New researcher at CMI: Karine Aasgaard Jansen
In the midst of a second COVID-19 wave forcing several countries to implement a new lock down, no one can doubt that emerging epidemics are truly a global challenge. Our new senior researcher Karine Aasgaard Jansen wishes that more public health interventions would take local experiences and knowledge into account.
Karine holds an MSc in social anthropology, and a PhD in cultural studies from the University of Bergen (UoB). Before joining CMI she worked as a senior researcher and a lecturer in ethnology at Umeå University in Sweden. She is also affiliated to the Global Health Anthropology Research Group at the Centre for International Health at UoB, and the Indian Ocean World Centre (IOWC) at McGill University in Canada where she was a guest researcher in 2019.
What are your main research interests and background?
-I have worked within the field of medical anthropology throughout my whole career, primarily with issues at the interface between health and politics. My focus has been on the politicisation of epidemics such as the 2005-07 chikungunya epidemic in Réunion and Mauritius, and the 2009-10 swine flu pandemic in Norway. My main research interests concern cultural conceptualisations of disease and contagion, particularly how political discourses and public health interventions feed into local illness experiences. Since chikungunya is a vector-borne disease that spreads by mosquitoes, I have also become increasingly involved in the field of multispecies ethnography over the last few years. This approach explores humans’ relations to non-humans as epitomized by the One Health Agenda. I find the field intriguing, and not the least essential when it comes to understanding zoonotic diseases, i.e. illnesses that transmit between animals and humans. COVID-19 is for example most likely a zoonotic disease.
In addition, I am strongly committed to issues concerning women’s health, especially gender-based violence and fertility control. My first ethnographic fieldwork was in a shelter for survivors of domestic violence in Mauritius. I have also done a study on the black market for illegal abortion in Madagascar. Most of my ethnographic fieldwork experience so far is from islands in the Western Indian Ocean.
What got you into this field of research?
-As I already mentioned, I started out my career in anthropology by doing fieldwork with women who had suffered from domestic abuse. This is also when I first discovered medical anthropology as a subject field. I have always been passionate about doing research with social relevance, and not the least matter to the people I work with in the field. Health is a pertinent issue in this regard, and medical anthropology allows me to look at it from a holistic perspective including the importance of social, cultural, historical and political factors for people’s well-being.
-I strongly identify with CMI’s vision to generate and communicate knowledge that has the potential for social and political impact. In short: I want my research to matter beyond academia. CMI has an outstanding reputation for this. By collaborating cross-disciplinary with other researchers at the Institute I therefore hope to contribute to enhance dialogue with stakeholders and the public on for example matters of public health concern.
What are your professional goals?
-It may sound pretentious, but my main research goal has always been to communicate people’s own concerns to decision makers in order to implement change for the benefit of local communities. This is not always a straight-forward or an easy task. Nevertheless, since I work “on the ground” I am well-positioned to generate knowledge that can be used by public health stakeholders in their efforts to limit the spreading of disease through adapting a culture-sensitive and bottom-up approach to local understandings of disease transmission- and prevention.
How can your research contribute to solve global challenges?
-As COVID-19 aptly illustrates, emerging epidemics are global challenges per se. Due to warmer temperatures worldwide because of climate change, so are vector-borne diseases such as chikungunya. Public health interventions are nevertheless often informed by global public health discourses that do not take sufficiently into account local experiences and knowledge productions. However, when it comes to the issue of disease control, building trust between people and public health authorities is crucial. All my studies on disease are therefore essentially about improving communication between local communities and their respective public health systems. I think that is my most important contribution.
Would you like to share a fun-fact about yourself?
-There are too many! For one, I speak fluent Mauritian Creole. Through my studies on chikungunya, I have also learnt how to identify mosquito larvae in pools of stagnant water. I am strangely fascinated by human anatomy and try to visit medical museums whenever I travel. I still harbour a secret dream of becoming a physician one day but am also very happy to work as a medical anthropologist.