Rebecca Gasior Altman
M.A. in Sociology, Brown University
Department of Sociology
Providence, RI 02912
T el: (401) 863-3459
Fax: (401) 863-3213
Year of Entry: 2002
M.A. in Sociology, Brown University (2004)
B.S. in Child and Family Studies, Bates College (1999)
General Areas of Interest
Medical Sociology; Social Movements and Health; Science, Knowledge, and Social Change; Political Economy of Health and the Environment; Human Body Burden; Grassroots Leadership; and Environmental Consequences of Health Care
I have taught an introductory course in medical sociology (Medical Controversies: Social Influences on Health and Illness) for the Brown Summer Studies program with Laura Senier.
Prior to that, I served as a teaching assistant to Ann Dill for her courses, Organizational Theories of the Public and Private Sectors and Human Needs and Social Services, and to Edith Balbach (Community Health, Tufts University) for Introduction to Community Health.
In 2006, I completed the Level I Teaching Certificate Program at the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning, and served as department liaison to the Sheridan Center for two years with Jennifer Darrah-Okike.
Besides introductory courses in medical sociology, other courses I’d like to teach include: social movements and health, qualitative methods, and environment and society.
I am fascinated by questions of social and institutional change with a particular focus on the role of science in enabling and constraining change.
Dissertation: Tracking the Pollution Within: Bodies as Evidence and the Burden of Proof
[A Multi-Sited Ethnography of Body Burden Science]
I study the science and politics of chemical pollution inside human bodies, what is popularly called body burden. This work has taken me to Appalachia, Maine, and Alaska—three places where communities have drawn their blood and had it analyzed for environmental chemicals, including pesticides, flame retardants, and industrial solvents. In particular, I study how the fragmented patchwork of government policies and regulatory practices consolidate the diverse arena of chemical politics and body burden debates into three typical sites where chemical exposures happen, and groups involve themselves in research and remediation. Each site occupies a particular moment in the chemical life-cycle: (1) where chemicals are synthesized, produced, or used in industrial applications (Appalachia communities of the mid-Ohio Valley) to (2) where consumers use products with chemical additives or residues (Maine), to (3) the numerous de facto repositories where chemicals accumulate over time (Alaska). Within and across sites, I examine: 1) how the political and economic organization of chemical production and regulation influence the conduct and interpretation of body burden science; 2) the dynamic relationship between power and this fast-evolving scientific field; and 3) how communities and movement organizations navigate the constraints, consequences, and opportunities they encounter as active participants in and users of this increasingly policy-relevant science.
Since 2002, much of my research training has been in collaboration with the Contested Illnesses Research Group, led by Phil Brown and Rachel Morello-Frosch (The Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management and the School of Public Health, University of California Berkeley). Through my involvement with the research group, and collaborators at the Silent Spring Institute and Communities for a Better Environment, I have worked on numerous projects to document how study participants, communities, social movement organizations, and scientists conduct, interpret, and act on environmental health science.
Other research projects explore:
(1) The personal and familial experience of grassroots anti-toxics activism. I seek to understand what social factors outside of conventional movement “fields of action” enable and constrain grassroots leadership. A second research thread draws on extensive interviews with grassroots leaders to develop a new approach to studying “social movement experience,” which borrows and extends insight from the rich field of “illness experience” in medical sociology.
(2) Social movement efforts to address the environmental consequences posed by the health care sector. This work is driven by two questions. First, how might social movement challenges to the environmental consequences of health care extend and revitalize a medical sociology of iatrogenesis? Second, and more pragmatically, what can be learned about health care reform by analyzing the professional and social movement campaigns – and the broader contexts of such challenges– to increase the sustainability of day-to-day operations and reduce overall toxics use?
Beyond Brown, I serve as the graduate student representative to the American Sociological Association Section on Environment, Technology and Society. I am also a former member of the American Sociological Association Task Force for Institutionalizing Public Sociology, which has worked to document the scope and breadth of public sociologies, creating guidelines for training students to practice public sociology, as well as creating tenure and promotion guidelines that are inclusive of sociologists' public work.