swidmer


Alexandra Widmer

Photo of Alexandra  Widmer

Department of Anthropology

Assistant Professor

Office: Vari Hall, 2042
Phone: (416)736-2100 Ext: 33716
Email: swidmer@yorku.ca


Sandra Widmer conducts research on women’s reproductive health; the role of biomedicine and demographic research in colonial state formation and the relations and differences enabled in metabolism and microbiome research.

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Degrees

PhD, York University
MA, Dalhousie University
BA, Dalhousie University

Research Interests

Anthropology , History, Anthropology of Science, Medicine and Technology, Anthropology of Reproduction, Anthropology of Colonialism, Feminist Anthropology

Current Research Projects

Eating for Trillions: The Social Lives of Direct to Consumer Microbiome Tests

    Summary:

    This project looks at how Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) microbiome test users in an urban post-industrial context understand their bodies. Analyzing their experiences is significant as a way of understanding the accelerating biologization of human relations in the “postgenomic condition” (Reardon 2017). The microbiome is a term that scientists use to refer to the combined genetic material (the genome) of the microbes in a human body. DTC microbiome tests examine a tiny fraction of the trillions of cells in a human body that belong to microscopic microbes, like bacteria, fungi and viruses (e.g. Paxson 2008; Yong 2016). The tests can be seen as an example of precision medicine, a form of medicine that offers therapeutics optimized with genomic profiling. DTC test companies’ marketing strategies hinge on convincing consumers to purchase their analysis in order to optimize personal wellness. The project combines online ethnography with participant observation with food fermenters in Toronto, as well as interviews with naturopaths and other health professionals, DTC testing company, health food marketers.
    The project will also situate DTC test users’ lived experiences of their bodies and frequent experiences of precarity and uncertainty in a wider social and political context o in political economies of North American biotechnology and biomedicine (Lorimer 2017).

    See more
    Funders:
    SSHRC Insight Development Grant
Calibrating Livelihood and the Gut: Australian Metabolism Science in Papua New Guinea (1960-1971)

    Summary:

    Pacific Islanders have some of the highest rates of metabolic disease in the world. Often scientists attribute this to genetics and a transition to a processed food diet. My project presents another element in the regional and global history of how researchers understood metabolism at a time when global hunger, not obesity, was a concern. This metabolism research was also a precursor to microbiome research today.
    In the 1960s, a team of Australian nutritionists travelled to Papua New Guinea (then an Australian colony) and compared the metabolisms of people who lived a subsistence lifestyle with those who worked for wages in towns, as well as White Australians in Australia. Subsistence livelihoods were of particular interest during the Cold War, as regional institutions, like the South Pacific Commission hoped that Pacific Islanders could transition to wage earners in capitalist economies.

    As part of their research, these researchers collected and compared urine, expired air, breast milk and feces. The samples they could not analyze in the field, were sent back to a government lab at the Australian Institute of Anatomy (a leading national institution of the Australian Department of Health) in Canberra for analysis. These researchers cautiously published that in people practicing subsistence livelihoods, they had located gut microflora that would metabolise protein from nitrogen in the air. Their claims suggested that WHO universal standards of protein consumption might need to be changed to allow for differences between populations.

    The objective of this research is to use historical methods and social theory to analyze metabolism research in Australian colonial nutrition science in the south western Pacific Islands. Within this 1960s research, I will document the scientific practices of the collection, storage and analysis of Pacific Islanders’ biological materials. I want to understand these technologies measuring metabolism as a means of how scientists calibrated the sexed, raced and age-related embodiment of food and waged or subsistence labour.

    See more
Books

Publication
Year

Health and Difference: Rendering Human Variation in Colonial Engagements (First editor, with Veronika Lipphardt). NY: Berghahn Books.

2016

Twentieth Century Population Thinking: A Critical Reader of Primary and Secondary Sources (with Population Knowledge Network). London: Routledge

2015

“Time and the Expert: Temporalities and the Social Life of Expertise” Anthropologica 55(2). (guest edited collection with Jean Mitchell)

2013

Book Chapters

Publication
Year

“Making People Countable: Analyzing Paper Trails and the Imperial Census” in Approaching the Imperial Archive: Sources and Methods in Histories of Colonialism, Kirsty Reid and Fiona Paisley, eds. Oxford: Routledge Press.

2017

“Colonial Demography: Rationalities, Practices, Discourses” (with Samuël Coghe) in Twentieth Century Population Thinking: A Critical Reader of Primary and Secondary Sources, Population Knowledge Network, ed. London: Routledge. pp. 37-64.

2015

“Filtering Demography and Biomedical Technologies: Melanesian Nurses and Global Population Concerns (1920-1970)” in A World of Populations: Transnational Perspectives on Demography in the Twentieth Century, Corinna R. Unger and Heinrich Hartmann, eds. Oxford: Berghahn Press. pp. 222-242.

2014

“Seeing Health Like a Colonial State: Assistant Medical Practitioners and Nascent Biomedical Citizenship in the New Hebrides” in Senses and Citizenships: Embodying Political Life, S. Trnka, J. Park and C. Dureau, eds. New York: Routledge. pp. 200-220.

