piece of paper. I then ask the groups to use different colored pencils to collectively annotate the passages, identifying a key quote, terms they would define for the rest of the class, central concepts, and anything they do not understand or with which they might disagree. Finally, I have them generate a question for class discussion and present the passage to the rest of the class. This activity is particularly effective for encouraging younger students to engage more deeply with the class texts in an analytical and detailed way. Periodically during the semester, I also ask the students to reflect on their own learning by using the last five minutes of class to write one thing they learned and one question they still have from the day’s material. I then start the subsequent class period by addressing the questions and use these same questions to help me ensure I have included texts that will enable them to answer the posed questions throughout the rest of the course.

Particularly in discussion based courses, when students encounter multiple new viewpoints and topics that challenge their deeply held beliefs, there exists the possibility for uncomfortable exchanges, as well as personal and intellectual growth through connecting diverse views to lived experience and scholarly course content. In order to help students feel safe grappling with new ideas during class, I create an environment that fosters respect. To do so, I enlist the students in a collaborative exercise at the beginning of the semester to generate rules for discussion. The students then have ownership over creating a dynamic and respectful environment. In order to foster experimentation and intellectual growth, I always take student comments seriously and employ active listening techniques in order to help them clarify their questions or positions. I use verbal reinforcement to indicate to them it is acceptable to put forth ideas that are not fully formed in order for us to think through them as a class.

In large, lecture-based courses, I work to create a similar environment in which students feel able to wrestle with difficult or new concepts. I use online tools, such as Blackboard, to enable students to engage in discussion of or reflection on the course materials, which is often not possible in person due to the number of students. Through interactive online discussion boards and private online journal responses, I am able to monitor each student’s progress and understanding of the course material. I incorporate active learning exercises occasionally during the class period. This can take the form of writing anonymous questions on notecards for discussion or review, small group annotation activities, or the use of digital tools such as Plickers (response cards for polls and assessments integrated with my smartphone) or other response apps to get the students involved in answering polls or questions in the course of the class. I also continue to incorporate multimedia presentations and a variety of scholarly and personal accounts to bring the material alive, particularly at the introductory level.

I am committed to, and draw great inspiration and motivation from, one-on-one mentoring. In Intro to Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, I had two students who chose to interview a female-identified person at least twenty years older than themselves for their final paper. One student came to me regularly throughout the development of her paper. Together, we created a project in which she was able to connect her personal family history to the course texts and themes. A copy of her paper is located in the “Student Work” portion of my online Teaching Portfolio. In the past, I have served as a research mentor for undergraduates, and as a grant writing mentor for fellow graduate and undergraduate students developing proposals. Helping to facilitate the development of research ideas by challenging the student to think of more variables, refine their research methods, or engage with new theory and texts is something to which I most look forward in my future in academia. In Spring 2016 I was invited to be one of two discussants for Washington University’s Mellon-Mays undergraduate research forum during which junior and senior fellows present the research they have developed over the course of their undergraduate careers. The Mellon-Mays program is designed to mentor and support the academic and professional development of minority students. I worked with the students before and during their presentations to help them to clarify their arguments and further push the boundaries of the impressive work they have done.

In my course development, I employ my personal and connected philosophy to create syllabi that reflect a diversity of academic thought and life backgrounds so as to challenge hegemonic white, western scholarship by incorporating complementary and opposing scholars. For example, as a scholar of Africa, I draw on African feminist scholars in teaching, even at the introductory level, so students begin the work of unseating historically western, colonial perspectives on gender dichotomies and socially constructed gender roles. While drawing on academic work produced about a certain place, I also strive to incorporate the voices of scholars, activists and individuals from that place, whether that place be in Africa or the United States. My goal of including these different voices challenges me to stay up to date with innovative and important scholarship and commentary produced by underrepresented groups and encourages students to do the same. Engaging with these materials provides an avenue for facing our individual and institutional privileges or those of others. It is my hope that cultivating in students an awareness of diverse forms of privilege in the classroom and in life will help them to learn more about themselves and enable them to open space for dialogue with others with whom they may not agree. This allows them to encounter new ideas on a personal level, as well as connecting them to, and actively promoting, diversity of thought within the field of anthropology.

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