I am a biological anthropologist who interprets the lived experiences of individuals from past populations through the examination of their skeletal remains. I embrace the holism of anthropological study, integrating theoretical perspectives and methodologies of the cultural, biological, and archaeological subfields of the discipline. This research also employs a biocultural perspective which integrates the sciences, history, and social theory.
My research specifically focuses on the skeletal impacts of discrimination-based inequalities in African diasporic populations and among the institutionalized poor. Foundational to this research is the understanding that the body is both biological and social. The political and economic ramifications of discrimination based on identification with a particular group may be literally embodied within living skeletal tissue. While such discrimination may lead to actual physical violence, the insidious and pervasive attributes of structural violence may assault the body in a multitude of ways. This structural violence – harm that is normalized and socially sanctioned by those with power - has impacts on health, both directly and indirectly through the suppression of individual and group agency. These health consequences, e.g. psychosocial stress, nutritional deficiencies, trauma, infectious disease, hormonal imbalances, heart disease, do not only affect the individual, but may have intergenerational impacts through the cycling of poverty, fetal programming, and epigenetic changes. The skeleton’s dynamic plastic properties permit the archiving of many of these discrimination-based pathologies and conditions, leaving a lasting mark which can then be interpreted by bioarchaeologists.
I also examine postmortem structural violence; the idea that discriminatory practices continue to harm the poor and marginalized after death. Investigating the use of the bodies of the poor in medical and anthropological training, as well as the lack of respect given to their sacred burial spaces, is an innovative and provocative avenue of research within bioarchaeology. This type of scholarship calls for the combining of rigorous scientific query and design, with social theory, and individual critical reflection. It also requires inclusion of the community, especially the descendant community, in all aspects of the research process from research questions to dissemination of results. This research postulates that ignoring the beliefs and the concerns of those studied and their descendant communities is antithetical to an anthropological perspective. Not only can the study of human remains be rigorous science, respectful, and responsible; it must be rigorous science, respectful, and responsible.