Lada Dedić's art from her Self Portrait: Artist's Brain series


Denielle Elliott / Undisciplined Ethnography

I am an Associate Professor at York University in the Departments of Social Anthropology and Social Science, and hold a graduate appointment in the Science and Technology Studies program. I am also the Deputy Director of the Harriet Tubman Institute at York University and co-founder of the Centre for Imaginative Ethnography. My research for the large part focuses on arts-based ethnography and the intersections of colonialism, medicine and science, and politics. I have conducted fieldwork in British Columbia (Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on HIV/AIDS, epidemiological surveillance and Indigenous health) and in Nairobi and Kisumu, Kenya (‘Safari Science’, experimental medicine, scientific infrastructure, and the politics of transnational science).


My current project entitled "Neurological Imaginaries" explores the sensorial and affective dimensions of traumatic brain injuries. 

My recent book publication, Reimagining Science and Statecraft in Postcolonial Kenya: Stories from an African Scientist (Routledge 2019), is a collaborative account of immunologist Davy Koech's life's work building bioscientific infrastructure in Kenya and his relationship with former president Daniel arap Moi.

I am co-editor with Anna Harris of the #WritingLife Series with Somatosphere. 

Why UNDISCIPLINED ETHNOGRAPHY? I evoke the idea of undisciplined for its double (triple?) meaning. Undisciplined in the sense of being unruly, disruptive, and disorderly. I want to engage in and encourage a type of ethnography that colours outside the lines, that makes us uncomfortable, that is rebellious! I also want to engage in a sort of ethnography that is not limited to the discipline of Anthropology, but that borrows promiscuously from Feminist Affect Studies, Science and Technology Studies, Postcolonial Theory, Visual Studies, Sound Studies and Performance Studies; experimenting with multimodal genres and montage; an ethnography not bound by its disciplinary history or conventions.


For more information on my research and publications, see research.



Trained as a sociocultural anthropologist, my work explores the politics and everyday ethics of medicine, science, and humanitarian interventions in postcolonial and settler colonial contexts. Since 2012, I have actively engaged in developing creative and art-based ethnographic strategies including multimedia installations, experimental genres of writing, and visual anthropology and as part of this I am one of the founding members and a co-curator of the Centre for Imaginative Ethnography, a collaborative research collective dedicated to bridging social justice, creative arts, and ethnography both within and outside the academy. In 2017, we published an edited book, A different kind of ethnography: Imaginative practices and creative methodologies (University of Toronto Press).

My research and publications to date have focused on three core areas: First, the social and political-economic asymmetries in colonial and postcolonial medicine and the consequences for indigenous and postcolonial communities; second, the moral paradoxes embedded within ‘good intentioned’ interventions for these same communities; and third, the development of an arts-based, and undisciplined, approach in ethnography. My research interests have focused on the unintended consequences of a range of good intentioned interventions including Directly Observed Therapy (DOT) for HIV, PrEP clinical trials, inner city epidemiological surveillance, transnational science collaborations (global health), and securitization through medicine.



My teaching and mentoring reflect my research interests. I teach courses and hold workshops on ethnographic methods,

writing, indigenous studies, science and technology studies and the social study of biomedicine. I am currently accepting graduate students interested in Arts-based Ethnography, Literary Ethnography, Postcolonial and Indigenous Science Studies, and African Studies. Courses in my current rotation at York include:

SOSC 4144: Engaging Health in the Community

SOSC 4145: The Brain, Self, and Society

ANTH 6020: PhD Methods [Ethnography]

STS 6314: Postcolonial and Indigenous Science Studies

Guidelines for my current students can be found here.

Postdoctoral fellows

Sarah Blacker, The Science of Contamination, SSHRC funded, 2020 - continuing. 

Current graduate students


Kathleen Cherrington, Supervisor, Doctoral Student in the Gender, Feminism, and Women's Studies program, September 2020 -- continuing. 

Project: TBD.

Michelle Charette, Supervisor, Doctoral Student in Department of Science and Technology Studies, September 2019 – continuing.

Project: TBD.

Stephanie Voyer, Co-Supervisor, Doctoral Student in Department of Social Anthropology, September 2020 - continuing, Project: TBD.

Laura Farkas, Supervisor, Doctoral Student in Department of Science and Technology Studies, March 2021 – continuing.

Project: TBD.


Sydney Neuman, Supervisor, Doctoral Student in the Gender, Feminist, and Women's Studies program at York University, September 2018 - continuing. 

Project: Benzos: A feminist chemical narrative. 

Tayba Hathiyani, Supervisor, MA in Development Studies, 2018 - continuing.

Project: Changing the Conversation in Global Health: Ageing women's health care in Kenya

Brandon Moskun, Committee Member, Doctoral Student in Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, 2019 - continuing. 

Project: Study Drugs, Social Rhythms, and Student Life in Norway

Ingrid Bachner, Committee Member, Doctoral Student in the Gender, Feminism, and Women's Studies program, March 2021 -- continuing. Project: TBD.

Rufi Oswaldo, Committee Member, Department of Theatre at York University, July 2020 - continuing. 

Project: TBD. 

Wesley Jordan Oakes, Committee Member, Doctoral Student in Anthropology, 2014 – continuing.

Project: Race, Sexuality and the Politics of Desire: Heterosexual Black men and HIV/AIDS in Toronto


Nelly Jebran, Co-supervisor, Member, Doctoral Student in Political Science, York University, 2014 – continuing.

Project: Bio-ethics or Bio-economics? The (Non)Treatment of Infants with Cognitive Disabilities in Canadian Healthcare


Drew Belsky, Committee Member, Doctoral Student in Science and Technology Studies, 2016 - continuing.

Project: Making bodies making bodies: Pedagogy, professionalization, and practices of biomedical image-makers from 1945 to the present.


Past Students


Lina Pinto Garcia, Supervisor, Doctoral Student in Department of Science and Technology Studies, September 2014 – 2020.

Project: Tracing the paths of Glucantime: Unveiling the exclusionary practices of therapeutic citizenship

Callum Sutherland, Committee Member, Doctoral Student in Science and Technology Studies, 2016 - 2021.

Project: Sockeye at the Boundary: Aboriginal Knowledge, the Great Divide, and the Calgary School.

Isabella Chawrun, Supervisor, MA in Social Anthropology, 2018 - 2020 

Project: Clinical Encounters and Critical Disability Studies

Jordan Hodgins, Supervisor, MA in Social Anthropology, 2018 - 2019. 

Project: The social life of naxolone: 'The medicine that relieves but does not heal'

Peggy Chiapetta, Committee Member, Doctoral Student in Science and Technology Studies, 2016 - 2019.

Project: Innovation and Collaboration in Cancer Pharmacology: Understanding Open and Proprietary Mediating Devices.

Erin Grosjean, PhD Supervisor, Doctoral Student in Science and Technology Studies, 2015 – 2018.

Project: Measuring the dead: An history of human decomposition study at the Body Farm


Alex Rewegan, Supervisor, MRP, Social Anthropology, 2015 - 2017.

Project: How brain plasticity matters to brain scientists


Brandon Moskun, Supervisor, MRP, Social Anthropology, 2016 - 2017.

Project: A Portrait of Comorbidity.


Patrick Mbullo, Supervisor, Anthropology, MA, 2013 – 2015.

Project: An Exploration of Chinese Development Projects in Kenya


Micah Anshan, MRP second reader, Science and Technology Studies, MA, 2012-2013

Project: ‘Evidence-Based’ or Based on Evidence?: Assessing the Debate Over Canada’s Harm-Reduction Evaluations.