Portrait of Dr Anna Waldstein

Dr Anna Waldstein

Senior Lecturer in Medical Anthropology and Ethnobotany

About

Dr Anna Waldstein has a PhD in Ecological and Environmental Anthropology from the University of Georgia and a BA in Medical Anthropology from Hampshire College. Her doctoral work focused on women’s popular medical knowledge and self-care practices in both indigenous and mestizo communities in Mexico, and among Mexican migrants in the southeastern United States.

Since moving to Kent in 2005, Anna has been doing ethnographic fieldwork in the south of England with Rastafari (and other) migrants from the Caribbean. This work has looked more closely at political and spiritual dimensions of medicinal plant-use, and the historical relationship between medicine and social control, as well as issues related to embodiment, intersubjectivity and spirituality. Anna also likes to explore the nature of human (and plant) consciousness in her teaching and research.    

Research interests

Dr Waldstein’s first monograph (2017. Living Well in Los Duplex: Critical Reflections on Medicalization, Migration and Health Sovereignty. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press) was based on her doctoral thesis. Thirty years of public health research in the United States suggests that Mexican migrants are healthier than most American citizens. Anna's work in ‘Los Duplex’, a Mexican migrant neighbourhood in Athens, Georgia, shows that the ‘health sovereignty’ of migrants helps explain why they have better health profiles than American citizens whose lives are more medicalised. While most Americans rely on medical authorities to manage their health through the consumption of pharmaceuticals and surgical procedures, Mexicans cultivate their own holistic healing alternatives as they build communities in the United States. 

Anna is currently doing research for her second monograph, which will focus on health sovereignty and Rastafari healing in the United Kingdom’s ‘hostile environment for immigrants.’ This book will weave together three overlapping strands of research: 

  1. Research on consciousness and the Rastafari ‘spiritual body,’ conducted between 2011 and 2016. This work shows that, while bodily rituals do not define a person as Rastafari, they are important for achieving spiritual and political aims of the movement (Waldstein, A. 2016. Studying the Body in Rastafari Rituals: Spirituality, Embodiment and Ethnographic Knowledge. Journal for the Study of Religious Experience, 2(1): 71-86). A recent publication on smoking and/as communication in Rastafari also suggests that consciousness is a collective, rather than (just) an individual experience (Waldstein, A. 2019. Smoking as Communication in Rastafari: Reasonings with ‘Professional’ Smokers and ’Plant Teachers’. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology [Online].)
  2. Ongoing ethnobotanical work with Jason Irving (ESRC-funded PhD student) and Dennis Francis (research partner), which began in 2016, on Jamaican ‘roots tonics’ (decoctions of Smilax sp. and a variety of other roots, barks and leaves) and other ‘bush medicines’ in London. This research (funded by small grants from the School of Anthropology and Conservation and the Faculty of Social Science at the University of Kent) is exploring a growing industry of Rastafari herbalists and roots tonic producers/distributors in the UK and their importance to migrants from the Caribbean.
  3. Research on the embodiment of, and resistance to, the threat of deportation among Rastafari (and other Jamaican) migrants. Fieldwork for this project was done with the assistance of Dennis Francis and was funded by a British Academy small grant in 2017, and public engagement/impact awards from the School of Anthropology and Conservation and the Public Engagement with Research Fund at the University of Kent in 2018. This work shows that in the current ‘hostile environment,’ use of alternative medicine (rather than, or even in addition to, use of the National Health Service) can make it more difficult for migrants from the Caribbean to challenge deportation and/or register for citizenship (Waldstein, A. 2019. Legitimacy and Citizenships. Urbanities, 9 (S2): 52-60). 

Teaching

By offering modules in her specialist areas - ethnobiology and medical anthropology - Dr Waldstein is able to engage in research-led teaching at all levels (Stage 1, Stage 2+ and postgraduate). This allows students to hear about some of the latest research in their field of study, as it unfolds. Anna has also had positive experiences with ‘teaching-led research'. After teaching several modules on ‘drugs and culture' and ‘medicinal plants’, she was convinced by one of her undergraduate students to help organise the first Breaking Convention: Multidisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Consciousness. Anna hosted a workshop on cannabis for both conference delegates and students from the School of Anthropology and Conservation, which included two Rastafari speakers. This teaching event was the beginning of Dr Waldstein’s research on the UK Rastafari movement.

Undergraduate

  • ANTB3020: Foundations of Biological Anthropology
  • SE306: Animals, People and Plants: An introduction to Ethnobiology
  • ANTB5490: Medical Anthropology: Cause and consequences of Illness
  • SE575: Medicinal Plants in Holistic Perspective
  • SE585: From the Raw to the Cooked: The Anthropology of Eating

Postgraduate

  • SE880: Holism, Health and Healing

Supervision

Dr Waldstein welcomes applications from prospective candidates who wish to do a PhD in either (social) Anthropology or Ethnobiolgy, on topics related to medical anthropology and/or spiritual ecology, especially among migrant populations. Anna accepts students who would like to carry out ethnographic fieldwork in a range of geographical locations, especially the UK and the Caribbean. PhD applicants will need to have a previous degree in social or cultural anthropology, or a previous interdisciplinary, social science degree that includes anthropology. In addition, Anna regularly supervises students accepted onto the MSc Ethnobotany course (and in some years supervises MA Social Anthropology students). 

Current PhD students

  • Andy Dean: Making sense of non-sense: An ethnobiological study into the ethnometaphysics of ayahuasca cosmology episodes 
  • Bee Farrell: Human-Information technology symbiosis and culinary culture
  • Rachel Gefferie: 'Krioro libi': Exploring continued social identity in the life of the Creole of Suriname through the embodiment of food traditions  
  • Nathan Glace: Contemporary lifestyle rituals among Rastafari groups in the UK
  • Jason Irving: The sale and use of Jamaican roots tonics: Health sovereignty in the Black Atlantic
  • Ashley Glenn: Tastes like home: migrating Bosnian foodways
  • Anna Piestrzynska: The relationship between language shift and the domain of traditional environmental knowledge
  • Mayra Sumter: Medical pluralism and reproductive healthcare in Suriname

Alumni

  • Gareth Davey: Identity and Quality of Life Among Badagas in South India With Reference to Rural-to-Urban Migration and New Media
  • Laura Montesi: When the Blood Sweetens: Diabetes and Vulnerability Among the Ikojts of Oaxaca (co-supervised with Dr Mike Poltorak
  • Seema Solanki: Siddhi Dawa and Dua in Gujarat, India: A Study of Medical Pluralism and Healing in the African Diaspora 

Professional

Dr Waldstein is ‘Council Member At Large’ for The Society for Economic Botany (2019-2022). She is also one of the original co-founders of Breaking Convention: A Multidisciplinary Conference on Psychedelic Consciousness, and was on the organising committee of the 2011 and 2013 conferences. The first Breaking Convention took place at the University of Kent in April 2011. The event was attended by 600 delegates from 30 countries and included a programme of over 70 academic presentations, short films and art installations. Although it is now based at the University of Greenwich, three School of Anthropology and Conservation alumni are currently serving as Executive Directors of Breaking Convention. 

Anna has provided expertise on drugs and altered states of consciousness for the National Geographic ‘Taboo’ series and also featured on several episodes of the Dopecast, Shroom With a View and Psychedelic Salon podcasts. She has written for The Conversation and Somatosphere.

Dr Anna Waldstein is available to provide comments or in-depth discussion on the anthropology of consciousness (in humans and plants), alternative medicine, migrant health, the UK Rastafari movement and cannabis reform. 

Videos of public lectures: 

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