Social Sciences and Public Health: Three Pathways and Some Questions

By Manderson, Lenore | Journal of Australian Studies, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Social Sciences and Public Health: Three Pathways and Some Questions


Manderson, Lenore, Journal of Australian Studies


Globally, technological, economic and intellectual changes of the past quarter of a century have resonated in higher education. There has been an escalation of knowledge in various fields, incremental developments in the technologies that produce and disseminate knowledge, and shifts in epistemology that have had important influences intellectually. New disciplines and transdisciplinary approaches have accompanied other, material changes--computer advances, developments in global information systems, and changes in economic organisation and patterns of employment. The training that we provide in universities today is challenged by these developments, and by the concomitant and consequent changes in the demand for particular academic and vocational skills. This in turn has had profound influence on how we understand higher education, and the relationship between its provision, its consumers, and their future employers.

Three women, three pathways, and a question

Susan Bissell (b 1963) initially trained in Political Science in Canada. Prior to commencing doctoral studies, she worked for eight years with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) as the Program Officer for Children in Exceptional Difficult Circumstances (CEDC), first in Sri Lanka and then in Bangladesh. In 1993, while she was working in Bangladesh, Senator Harkin introduced a bill in the Congress of the United States, aimed at restricting trade relations with countries that produced goods with child labour. The bill resulted in panic in Dhaka and the deployment of thousands of children working in the garment industry, most aged 9-13 years. Bissell commissioned a film (Voices of Children) to heighten international awareness of the complicated issues associated with the employment (and loss of job opportunities) of children in poor countries. She also commissioned and participated in a rapid assessment of child labour in Dhaka, and it was this exercise that captured her interest in anthropological methods and raised for her the possibility of undertaking an anthropology doctorate. Her doctoral research took up the issues provoked by her UNICEF work.

Bissell brought to her doctoral studies good language skills (she is fluent in Bangla) and a strong understanding of the political, policy, legal and contextual issues pertaining to childhood and child labour. She had maintained her contacts in Dhaka and wished to follow up a group of children who had lost employment because of the Harkin bill, and who consequently had enrolled in non-government organisation (NGO) schools with stipend support from UNICEF. Theoretically, Bissell was interested in the social construction of childhood and globalisation. Methodologically, she wished to gain skills in ethnographic methods, and in terms of both acquiring information and representing findings, she was interested in combining text with photography and videotape (Bissell et al 2000). She enrolled as a doctoral student with the Australian Centre for International and Tropical Health and Nutrition (ACITHN), University of Queensland, and undertook course work in Medical Anthropology, Epidemiology, Statistics and Health Management; she also undertook some external training in ethnographic film. The work that she submitted for her doctorate (1) includes a written text with a photo-essay, and the rushes of a television documentary that is now under production. Since submission (June 2000), she has continued to work as the producer of the documentary (A Kind of Childhood), working with Dhaka film-makers and UK-and USA-based executive producers and financers, and she has undertaken a consultancy for UNICEF on young people and Human Immuno-deficiency Virus/ Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome in Lesotho. In undertaking this latter work, she draws very specifically on the classroom instruction undertaken during her PhD.

Janet Hammill (b 1940) is an Indigenous Australian, who worked for much of her life as a registered nurse in Papua New Guinea and in Australia. …

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