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Canadian Bioscience and Colonial Settler Science
image 8 settler colonial studies.jpg

Photo credit: Denielle Elliott, Ovaltine Cafe, Vancouver, British Columbia

This area of research bridges my interest in Science and Technology Studies with my work on Settler Colonialism and with Urban Indigenous communities of British Columbia as a way to think about disrupting the western settler colonial epistemological frameworks that govern science, medicine and health for urban Indigenous communities. It considers “caring/humanitarian” projects of the state within histories of violence and trauma enacted by the same settler colonial nation making claims to care and cure.

As part of this, I am a collaborator on the FEAST Project with Randy Jackson and Renee Masching (CIHR funded project on sexually transmitted and blood borne infections in Indigenous communities).  

Publications / Papers

2021 Settler science, biogovernance, and the politics of care in Vancouver’s Unceded Territory, 4S Annual Conference, Toronto, October 6-9. 


2019 Epidemiology, the Media, and Vancouver’s public health emergency: A Critical Ethnography, In Thinking Differently about HIV/AIDS, edited by Eric Mykhalovskiy and Viviane Namaste, Vancouver: UBC Press. 


2019 Canadian Scientists and Transnational Microbiology. Postcolonial Tensions: Science, History and Indigenous Knowledges Workshop, Harvard University, April 12-13.


Unsettling Addiction Science in Vancouver’s Unceded Territory, Social Study of Science Annual Conference, Sydney, Australia, August 30-September 1, 2018.


Anti-Settler Science Studies (Complicity and colonialism), Critical Indigenous Science Studies Conference, Harvard University, April 10-12, 2017


This area of research builds on my PhD research that explored the ways in which therapeutic interventions and medical research surrounding HIV/AIDS are co-constitutive in Vancouver’s impoverished DTES community. This work considers the ethical implications for medical research, epidemiological surveillance, and ethnography in the post-welfare Canadian context. I combined elements of an ethnography of clinical care – including extensive participant-observation at urban medical clinics that provide HIV treatment, and interviews with clinicians, health administrators, people living with HIV, and scientists - with a close reading of epidemiological literature pertaining to HIV and addictions in Vancouver’s inner city. I asked, in which ways is the production of medico-scientific knowledge related to the distribution of pharmaceuticals for HIV in Vancouver’s inner city? I examined (1) the state-sponsored public health programs that have been created to improve compliance through the use of directly observed therapy, (2) the epidemiological discourse on adherence, (3) the relationship between pharmaceuticals and treatment, and (4) the contestation of therapeutic guidelines in the clinic. Informed by the writings of Michel Foucault, I situated my analysis within larger debates surrounding postcolonial medicine, disparities in access to treatment, and the global politics of HIV/AIDS research. I reflected on the ways in which inner-city populations are regulated and monitored through both illicit and licit pharmaceuticals.


Since a large proportion of the folks who live in the inner city are Indigenous, I take a particular interest on the way in which the Canadian state governs contemporary urban Indigenous peoples through medicine, epidemiology, and public health. I suggested that citizens whose lives are characterized by poverty, suffering, and abandonment in the Canadian state, who are perceived as “valueless,” have become critical commodities in the combined therapeutic and research economies, where they are valued for their suffering, disease, and bodies. Drawing on the work of Nikolas Rose and Catherine Walby, I suggested that, in the inner city, a lack of vitality constitutes a source of bio/necro-value. The AIDS virus itself is a productive force, and becomes valued, through creating the imperative for vaccines, pharmaceuticals, and epidemiological surveillance. For epidemiologists and other medical researchers, the virus and its effects, along with the results of interactions between the pharmaceuticals and the disease (e.g., drug-resistant viruses), are productive sources of new scientific knowledge and new subjectivities.


Publications emerging from my PhD


2015 Suffering and the fervour of statistical evidence in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Politics of Evidence, Special Issue, Canada Watch Fall: 13-14.


D. Elliott, M. Krawcyzk, Gurney, A. Myran, R. Rockthunder, and L. Storm 2015 Reimagining Aboriginality, Addictions, and Collaborative Research in Inner City Vancouver, Canada. Creative Approaches to Research (CAR) 8(1): 22-40.


2014 Science, Reason and Compassion: Debating supervised injection sites in Vancouver’s inner city. Contemporary Drug Problems 41(1): 5-37.


2014 Truth, shame, complicity and flirtation: An unconventional, ethnographic (non)fiction. Anthropology and Humanism 39(2): 145-158.


2010 Chapter 8: Zones of Abandonment: The Cultural Politics of Public Health in Vancouver’s Inner City. In Human Rights, Human Welfare and Social Activism: Rethinking the Legacy of J.S. Woodsworth. Edited by Jane Pulkingham. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.


D. Elliott and M. Krawczyk “Life Beyond This”: Aboriginal health, visual ethnography and experimental methodologies in community-based research, Ethnographic installation and photographic art exhibit, Carnegie Art Gallery, Vancouver, December 4, 2006 – January 5, 2007.


Policies and Reports


2011 HIV/AIDS care and treatment and BC Aboriginal Peoples: Provincial Action Plan. Vancouver, BC: PHSA.


Browne, A.J., H. McDonald, D. Elliott 2008 First Nations Urban Aboriginal Health Research Discussion Paper. A Report for the First Nations Centre of the National Aboriginal Health Organization. Ottawa: National Aboriginal Health Organization.


AHAH Research Team 2007 Aboriginal Health and Healing Community Report. Vancouver, BC.

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