2013

“Making Mothers: The Changing Relationships of Birth and Raising Children in Pango Village, Vanuatu” in An Anthropology of Mothering, Michelle Walks and Naomi MacPherson, eds. Bradford: Demeter Press. pp. 102-114.

2011

Journal Articles

Publication
Year

The Order of the Magic Lantern Slides Stories, Colonial Medicine, and Power

2019

“The Imbalanced Sex-Ratio and the High Bride Price: Watermarks of Race in Demography and the Colonial Regulation of Reproduction” Special Issue, “Technologies of Belonging: Biology, Race and Ethnicity in Europe”, Amade M'charek, Katharina Schramm and David Skinner, eds. Science, Technology and Human Values 39(4): 538-560.

2014

“Making Blood ‘Melanesian’: Fieldwork and Isolating Techniques in Genetic Epidemiology (1963–1976)” Special Issue, “Making Human Heredity: Populations, Life Sciences and Public Health in the Post-War Era”, Jenny Bangham and Soraya de Chadarevian, eds. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 47(Part A): 118-129.

2014

“Of Temporal Politics and Demographic Anxieties: ‘Young Mothers’ in Demographic Predictions and Social Life in Vanuatu” Anthropologica 55(2): 317-328.

2013

“Diversity as Valued and Troubled: Social Identities and Demographic Categories in understandings of Rapid Urban Growth in Vanuatu” Special Issue “Medical Crises, Diversification and Mainstreaming”, David Parkin, Kristine Krause and Gabriele Alex, eds. Anthropology and Medicine 20(2): 142-159.

2013

“From Research Encounters to Metropolitan Debates: The Making and Meaning of the Melanesian ‘Race’ during Demographic Decline”. Paideuma: Mitteilungen zur Kulturkunde 58: 69-93

2012

“Native Medical Practitioners, Temporality and Nascent Biomedical Citizenship in the New Hebrides”. Political and Legal Anthropology Review 30(s1): 57-80.

2010

“The Effects of Elusive Knowledge: Census, Health Laws and Inconsistently Modern Subjects in Early Colonial Vanuatu”. Journal of Legal Anthropology 1(1): 92-116.

2008


Current Courses

Term Course Number Section Title Type
Fall/Winter 2020 AP/ANTH3330 6.0 A Health & Illness LECT
Fall 2020 GS/STS6106 3.0 A Bodies & Biotechnologies in Anthropology SEMR


Upcoming Courses

Term Course Number Section Title Type
Winter 2021 AP/ANTH4330 3.0 M Critical Issues in Medical Anthropology SEMR
Fall/Winter 2020 AP/ANTH3330 6.0 A Health & Illness LECT


Sandra Widmer conducts research on women’s reproductive health; the role of biomedicine and demographic research in colonial state formation and the relations and differences enabled in metabolism and microbiome research.

Degrees

PhD, York University
MA, Dalhousie University
BA, Dalhousie University

Research Interests

Anthropology , History, Anthropology of Science, Medicine and Technology, Anthropology of Reproduction, Anthropology of Colonialism, Feminist Anthropology

Current Research Projects

Eating for Trillions: The Social Lives of Direct to Consumer Microbiome Tests

    Summary:

    This project looks at how Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) microbiome test users in an urban post-industrial context understand their bodies. Analyzing their experiences is significant as a way of understanding the accelerating biologization of human relations in the “postgenomic condition” (Reardon 2017). The microbiome is a term that scientists use to refer to the combined genetic material (the genome) of the microbes in a human body. DTC microbiome tests examine a tiny fraction of the trillions of cells in a human body that belong to microscopic microbes, like bacteria, fungi and viruses (e.g. Paxson 2008; Yong 2016). The tests can be seen as an example of precision medicine, a form of medicine that offers therapeutics optimized with genomic profiling. DTC test companies’ marketing strategies hinge on convincing consumers to purchase their analysis in order to optimize personal wellness. The project combines online ethnography with participant observation with food fermenters in Toronto, as well as interviews with naturopaths and other health professionals, DTC testing company, health food marketers.
    The project will also situate DTC test users’ lived experiences of their bodies and frequent experiences of precarity and uncertainty in a wider social and political context o in political economies of North American biotechnology and biomedicine (Lorimer 2017).

    Project Type: Funded
    Funders:
    SSHRC Insight Development Grant
Calibrating Livelihood and the Gut: Australian Metabolism Science in Papua New Guinea (1960-1971)

    Summary:

    Pacific Islanders have some of the highest rates of metabolic disease in the world. Often scientists attribute this to genetics and a transition to a processed food diet. My project presents another element in the regional and global history of how researchers understood metabolism at a time when global hunger, not obesity, was a concern. This metabolism research was also a precursor to microbiome research today.
    In the 1960s, a team of Australian nutritionists travelled to Papua New Guinea (then an Australian colony) and compared the metabolisms of people who lived a subsistence lifestyle with those who worked for wages in towns, as well as White Australians in Australia. Subsistence livelihoods were of particular interest during the Cold War, as regional institutions, like the South Pacific Commission hoped that Pacific Islanders could transition to wage earners in capitalist economies.

