Culture, Society & Family Health & Medicine Researcher news SMU In The News Student researchers

Anthropologyworks: SMU’s James Kennell among Top 40 cultural anthropology dissertations

The blog Anthropologyworks has cited the research of SMU medical anthropologist James Kennell as one of the best 40 North American dissertations in cultural anthropology during 2011. Kennell’s “The Senses and Suffering: Medical Knowledge, Spirit Possession, and Vaccination Programs in Aja,” was written in fulfillment of his doctoral degree.

The blog is a project of the Culture in Global Affairs (CIGA) research and policy program of the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. CIGA’s mission is to promote awareness of the relevance of anthropological knowledge to contemporary issues and to enhance discussion and debate within and beyond anthropology about contemporary issues.

Kennell teaches “Health as a Human Right” and “Peoples of Africa” in the SMU Department of Anthropology.

Read about the Top 40.


Anthroworks presents its favorite 2011 North American dissertations in cultural anthropology. In compiling this list, I searched the “Dissertations International” electronic database that is available through my university library. The database includes mainly U.S. dissertations with a light sprinkling from Canada. I used the same search terms as I did in previous years.

True confession: these are my picks, and they reflect my preferences for topics — health, inequality, migration, gender, and human rights. Somebody else’s picks would look quite different. But this is the anthroworks list!

The 40 dissertations are arranged in alphabetical order according to the last name of the dissertation author. Apologies to the authors for my reduction of their published abstracts to a maximum of nine lines.

I would like to convey my congratulations to all 2011 anthropology Ph.D. recipients. I hope they go on to a successful career in — or related to — anthropology.

The Senses and Suffering: Medical Knowledge, Spirit Possession, and Vaccination Programs in Aja, by James Kennell. Southern Methodist University. Advisors: Caroline Brettell, Carolyn Sargent, Carolyn Smith-Morris, Paul Stoller.

In an Aja community of southwest Benin, multiple domains of medical knowledge and practice compete for control of illness meaning and sensory experience. Global health initiatives (vaccination and education programs), national health care structures, and Aja medico-religious practice each incorporate and manipulate the knowledge and practice of the other in order to create legitimacy and shape therapeutic trajectories. Biomedical nosology and disease prevention efforts conflict with local understandings of individual and community health concerning diseases that affect the skin. Efforts at the “sensibilisation” of the community regarding vaccinations and other global health initiatives is met with local medico-religious knowledge emphasizing a sensual experience of illness and healing for the individual and the community.

Read about the Top 40.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.