My research examines the politics of health and social movements. My goal is to understand the ways in which culture and social identities shape expert knowledge and practice, and the consequences for social inequality and social change. Using qualitative and historical methods, I have explored these themes through projects on the nonknowledge of psychedelic therapies, the relationship between medical education and transgender health disparities, women’s drug policy activism, and feminism in girls’ empowerment organizations.

Expertise and the Revival of Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy

My most recent project examines a movement of scientists who are trying to bring back medical research with psychedelic drugs. I draw from literature on the co-production of social movements and scientific fields to illuminate the role of storytelling and credibility performances in reviving psychedelic therapy expertise. Based on archival data, fieldwork, and interviews, I find that today’s psychedelic researchers narrate cautionary tales about past controversies to resolve a series of lingering legitimacy crises from an earlier failed era of psychedelic therapy. By linking the study of social movements to the study of expert systems, I offer new insights into how social actors generate transformations in expertise.

The Relationship between Medical Education and Transgender Health Disparities

I have also been involved in successful collaborations focused on the politics of health through applied sociological research on transgender health disparities. This work brings together medical sociology scholarship on professional socialization and health disparities in order to develop solutions for the problems transgender patients face when accessing health care. In an article published in Sociology Compass, my co-author and I argue that health professions education is a crucial site for understanding and addressing the reproduction of health disparities among transgender patient populations. With colleagues at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, we developed a standardized patient case that assessed medical students’ skills and knowledge about caring for trans patients. We presented our findings at the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and later published them in MedEDPortal, a journal sponsored by the Association of American Medical Colleges. We also received a grant from the Gold Foundation to examine existing educational interventions related to LGBTQ health to recommend areas for improving how health professions students learn about transgender stigma and its impact on healthcare. More recently, I joined the Washington University School of Medicine’s Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education (CIPE), where I conduct qualitative evaluation research on their poverty simulation and standardized patient programs. My ultimate goal is to develop a transgender standardized patient case that assesses health professions students’ structural competency in an interprofessional setting.

Drs. Laura Hirshfield, Kelly Underman and Danielle Giffort at the 2016 Gay and Lesbian Medical Association conference.

Women and Drug Policy Reform Movements

In my next major research project, I am examining the gendered politics of drug policy reform movements. This project uses comparative historical data combined with interviews and fieldwork to study women’s involvement in movements to repeal alcohol prohibition and legalize marijuana. I examine how these women activists establish themselves as experts on drug policy by making the problem of drug use and abuse into one that they can uniquely address as women. I reveal how these activists use gender as a performative resource to generate politically and ethically “better” forms of expertise to secure the material and symbolic resources needed to create gender-conscious drug policies. I also show how this gendered performance of expertise is spliced along categories of race, sexuality, and class in ways that reproduce larger social inequalities. I am currently preparing a prospectus for a book-length manuscript, which is tentatively titled Wet Women and Marijuana Mamas: Gender and Movements to Reform Alcohol and Drug Policies.

Sifting through the France Willard Papers at the largest archive for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

Feminism and Girls’ Empowerment Organizations

Over the past two decades, girls’ empowerment organizations have thrived in a discursive environment that simultaneously constructs girls as vulnerable victims of a misogynist culture (what’s known as “girls in crisis” discourse) and powerful agents of social change (what’s often called “girl power” discourse). My research explores the tensions between these competing discourses through the case of rock and roll camps for girls, which are summer-day camp programs where women teach girls how to play rock instruments, form bands, and perform their own music as a route to personal and social empowerment. I follow rock camp organizers’ attempts to balance their feminist politics of resistance with a commodified version of girlhood that individualizes girls’ problems.

Fieldwork at girls’ rock camp.