    As part of their research, these researchers collected and compared urine, expired air, breast milk and feces. The samples they could not analyze in the field, were sent back to a government lab at the Australian Institute of Anatomy (a leading national institution of the Australian Department of Health) in Canberra for analysis. These researchers cautiously published that in people practicing subsistence livelihoods, they had located gut microflora that would metabolise protein from nitrogen in the air. Their claims suggested that WHO universal standards of protein consumption might need to be changed to allow for differences between populations.

    The objective of this research is to use historical methods and social theory to analyze metabolism research in Australian colonial nutrition science in the south western Pacific Islands. Within this 1960s research, I will document the scientific practices of the collection, storage and analysis of Pacific Islanders’ biological materials. I want to understand these technologies measuring metabolism as a means of how scientists calibrated the sexed, raced and age-related embodiment of food and waged or subsistence labour.

All Publications


Book Chapters

Publication
Year

“Making People Countable: Analyzing Paper Trails and the Imperial Census” in Approaching the Imperial Archive: Sources and Methods in Histories of Colonialism, Kirsty Reid and Fiona Paisley, eds. Oxford: Routledge Press.

2017

“Colonial Demography: Rationalities, Practices, Discourses” (with Samuël Coghe) in Twentieth Century Population Thinking: A Critical Reader of Primary and Secondary Sources, Population Knowledge Network, ed. London: Routledge. pp. 37-64.

2015

“Filtering Demography and Biomedical Technologies: Melanesian Nurses and Global Population Concerns (1920-1970)” in A World of Populations: Transnational Perspectives on Demography in the Twentieth Century, Corinna R. Unger and Heinrich Hartmann, eds. Oxford: Berghahn Press. pp. 222-242.

2014

“Seeing Health Like a Colonial State: Assistant Medical Practitioners and Nascent Biomedical Citizenship in the New Hebrides” in Senses and Citizenships: Embodying Political Life, S. Trnka, J. Park and C. Dureau, eds. New York: Routledge. pp. 200-220.

2013

“Making Mothers: The Changing Relationships of Birth and Raising Children in Pango Village, Vanuatu” in An Anthropology of Mothering, Michelle Walks and Naomi MacPherson, eds. Bradford: Demeter Press. pp. 102-114.

2011

Books

Publication
Year

Health and Difference: Rendering Human Variation in Colonial Engagements (First editor, with Veronika Lipphardt). NY: Berghahn Books.

2016

Twentieth Century Population Thinking: A Critical Reader of Primary and Secondary Sources (with Population Knowledge Network). London: Routledge

2015

“Time and the Expert: Temporalities and the Social Life of Expertise” Anthropologica 55(2). (guest edited collection with Jean Mitchell)

2013

Journal Articles

Publication
Year

The Order of the Magic Lantern Slides Stories, Colonial Medicine, and Power

2019

“The Imbalanced Sex-Ratio and the High Bride Price: Watermarks of Race in Demography and the Colonial Regulation of Reproduction” Special Issue, “Technologies of Belonging: Biology, Race and Ethnicity in Europe”, Amade M'charek, Katharina Schramm and David Skinner, eds. Science, Technology and Human Values 39(4): 538-560.

2014

“Making Blood ‘Melanesian’: Fieldwork and Isolating Techniques in Genetic Epidemiology (1963–1976)” Special Issue, “Making Human Heredity: Populations, Life Sciences and Public Health in the Post-War Era”, Jenny Bangham and Soraya de Chadarevian, eds. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 47(Part A): 118-129.

2014

“Of Temporal Politics and Demographic Anxieties: ‘Young Mothers’ in Demographic Predictions and Social Life in Vanuatu” Anthropologica 55(2): 317-328.

2013

“Diversity as Valued and Troubled: Social Identities and Demographic Categories in understandings of Rapid Urban Growth in Vanuatu” Special Issue “Medical Crises, Diversification and Mainstreaming”, David Parkin, Kristine Krause and Gabriele Alex, eds. Anthropology and Medicine 20(2): 142-159.

2013

“From Research Encounters to Metropolitan Debates: The Making and Meaning of the Melanesian ‘Race’ during Demographic Decline”. Paideuma: Mitteilungen zur Kulturkunde 58: 69-93

2012

“Native Medical Practitioners, Temporality and Nascent Biomedical Citizenship in the New Hebrides”. Political and Legal Anthropology Review 30(s1): 57-80.

2010

“The Effects of Elusive Knowledge: Census, Health Laws and Inconsistently Modern Subjects in Early Colonial Vanuatu”. Journal of Legal Anthropology 1(1): 92-116.

2008


Current Courses

Term Course Number Section Title Type
Fall/Winter 2020 AP/ANTH3330 6.0 A Health & Illness LECT
Fall 2020 GS/STS6106 3.0 A Bodies & Biotechnologies in Anthropology SEMR


Upcoming Courses

Term Course Number Section Title Type
Winter 2021 AP/ANTH4330 3.0 M Critical Issues in Medical Anthropology SEMR
Fall/Winter 2020 AP/ANTH3330 6.0 A Health & Illness LECT